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November Today in Terrorism

November 29, 2019: ISIS stabbing on London Bridge

Two people were killed and three injured by a knife-wielding man near London Bridge in November 2019 in an attack claimed by ISIS.

Two people were killed and three injured by a knife-wielding man near London Bridge in November 2019 in an attack claimed by ISIS.

LONDON, UK – The next time you have to fend off a terrorist, make sure you have your narwhal tusk with you!

I am fairly certain you have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ phenomenon. This refers to a situation where you feel you are in danger and you have to decide what to do: run away or face the threat head on. There was even a 2020 film about a series of school shooters who livestreamed their actions called ‘Run, Hide, Fight’.

A very similar way of looking at this was described by Heini Hediger, a 20th-century Swiss biologist and zoo director, who needed a more precise understanding of how animals behaved when put in proximity to one another. He found that the space around an animal could be partitioned into three zones: flight distance (if a lion is far enough away, a zebra will continue to graze warily, but any closer than that, the zebra will try to escape); defence distance (pass that line and the zebra attacks rather than fleeing); and critical distance (if the predator is too close, there’s nothing to do but freeze, play dead and hope for the best).

LION HUNTING ZEBRA FAIL | How To Zebra Escape From Lion's Jaw - YouTube
Now look who’s playing dead!

What then to do when you are involved in a terrorist attack? Fight, or flight? Or play dead?

For a couple of people on London Bridge in 2019 the choice was to fight.

On this day last year Usman Khan, who had been convicted in 2012 for plotting a terrorist act, and who had been forced to take part in the UK’s desistance and disengagement programme (which was aimed at the rehabilitation of terrorists), was released early and stabbed two people to death at Fishmonger’s Hall (one of the victims was also involved in another prisoner rehabilitation programme).

Here is where it got interesting. Two men in the hall used chairs, fire extinguishers, a pole and a narwhal tusk – yes a narwhal tusk – to fend off Khan after he broke through the doors, driving him out of the building. He was then shot dead on London Bridge. ISIS later said Khan was one of their ‘fighters’.

The incident has led to calls to stop letting terrorist prisoners out early and put a great deal of scrutiny on terrorist ‘rehabilitation’ efforts. Other subsequent attacks elsewhere under similar circumstances have only increased the pressure.

She was fearless, she was a warrior, she was going to change the world – maybe she will.

Former tutor of Saskia Jones, one of the victims

Is there a lesson here? Yes, there are several. None more important than this one: always know where your narwhal tusk is!

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Director of the National Security programme at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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