September 15, 2017: Parsons Green train bombing

On 15 September 2017, at around 08:20 BST, an explosion occurred on a District line train at Parsons Green Underground station, in London, England.

LONDON, UK — There are probably fewer things scarier than a emergency in a subway. If something goes wrong you are in a heap of trouble. First you are underground and even I learned in school that there is a not a lot of air underground (if you are unaware of this fact stick your head in a sandbox and breathe – just not too deeply – and you will see what I mean). Secondly, these are closed spaces so if claustrophobia is your ill this is not good. Thirdly, add one and two and throw in lots of people who are panicking and I think you can guess the result.

What then, if a bomb goes off in an underground subway? I was in New York City in December 2017 when Akayed Ullah detonated a device on his person and while no one died the stampede was nerve-wracking I’d wager.

And two years ago today (well, yesterday actually since I am a little late with this blog in the wake of my wifi crash!) 30 people were injured with burns caused by a botched ‘bucket-bomb’ containing TATP (triacetone triperoxide) placed at the Parsons Green underground station in London. A teen from Iraq, Ahmed Hassan, was found guilty of planting the bomb in March 2018.

Now here are the interesting parts.

Mr. Hassan claimed to UK immigration officials upon his arrival as a child refugee that he had been groomed by Islamic State (IS) terrorist group and “trained to kill”. Whether or not this is true is really hard to tell. Lots of wannabe terrorists say they are IS or Al Qaeda (AQ) or whatever and in my experience that statement and a $1.55 gets you a small coffee at Tim’s (NB a reference to Tim Horton’s, Canada’s iconic coffee and donut shop). My cat can say he is IS even though he died three years ago. It is that easy.

Secondly, Mr. Hassan was referred to the famous Channel programme in the UK, a multi-partner initiative to identify and help those radicalising to violence. His case was seen as so dire that he went directly to the deradicalisation module, in an effort to ‘save’ him. Except that he did not seem to receive any support or counselling for months.

This is not to knock Channel or Prevent or any other programme: this is tough stuff. It’s just that there are no guarantees even when individuals are found and sent to the right place. Could this attack have been prevented had he gotten more attention or better attention? Maybe. At the same time this is not an exact science and never will be.

I also found it interesting that he built the bomb in the house of his foster parents. Now THAT is scary. Some people are just inherently evil I guess. Where did he acquire the skills to make the device? IS? Or YouTube?

This was not the first and will not be the last attack in an underground. Still, that is not to suggest we should avoid this mode of transportation. Attacks of this nature are rare and if you were to try to steer clear of every possibility you would not get out much. Best to live life (without taking stupid chances like backpacking in Afghanistan Joshua Boyle!).

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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