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World: Police Discuss Shoot-To-Kill Policies

The July London bombings have sparked renewed debate on the best means of combating terror On 8 July, one day after the suicide bombings on the London transport system that killed 56 people, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) issued recommendations saying that police officers should shoot to kill anyone suspected of being a suicide bomber if they believe that an attack is imminent.

Nearly two weeks after this and other recommendations were issued, Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old electrician from Brazil, was mistaken for a suicide bomber and killed inside a subway car in London after police fired seven bullets at point-blank range into his head and shoulder. De Menezes allegedly failed to stop when ordered by police to do so and was wearing what police described as a "heavy coat" during warm weather, a possible sign that he might have been carrying a bomb underneath it.

The police and the British government deeply regretted de Menezes's killing, but insisted that because of the terrorist threat, the shoot-to-kill guidelines they were operating under would remain in place.

Former Scotland Yard head John Arthur Stevens told the BBC on 24 July that these were the same instructions issued to Israeli police and that British police had been trained by the Israelis in how to recognize suicide bombers. According to an article in "The Jewish World Review" on 25 July, the Israeli authorities denied that they had ever issued such guidelines.

The shoot-to-kill orders that resulted in the death of de Menezes soon became the subject of a broad debate.

Practicality Of The Guidelines

How does a police officer recognize a suicide bomber about to detonate an explosive device?

According to "Training Key 581," published by the IACP, the profile of a suicide bomber, developed by "a noted authority on terrorism" using Israeli studies of behavioral patterns of suicide bombers, includes, among others, the following characteristics:

"The wearing of heavy clothing, no matter what the season. Long coats or skirts may be used to conceal explosive belts and devices.

"The appearance of being drugged...

"Bags or backpacks (used to carry explosives, nails, and other shrapnel). The bomber generally holds his or her bag or backpack tightly, sometimes gingerly, and may refuse to be separated from it.

"A fresh shave -- a male with a fresh shave and lighter skin on his lower face may be a religious Muslim zealot who just shaved his beard so as not to attract attention...

"A hand in the pocket tightly gripping something -- this could be someone clutching a detonator or a trigger for an explosive device..."

If the above guidelines were to be adopted by the New York City Transit police the results could potentially be disastrous. In the winter, few passengers would be found without "heavy clothing" and there are, according to "Newsday" on 4 August, an estimated 200,000 opiate addicts in the city. Of course, most New York subway passengers keep a tight grip on their bags.

Undoubtedly, police in other urban environments around the world face similar problems in using the IACP profile to identify potential suicide bombers.

Current Use-Of-Force Policies

Use-of-force orders, according to the "Washington Post" on 4 August, are established individually by each of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. "Most law enforcement agencies, including the D.C. police, are supposed to use what is known as a continuum of force: If force is used, it should be applied or increased in proportion to the suspect’s actions and level of resistance," the daily reported.

However, the appearance of suicide bombers in London is rapidly pushing police to consider changing the rules, Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation, told the "Washington Post" on 4 August. "The police standard operating procedure of addressing a suspect and telling them to drop their weapon and put their hands up or freeze is not going to work with a suicide bomber.... You’re signing your own death warrant if you do that."

This leaves police grappling with a seemingly unanswerable question: How does one recognize a suicide bomber who could detonate an explosive device with a twitch of a finger? Shooting without warning is seen by many as an arbitrary and often illegal use of lethal force. The public might accept a few accidents such as the de Menezes case, but there would certainly be a severe backlash before long.

*Past Incidents*

There have been cases in which police have stopped apparent would-be suicide bombers without killing them, as well as cases of police killing people whom they suspected of being potential bombers but who turned out not to be.

On 13 May in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, police shot and killed a man in front of the Israeli Embassy after mistaking the wooden object he was carrying for explosives.

The pro-Israeli website reported on 25 July that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers had captured a would-be suicide bomber as he was en route to Tel Aviv. According to the report, the man was "wearing a five-kilogram explosives belt" when he was arrested, although the report does not say how the police were able to identify him or to prevent him from detonating the device.

The Information Israel website, another pro-Israeli site, describes a few similar incidents:

"July 28, 2002 -- Hamed Mohammed Hamed, a 22-year-old Palestinian man, was arrested in the village of Kalil. During the arrest, Israeli security forces seized an explosive belt that Hamed had intended to use to blow himself up at Joseph's Tomb.

"July 27, 2002 -- IDF forces arrested Umaya Mohammed Danaj, a 28-year-old Palestinian woman who was on her way to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel."

Good Intelligence

Israeli experience shows that most intercepted terrorists were apprehended because of good intelligence work and not because a police officer happened to notice how they were dressed or how they behaved on a bus.

This was demonstrated in 1997 in New York, when the police acted on information supplied by a roommate of two Palestinian youths who were allegedly planning a subway attack. The two suspects were arrested and the attack was thwarted.

The Information Israel website contains numerous examples of how advance knowledge of an attack enabled Israeli security services to forestall them and, often, enabled them to capture and interrogate would-be terrorists.

Interrogations, according to most law enforcement officials, are a vital part of collecting information on a terrorist network and often lead to the capture of other suspects. (See "The Dilemma Of Torturing Terrorists")

Good intelligence work coupled with practical prevention measures can go a long way in combating the threat of suicide bombers. Many experts feel that periodic random searches -- although they too face opposition from civil libertarians -- and reliable detection devices at the entrances to public places are the most useful measures to prevent terrorist attacks. On the contrary, profiling suicide bombers and using such profiles as the basis of shoot-to-kill policies are viewed by many as a haphazard approach that is fraught with the danger of producing highly counterproductive backlashes.