Nine years ago the bad guys used airliners as weapons of mass destruction. It's unlikely such a plot would ever work again since the passengers would likely realize that they had no chance of survival and fight back like the heroes of Flight 93. God bless them.
So the most likely type of transportation attack will be a bombing. Airplanes are juicy targets and bombs/bombers can be planted on them in a variety of ways.
But a bigger concern is actually commuter trains. The London and Madrid bombings prove how terrible a subway or commuter train bombing can be. Commuter trains are soft targets because security is difficult to effect, expensive, and disruptive. Can you imagine having TSA scan everybody before they get on a subway? It's just not practical.
So the likelihood of an attack on a commuter train is high because it achieves two major terrorist goals: a high body count and economic disruption. And it's an easy target.
This is something people don't talk about in polite company. It's horrible. It keeps many a terrorism expert awake at night. And here it is: Our enemy likes to kill and torture children.
And there's no better place to kill children than in a school. There are two ways that terrorists are likely to attack children. One is a Beslan-type attack in which a large group of terrorists take over a school and stall police response with false negotiations while they fortify the place. When they are ready they will kill everybody in the place and before they kill them they will torture them.
The only response that can possibly make a difference on something like this is a quick and aggressive response. Even one officer might be able to pin down the bad guys a bit and buy time for a more effective assault by more officers. If the bad guys get hours and days to harden the place, it's going to be hell to get it back and it's going to be hell for the hostages.
The second type of school attack is a lot easier for the bad guys to execute. All they have to do is come into a school and shoot the kids. It won't take an entire group of terrorists to execute such an attack. It could be one guy with a pistol. It could be a homegrown terrorist.
School attacks are highly likely because they achieve every goal of a terror organization like al-Qaeda. They terrorize, they hit people emotionally, and they have the potential to devastate the economy.
Infrastructure and Industry
Some of the foiled plots that al-Qaeda and their ilk have attempted before and after 9/11 have targeted airports, bridges, and other valuable infrastructure. Future attacks might include dams, hospitals, train stations, power plants, and hundreds of other valuable and hard to replace infrastructure elements. These places need to be watched and they need to be hardened.
Another choice target for a terrorist attack would be a chemical plant. To understand the potential devastation that could be wrought by such an attack, take a look at the Bhopal, India, disaster. The Bhopal chemical plant leaked toxic gas in 1984 and thousands died.
Any terror group anywhere in the world can call up Google Earth on the Internet and see detailed satellite photos of chemical plants and oil refineries in your jurisdiction. So you can bet that these facilities are on their target lists. Local officers need to work with these companies to make sure that these plants are as secure as possible.
Not If But When
There are, of course, other types of attacks that could happen. Terrorists could gain access to gas, or biological, or radiological material, or even nuclear weapons. And there is no doubt that they would be willing to employ such terrible weapons. But the logistics of staging such attacks make them complex and difficult to carry out. Which is why many experts consider them unlikely.
But no one can see the future. So we don't know exactly what the enemy will do or how he will do it. The one thing we do know is now that the Iraq War is winding down, Arab terrorists may once again turn their attention to hitting us where we live. Which means: The next terror attack on American soil is not a matter of if but when. And all American law enforcement officers need to be both vigilant to prevent such attacks and ready to respond to them when they happen.
Have you trained to respond to attacks on these targets? Do you think enough is being done to harden these targets? Tell us in the comments below.