A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

Red Cross staffer shot in Aceh

Erhard Bauer
Dr. Erhard Bauer

The Red Cross has suspended activities in the Indonesian province of Aceh for a day after a representative of the German Red Cross delegation, Erhard Bauer, was shot and wounded by a pair of gunmen in the outskirts of Banda Aceh on Thursday. Bauer suffered wounds to his abdomen and arm.

While the motive for the attack is unknown Aceh has experienced low-level political violence since 2005 when a thirty year separatist war was officially ended.

Bauer was treated at Public Hospital Dr. Zainoel Abidin (RSUZA) in Banda Aceh before being flown to Singapore for further treatment and convalescence.

Contractor on UN guest house assault

In this video Chris Turner, an American private contractor, talks about his first hand experience of the suicide attack on the guest house in Kabul.

Held by the Taliban - An interview with David Rhodes

This MSNBC video interview with David Rhodes on his kidnapping by the Taliban is a little light but worth watching if you have the bandwidth. Rhodes reveals that his Taliban captors 'googled' him and his family members in their quest for information.

Attackers target UN staff in Kabul guest house

Yesterday Taliban militants wearing police uniforms carried out a complex suicide attack on a privately owned guest house in Kabul. A two hour fire fight resulted in the deaths of six UN staff members.

This video from STRATFOR has a quick summary and analysis of the attack. Its well worth watching if you have the bandwidth.

In the aftermath of this attack we are already seeing the inevitable calls for a complete review of security procedures for UN and NGO staff in Kabul. There will be a flurry of activity as outside security consultants are called in and security assessment teams from regional NGO offices descend on Kabul. Numerous reports will be written, fingers will be pointed, and a couple of people may even lose their jobs. Unfortunately many will come to the conclusion that this incident was an unanticipated and unforeseen escalation of the threat.

The problem is that it is just not true. The writing has been on the wall for the past two years. There have been numerous incidents of surveillance on UN and NGO buildings and staff. The Taliban and their allies have also repeatedly made it clear, both in word and deed, that they do not view the UN and most NGOs as neutral.

Selected Attacks, Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2009

1 Feb 2009 - Charbagh, Pakistan - Two MSF medical staff were killed when their clearly marked ambulances were fired upon in Charbagh.

2 Feb 2009 - Quetta, Pakistan - A driver with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was killed and John Solecki, the head of the local UNHCR office, was kidnapped.

9 Jun 2009 - Peshawar, Pakistan - 5 U.N. workers are among those killed in a complex suicide attack on the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar.

18 Aug 2009 - Kabul, Afghanistan - Two Afghans working for the U.N. were killed during a suicide vehicle bomb attack on a NATO convoy.

5 Oct 2009 - Islamabad, Pakistan - Five World Food Program (WFP) staff were killed and four others injured after a suicide bomber disguised as a Frontier Corps soldier was allowed to walk into the WFP office under the simple pretext of being allowed to use the toilet. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility with the following words: "We proudly claim the responsibility for the suicide attack at the U.N. office in Islamabad. We will send more bombers for such attacks. The U.N. and other foreign (aid groups) are not working for the interest of Muslims. We are watching their activities. They are infidels."


1. Dig out previous security risk assessments and physical security audits and make sure you've actually implemented the recommendations contained within.
2. If your existing security risk assessments and physical security audits are older than six and twelve months respectively update them now.
3. Ensure your Crisis Response Plan is current and practice it quarterly.
4. Implement a counter-surveillance plan.
5. Make sure you have a plan to respond if hostile surveillance is detected. Knowing your organization is being surveilled has little value if you are unable to respond to the fact.
6. Train as many staff as possible in personal counter-surveillance and surveillance detection.
7. Allow flexible work hours and 'work from home' policies.
8. Review access control procedures and ensure that guards are actually following them.
9. Limit visitors and insist on advance appointments.
10. Identify proper medical support.
11. Pull out all the stops on your active acceptance plan. You are unlikely to influence the Taliban and their supporters but you are going to need all the support and goodwill you can get from neighbours, beneficiaries, and local police.

The Future

As governmental and UN organizations continue to improve their security measures to deal with the militant threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan more and more of the risk burden will fall on softer targets, including NGOs. I assess their is a 70 to 80% chance that there will be VBIED or complex attack on an NGO facility in Afghanistan or Pakistan within the next twelve months. Are you ready?

Acceptance, ladders, kindness and WFP

If you read this blog regularly you undoubtedly already know of yesterday's suicide attack the the WFP office in Islamabad. If you somehow missed the news I suggest you take a look at Peter's post on the loss of five of his WFP colleagues. This brief coverage from Dawn news should also help bring you up to speed.

At this point there isn't much purpose in rehashing the copious news coverage of this tragedy but it might be worth looking for some tentative security lessons. I'm somewhat hesitant to do so for fear that it will be seen as pointing the finger of blame so I'll caveat by saying that is not my intent. I am in no way second guessing those who were forced to make difficult choices based on incomplete and often contradictory information.

No, they really don't like you...

I'm hoping this incident will finally lay to rest the persistent and dangerous myth that there is no evidence that the Taliban and other extremist groups are deliberately targeting the UN and humanitarian organizations in Pakistan. If the kidnapping of
John Solecki, the murder of his driver, the murder of Zil-e-Usman, and numerous death threats were not enough to convince perhaps these words from Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq will:

"We proudly claim the responsibility for the suicide attack at the U.N. office in Islamabad. We will send more bombers for such attacks. The U.N. and other foreign (aid groups) are not working for the interest of Muslims. We are watching their activities. They are infidels."

"The WFP is promoting the US agenda. They are silent on massacres and do not comment on killings in Waziristan and other areas."

Ladders and walls

The attack also highlights one of the limitations of passive physical security measures. As United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano put it, “You build a 50 foot wall, somebody will find a 51 foot ladder.”

Responding to the VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) attacks in Baghdad in 2003, Algiers in 2007 and Hargeisa in 2008 the UN increased passive security measures to deal with the new threat. Significant sums of money were spent building and strengthening blast walls, hardening buildings, installing vehicle barriers and blocking access roads. These measures would have made it much more difficult for extremists to carry out an effective VBIED attack on a UN facility.

In this case however the Taliban adapted to the increased security measures and used the equivalent of Janet's figurative 51 foot ladder, a single suicide bomber with seven or eight kilograms of explosives and ball bearings strapped to his chest. This simple change in tactics accomplished what using a larger VBIED probably would not have. Given the success of this attack we can expect similar attacks in the future.

A small act of kindness

At this early stage in the investigation it appears likely that the suicide bomber, who was wearing a Frontier Corps uniform, was let in to the WFP compound under the pretext of needing to urgently use the washroom. Critics have been quick to
lay blame on the private security company guarding the WFP compound, calling them negligent even before investigations were fully underway. While I agree to some extent I think its important to point out that there was likely simple but brilliant social engineering at play here.

There were 13 private security guards, three Frontier Corps soldiers and two police officers on duty at WFP at the time. I have little doubt that every one of them knows what its like to stand outside under the blazing sun hour after hour only to have the very people they were charged with protecting refuse to provide them water or let them have use of their washroom facilities. Add to this the fact that many private security guards are former Frontier Corps men and it's easy to understand how any one of them might have been willing to bend the rules for what to them appeared to be a brother-in-arms.

The great tragedy of this entire event is that it may have been the result of a small act of kindness. I truly hope it's not the case.

Third aid worker dies in CAR

This Sunday morning brings sad news. According to sources COOPI aid worker Adramane Abdel Karim has died from his injuries. Adramane was severely injured during the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) attack on a COOPI vehicle that killed two of his colleagues.

LRA incursions in the Central African Republic (CAR) have intensified since last December when LRA bases in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo were the target of a broad military offensive. Small groups of LRA rebels have since extended their operational range to portions of South Sudan, CAR, and the Congo.

Two aid workers killed in CAR

A child in a rebel camp in northern CAR holding bullet casings
Child with bullet casings in rebel camp.
Credits: Pierre Holtz | UNICEF CAR | hdptcar.net 

Two aid workers with an Italian NGO were killed on 21 September in the Central African Republic when Lord's Resistance Army rebels attacked their vehicle on the Banqui to Obo road.

According to Cooperazione Internazionale's blog Claude Nzapaoko Porcel and Jean Jacques Namkoisse were killed in the attack. A third aid worker, Adramane Abdel Karim, was severely injured and is in critical condition. AFP quotes a military source as saying, "Two other people were wounded by bullets, and five others are missing."

Canadian aid worker murdered in Honduras

Dallas Martens (31), a Canadian volunteer aid worker with the Morgan Jayne Project, an organization dedicated to fighting AIDS, was shot dead by thieves on the island on Roatan in Honduras last Friday.

Dallas and his wfe were returning home after celebrating their first wedding anniversary when Dallas was killed. The couple had stopped to view a house they were considering buying when two masked gunmen appeared from the side of the house. The thieves opened fire, hitting Dallas three times as he tried to protect his wife from the bullets. The gunmen fled with the woman's purse.

The couple moved to Roatan to support the Morgan Jayne Project, which specializes reducing the incidence of mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus. The couple also planned to adopt a baby boy they had met while volunteering for the organization the previous year.

The Morgan Jayne Project is trying to raise money to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators. More details are available at their website.

Canadian aid worker murdered

NGO worker beaten to death in Dhaka

Swapan Mandal (35) an aid worker with a local NGO died in Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) on 13 September after being severely beaten the day prior.

According to police Swapan Mandal and two other men stole money and a mobile phone from a Management Department of Dhaka University student. When the student cried out for help bystanders rushed to intervene, catching Swapan, and beating him severely before handing him over to police.

The Police say they rushed Swapan to DMCH where he died the next morning.

Swapan’s wife however denied the allegations saying that her husband was not a mugger but an NGO worker who worked with local sex workers. She suspects he was tortured. "He has no connection with the mugging," she added.

Update on kidnapped Greek aid worker

Kalash children

A 12 member jirga left Chitral yesterday for Afghanistan’s Nuristan province in an effort to secure the safe release of kidnapped aid worker Athanasios Lerounis. Lerounis was kidnapped on 8 September from his room in the Bumboret Valley.

According to the police they have “... credible reports that the Greek national has been sifted to Nuristan.” A local shepherd is reported to have witnessed a group of men taking a foreigner to a location in Afghanistan near the AfPak border. In addition police have arrested a Nuristani man suspected of being involved in the case. He is a close relative of the guide who is suspected of having helped the kidnappers move Lerounis to Nuristan.

This incident highlights the strengths and weaknesses of acceptance as an NGO security strategy. Lerounis’s acceptance by the local community did not prevent the murder of his police guard. Nor did it protect him from being kidnapped by those elements, criminal or Taliban, who live outside local societal norms. Community acceptance may however prove crucial during efforts to secure Lerounis’s safe release. Kalash community members have been actively working to secure his release. Besides the formation of the jirga mentioned above community members have assisted police in their investigations and are bringing pressure on the government to work quickly and effectively in regaining Lerounis’s freedom.

[Photo credit: Simon Taylor]

Aid worker killed in Iraq

Ra'aed Mohammed Saeed (50), an aid worker with the Human Relief Foundation’s office in Mosul, Iraq was ambushed and shot dead near his home on 1 September 2009 according to an HRF statement on the organizations website.

Mr Saeed, 50, was a project co-coordinator involved in the implementation of HRF’s projects including aid distribution and assistance to orphans and widows in northern Iraq. He leaves behind a wife and six children.

Ra'aed Mohammed Saeed

Greek aid worker kidnapped in Pakistan

Kalash woman and child
Kalash woman and child-- courtesy Gul Hamaad Farooqi

Unidentified gunmen kidnapped a Greek national from his room in the Bumboret Valley, Chitral, after killing one of his guards and injuring another early yesterday morning. The man was sleeping in his room inside the Kalash House museum when up to twenty armed men broke in and forced him to accompany them at gunpoint. The assailants also seized a local Kalash teacher, identified as Ajmeer Kalash, but quickly abandoned him after they tied him to a pillar.

The Greek man, identified in some reports as Athunasius, had been living and working in the Bumboret Valley since 1995. He was supervising the construction of the Kalash House museum and primary school where he also volunteered as a teacher. The project is funded by small Greek NGO and is intended to help preserve and promote the unique Kalash culture. During his time in the valley Athunasius also helped establish two primary schools and three maternity centres.

Note: The local media does not seem to be any better at handling Greek names than I am. Local reports have reported the victim as being Athanasee Laironaise, Lerunis Athuanisis, or simply Athunasius.

While Chitral is generally considered peaceful, it does border the conflict-plagued Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. An Afghan government adviser visiting the region was kidnapped last year. Two years ago unidentified gunmen murdered a Spanish national and his Pakistani servant at their residence in the Bumboret Valley.

Bumboret Museum
The museum in Bumboret

Other Stuff

Subscribe to Patronus in a feedreader
Subscribe to Patronus Analytical RSS Feed by Email

Low on bandwidth? Try this low graphics version

Lijit Search

Bloggers' Rights at EFF Global Voices: The World is Talking, Are You Listening?

Support CC - 2007

Creative Commons License
This work by Kevin Toomer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.
Jun 2008
May 2008
Apr 2008
Mar 2008
Feb 2008
Jan 2008
Dec 2007
Nov 2007
Oct 2007
Sep 2007
Aug 2007
Jul 2007