Editor's Note: This piece was originally published on June 25, 2004.
A small bomb exploded outside a hotel in Ankara, on June 24 — two days before U.S. President George W. Bush was scheduled to check in. No one was injured in the blast outside the Hilton Hotel, but three people were killed in a second explosion against a bus in Istanbul — site of the June 28-29 NATO summit. Turkish police suspect either the Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) or the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) in both bombings and have described the explosive devices as percussion bombs, which are meant to make a lot of noise but not necessarily do harm. It is believed the bus bomb detonated prematurely and caused three unplanned deaths.
The Hilton bombing, regardless of who staged it, highlights the vulnerability of hotels as a tempting target for militants of all kinds. Governments — and many corporations — have gone to great lengths to improve security since the Sept. 11 attacks. Hotels, however, remain notoriously unsecured. As a result, an excellent means of targeting high-value VIPs is either when they are in transit or during their stay at a hotel.
Hotels are alluring to militants not only because of their high VIP concentration, but also because they attract Westerners — especially hotels in the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia and Africa. In many of these countries, Western visitors tend to patronize a handful of hotels, which offers an ideal opportunity for more radical militants — such as jihadists — to strike. By killing large numbers of Westerners in a hotel attack, Islamist militants succeed also in attacking a symbol of Western influence and excess — as many of these hotels sport Western-style shopping malls, dance clubs and bars.
As in Ankara, the vast majority of hotels frequented by corporate and government personnel are in cities. However, a fortress-like perimeter at a major urban hotel is practically impossible to create because of commercial constraints and to limited physical space within a bustling city. Extended security perimeters — accompanied by checkpoints and security guards — are often the best defenses against the use of explosives near the facility.
Ways to Stay Safe
Hotel managements and savvy customers can take a few steps to mitigate the threat:
- 1) Travelers should consider staying in a hotel "off the beaten path." Avoid large chain hotels dominated by Western clientele and instead choose smaller boutique hotels where there is less chance of being identified as a foreigner or a VIP.
- 2) Hotels can use security cameras at all entrances and exits to the building(s), including loading areas. For additional security, they can employ highly trained, well-paid roving security guards, improve coordination with local law enforcement, use protective glass film to minimize bomb damage and create minimum stand-off distances from the entrance to prevent the use of vehicle-laden explosive devices.
- 3) VIPs and anyone traveling in suspect areas should take personal protective security precautions, such as heightened vigilance. Vigilance by well-trained hotel security and the individual traveler can work hand-in-glove to prevent surveillance of the facility or even an actual attack.
STRATFOR fully expects hotels to become targets for Islamist militants seeking to strike a blow against the United States and its Western allies. There is little reason to doubt militants are at this moment assessing many of these facilities for future attacks.