When Terrorists Strike Here: Who’s on Front Lines
If the Kenya hostage-taking incident were to happen here, who would respond? Would it take four days to get rid of the bad guys? Experts say various U.S. law enforcement agencies have trained for years for such a scenario — both local and federal officers.
After a 9-1-1 call, local police would likely be first on the scene. That would be followed by the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group, according to an FBI spokeswoman.
That team has more than 1,200 people stationed across the United States at various locations. It includes Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams at 56 FBI field offices, according to the FBI’s website, as well as a hostage rescue team (HRT) that can respond within four hours to a situation in any part of the country.
The critical response team draws its members from local law enforcement agencies who then spend two or three years training before receiving an assignment.
“If the situation in Kenya were to occur in the United States, it would be the local police agency that would respond and they would retain the responsibility until it was determined to be a terrorist incident — just as the Boston police responded to the bombings,” said Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, in an email to Discovery News.
Stephens said the Boston police were in charge for the first 12 hours until the FBI took over.
The FBI’s critical response group also contains a Crisis Negotiating Unit with 300 agents trained as negotiators who can help local and state law enforcement agencies. These agents are often dispatched to hostage-taking incidents overseas, although it’s not known whether they assisted Kenyan officials at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
One international terrorism expert said that Kenyan officials were taken by surprise during the mall takeover this weekend. Charlie Edwards, director of national security for the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said that American, British and Israeli forces all practice for terrorism or hostage taking at malls, a scenario that has happened 20 times since 1998.
“The obvious thing is this did take the Kenyan security forces by surprise,” Edwards told Discovery News. “Therefore their response may not have been so well practiced. We won’t know until the dust settles.”
On Tuesday, there were conflicting reports from Kenyan officials who said the crisis was over, and the Al-Shabab terror group, who claimed that some hostages still remain inside.
More than 60 people are dead, and another 65 are unaccounted for, according to reports from the Kenyan Red Cross.