Terror in Manhattan

After Faizal Shahzad was arrested on May 1, 2010, for attempting to detonate a vehicle bomb in Times Square, Mayor Bloomberg commented, “It’s been said that when you find a terrorist, he’ll have a map of New York City in his back pocket.” A few blocks from Times Square is the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where a pipe bomb explosion occurred at 7.20 a.m. local time on Monday, December 11, 2017, in an underground passage, about 200 feet (60 meters) from the bus terminal.

Port Authority Bus Terminal, New York. Image Credit: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

After the explosion, Port Authority police arrested the alleged suspect, who had wires attached to his body. When the police moved in, the suspect tried to set off the rest of his bomb. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital with burns and lacerations. This was an attempted terrorist suicide bombing, apparently undertaken in the name of ISIS.

It is no accident that the target of this attempted suicide bombing was a mass transport hub in Manhattan. A suicide bomber can only die once. So, the target must be optimal. The alleged suspect could have left the pipe bomb anywhere, and made good his escape by foot. But it appears he planned a martyrdom mission, and the target was carefully chosen. The optimal selection procedure for suicide attacks is a key factor in robust terrorist target modeling.

The alleged suspect has been named as Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old Bangladeshi native. ISIS has been active in Bangladesh, so the nationality of the suspect comes as no surprise. Before last week, when President Trump declared U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it might have been surprising for a terrorist to launch a U.S. attack in the name of Palestine, rather than the Jihad. But this would not be surprising now. The Turkish President Erdoğan has called the U.S. a partner in bloodshed. Insurers should remind themselves of the history of Palestinian-motivated terrorism, which includes the attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993.

Catastrophist, RMS
Gordon is a catastrophe-risk expert, with 30 years’ experience in catastrophe science, covering both natural and man-made hazards. Gordon is the chief architect of the RMS terrorism risk model, which he started work on a year after joining RMS in December 2000. For his thought leadership in terrorism risk modeling, he was named by Treasury & Risk magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in finance in 2004. He has since lectured on terrorism at the NATO Center of Excellence for the Defense against Terrorism, and testified before the U.S. Congress on terrorism-risk modeling. As an acknowledged, international expert on catastrophes, Gordon is the author of two acclaimed books: “The Mathematics of Natural Catastrophes” (1999) and “Calculating Catastrophe” (2011). Dr. Woo graduated as the best mathematician of his year at Cambridge University and he completed his doctorate at MIT as a Kennedy Scholar and was a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows. He also has an Master of Science in computer science from Cambridge University.

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