RALF KASSNER is a former special forces member and mission leader of the German anti-terrorist groups GSG9 and SEK. He has instructed and trained with most of the European special teams, to include the GIGN, SAS, Le Raid, GOE, as well as Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, HRT, and more. He is now the CEO of Wodan Security.
SOFREP: The attacks in Paris have acted as a warning sign. What is the situation in Germany?
Ralf Kassner: I received the news while I was overseas and I was as shocked as most people, but not surprised. The threat of new attacks has been reported often enough. First, though, I would like to extend our condolences to the victims and wish a speedy recovery for the injured. The professional reaction of the French security forces and the many helpers also deserves our recognition and praise. As it stands for Germany? It is hard to say. Highly paid security specialists are already arguing over that. One thing is certain; there is a clear and present threat to our country. The question is, in my opinion, when, not if, an attack will occur.
France, Belgium, England, Spain, and Denmark are not far away. In addition, we have the uncontrolled influx of thousands of refugees. When you consider that it took me two hours to get through the passport check at Madrid Airport, while in Germany there are people are walking along the motorways and jumping from trains with impunity, you begin to realize there is reason for concern and the discrepancy is incomprehensible. That does not mean that we should reject taking in those in need, however it is not just dentists and scientists who are coming and we should therefore at least check and register everyone.
Likely terrorist targets in the coming months are Christmas markets and parties, as well as carnival processions—all scenarios that would produce the effects the terrorists want, and all difficult to protect.
Other symbolic targets could be large shopping malls such as Kadewe, the financial district in Frankfurt, the chemical industry on the Rhine and Ruhr, and of course, concerts or other large events.
SOFREP: The uncomfortable question that probably everyone has is, is Germany prepared? And what are German units doing to prevent such a catastrophe?
Ralf: As prepared as anyone can be with limited intelligence. If it is not possible to neutralize the threat in advance, then there only remains reacting, not acting. That is always a disadvantage. If you view footage of the attacks, the majority of people cannot distinguish the explosions at the stadium from fireworks. The concertgoers also thought that the sound of gunfire was part of the show and not an attack. Even for the security forces, it is very difficult to rapidly identify the terrorists. For example, consider the attacks on the beach in Tunisia.
That is the reason we place so much emphasis on perception and peripheral vision skills during our training. The attacker with a turban, beard, and white robe is a myth. The German special forces are well trained, as are our French comrades. Active shooter and mass hostage-taking scenarios have been exercised ever since Beslan. Joint exercises and training in the Atlas Group are designed to improve cross-border cooperation. Germany (GSG9) and the Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre (GTAZ) in Berlin have taken a leading role in this.
In my opinion, problems remain with police equipment, especially within the States. This needs to be rectified as soon as possible, especially in the areas of protective and surveillance equipment. Overall, I think we are in capable hands with our specialist units, however any unit is only as strong as the political will behind it and the assertiveness of their command structure. In the words of Alexander the Great, “I do not fear an army of lions led by a sheep, I fear an army of sheep led by a lion.”
SOFREP: It is not only the state that is affected by these kinds of attacks, but every citizen. For example, how can private companies prepare themselves?
Ralf: It is similar to the ’70s fight against terrorism. Financing is only made available to improve training and equipment once our own country is affected. I am sure that there is an intention to apply certain measures, however, security costs money and is unfortunately often only implemented when something has happened.
We have already provided advice to a number of firms and provided tactical and technical support for their security personnel to face this new type of violence. In our opinion, the protective security teams from all the DAX corporations and major banks, etc., should all be trained in the same tactics, as during combined events, there is seldom a full team on location. Our aim is to have, in an emergency, personnel from company A have the same skills as company B and C, all of whom, without much discussion, can evacuate their principals, or can react to a scenario such as an active shooter at a board meeting, even when there are no official agencies on hand.
In the coming year, we will be offering special tactics training days for these situations to help clients gain time and keep their evacuation plans up to date. I will be placing special emphasis on protective surveillance; company security personnel should receive such training. It is also worth considering level-4 protective vests and extra magazines. Regular team training is important, as are intelligence assessments and the pursuit of additional qualifications, such as medical skills. We have several good providers for that here in Germany. In one training scenario, communications are severely limited to emulate a worst-case situation.
SOFREP: What about tips for the individual? What should we avoid or be aware of without getting paranoid? If something happens, what should we do?
Ralf: Well, first of all, the state is responsible for the security of its citizens. We should of course avoid specific areas, like Molnbeek in Belgium. As I already mentioned, anyone can review their own security management. Where am I travelling to? What event am I going to? Where are the emergency exits? What is my backup plan if there is an attack? How do I react to loud bangs, smoke, and panic? Where can I hide?
It also makes sense to attend regular first aid training that covers more than the standard syllabus, such as treating gunshot wounds and burns. Equipment providers have reported an increase in sales of batons and pepper spray, however they only make sense if you know how to use them, and of course, they have little affect against Kalashnikovs and explosives!
Good training from qualified sources can help protect your life and the lives of others. On that note, we would like to extend our respect for the courage and determined actions of those on the Thalys Train from Amsterdam to Paris, who prevented what would have been another catastrophe. But we should not only consider the Paris attacks, we should also remember what happened in Istanbul and Beirut.
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