"You Cannot Go Around Life Terrified," Insights On Living With Threats Of 'Soft Target' Attacks

Jan 12, 2017

Marcelo Salup grew up in Spain in the last years of the Franco dictatorship, mindful of the state police and their long batons, and ETA, a Basque separatist group that waged an increasingly intense terror campaign from the 1960s until a ceasefire in 2010. 

“My formative years were spent in an atmosphere where you were very conscious ETA could just bomb anything,” Salup says. In fact, the group bombed the residential building where he lived as a kid, and later, the university where he went to school.


For some security experts, Friday’s mass shooting in Fort Lauderdale renewed the focus on attacks against so-called ‘soft targets’—places that don’t have high levels of security day to day.

“We are seeing more and more soft target events, almost on a daily basis, worldwide,” says Michael Fagel, an emergency response trainer who worked at Ground Zero after 9/11 and responded to the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. 

“Years ago, people thought that whatever happened overseas could never happen to us. That’s totally untrue. If you go back to San Bernardino last December, you go to Nice, you go to Paris, they’re happening everywhere because we are a global society and a global economy.”

 While the suspect’s motivations remain unclear, the attack on the unsecured baggage claim area at  Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport came just months after the Pulse Nightclub attack in Orlando, and weeks after a truck ramming that injured 11 at Ohio State University. 

You cannot go around life terrified of something that is statistically not going to happen. —Marcelo Salup

But Marcelo Salup says his experience of violence growing up in Spain has made him unafraid of terrorism here in South Florida. He sees much larger risks from inattentive and drunk drivers on American highways, pointing out that the risk of injury or death from a car accident far outweighs the risk from a terror attack. “You cannot go around life terrified of something that is statistically not going to happen,” he says.

Nadav Alkoby was born and raised in Miami, and recently returned to the U.S. from Israel. Last week, he was just a short walk away from the Jerusalem bus stop where a truck ran over a group of soldiers as they boarded a bus. “You hear one siren, then you hear another—that really hits home,” he says. “However, that happened, and then, later that day, the restaurants are all full. It doesn’t affect your way of life.”

One way such attacks have already affected the way of life, Alkoby says, is security guards in shop doorways and bag checks on your way into popular restaurants. Israel has responded to a spate of similar truck rammings by installing barriers around hundreds of bus stops in Jerusalem. 

But there is some debate about how much visible security measures can change the likelihood of an attack in a free society with essentially unlimited soft targets. “I wish I could give us an answer that would say, ‘If we do x, y, z we will prevent this from happening.’” Fagel says. “Sadly, with X million people in the country and with people who want to do us harm, it’s going to be very very tough for us to protect ourselves.”

“When you have a person that could be suffering from a severe mental illness, or you have what you call a lone wolf assassin that’s ready to conduct some cowardly, heinous attack, there’s not much law enforcement or anyone else can do about it,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said in response to Friday’s shooting in Fort Lauderdale.  “The most important thing is mitigation and our ability to respond and lessen the loss of life.”

One thing that Alkoby finds reassuring in Israel, where military service is mandatory, is that “everyone around you is a trained military veteran.”

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This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their insights with the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at http://wlrn.org/topic/public-insight-network.