Jakarta bombs are indicative of a trend where terrorists are selecting soft targets like luxury hotels

In the 1970s it was the airliner and in the 1980s it was the overseas embassy, now the international terrorist’s target of choice is the luxury hotel. That is the finding of a new analysis from US intelligence group Stratfor.

According to the analysis, the twin hotel bombings in Jakarta are indicative of a trend where terrorists favour small bombs and luxury hotels. This allows them to circumvent the strict physical security measures at embassies while still making the same statement against western ‘decadence’ and ‘imperialism’.

‘Hotels are often full of Western businessmen, diplomats and intelligence officers, providing militants with a target-rich environment where they can kill Westerners and gain international media attention without having to penetrate the extreme security of a modern embassy,’ noted Stratfor.

Since 2004 terrorists have targeted hotels in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, India and Egypt. Additionally, in attacks in Mumbai, Amman, Sharm el-Sheikh, and now Jakarta militants were able to stage coordinated attacks in which they hit more than one hotel.

It is extremely expensive to provide a hotel with the same level of physical security afforded to an embassy. While security has improved in recent years, due to their nature as welcoming places hotels remain extremely vulnerable to attacks, particularly in high risk locations, said the group.

It is easy for terrorist to run surveillance missions on them and even to gain access by posing as an employee. Reports have emerged that one of the suicide bombers in Jakarta was a florist at one of the hotels. It is possible that he used his position to smuggle explosive components into the facility, noted the analysis.

While business travelers should pay attention to the level of security provided by hotels they should not rely on it to keep them safe, advised the firm. There are some simple security measures that travelers should follow (see box below).

Terrorists have changed their tactics in response to the increased security measures deployed at embassies and on aircraft. However the shift to using smaller improvised explosive devices has not decreased the death count. In fact using smaller devices has proved just as effective at killing foreigners, explained Stratfor. The reason for this is that terrorists have selected their targets carefully.

The impact of an explosion is determined solely by placement. If a bomber can carry a smaller explosive into the center of a heavily packed crowd it will cause more damage than a larger device detonated farther away from its intended target. The rule for explosives is much like real estate — the three most important factors are location, location and location, said Stratfor. Smaller explosive devices are also much cheaper and therefore easier to assemble.

While JI has had its capabilities reduced, due to harassment from security services, it still remains perfectly capable of carrying out low-cost carefully targeted attacks, added the firm. The police’s response to the attacks, however, may force the cell to go underground at least until the heat is off.

The full analysis, Examining the Jakarta Attacks: Trend ands Challenges, is available on the Stratfor website.

Marsh recommended the following advice for business travellers overseas:

On signing in to accommodation, do not disclose your occupation, position or company

Ask for a room on floors 2 to 10 but not adjacent to any roofs

Check security of the door and that there is a safe in the room

Read the safety procedures and check the emergency escape routes

Identify safe areas you can go to if any emergency occurs

Plan your route before leaving accommodation

Avoid unofficial gatherings or demonstrations

Carry a copy of passport, flight tickets, emergency help numbers and a mobile phone with you at all times

Be alert: you can often identify a developing situation at an early stage. It is better to react quickly and avoid the danger rather than wait until it develops and have to fight your way out.