Monday, May 22, 2006

Gaza Elevator Bombing: An Inside Job - May 22

Y'know, even at the best of times the best reporters working for a top newspaper make mistakes. I erroneously reported earlier that a blast in Gaza was the result of an Israeli missile fired from a UAV. Turns out, it was an IED planted inside the elevator shaft, not a missile. Sorry about that. I'll try not to jump to conclusions in the future. JC

Stratfor -- Predictive, Insightful, Global Intelligence

Gaza Elevator Bombing: Earmarks of an Inside Job
May 22, 2006

A bomb exploded in an elevator at the Palestinian General Intelligence Service in Gaza on May 19, seriously injuring the agency's chief, Gen. Tareq Abu Rajab. The blast also killed one of Abu Rajab's bodyguards, seriously wounded five other people in his entourage and injured passengers in an adjacent elevator. Although security in the Gaza Strip is woefully substandard, the fact that a device was planted inside the territory's intelligence headquarters -- where security supposedly is tightest -- suggests the attack was an inside job.

Details on the bombing are sketchy -- security forces having attacked reporters who arrived on the scene -- but investigators say the bomb was a homemade device packed with metal pellets and planted beneath the elevator's flooring. In order to effectively target Abu Rajab, and ensure he was in the elevator at the time of the blast, the improvised explosive device (IED) likely was command detonated, meaning someone would have had to watch Abu Rajab enter the elevator before activating the device.

Because only one person was killed in the attack and passengers in a neighboring elevator were injured as well, the bomb possibly was planted on one side of the elevator floor, rather than in the center. In that scenario, the person standing closest to the bomb would have absorbed the concussion from the blast, along with the metal pellets. The device also could have been a shaped charge, designed to focus the energy of the blast in one direction. Passengers in the neighboring car could have sustained their injuries from the concussion of the blast.

The militant Web site that claimed responsibility for the attack said Abu Rajab survived because the doors to the elevator had not yet closed when the blast occurred, which would have reduced the force of the explosion inside the elevator. Investigators at the scene, however, said that the bomb detonated after the doors closed, as the party was reaching the building's second floor.

Planting an IED in an elevator is a fairly sophisticated and risky operation. The fact that this attack occurred in the intelligence agency's headquarters raises several flags, notably the poor quality of employee screening. Unlike planting an IED on a road or in a public area, planning for an attack of this nature requires detailed knowledge of the target building; in this case, right down to the specific elevator Abu Rajab would be using. This is further evidence the bombers either work in the intelligence service or had an accomplice on the inside who also could have provided a detailed blueprint covering the access points to the elevator shaft.

If executed successfully, an elevator bombing is a much more precise attack than a roadside bombing. Because the blast is confined to the shaft, a smaller, more easily concealed device can be used. The shaft, which is naturally reinforced against the rest of the building, channels the force of the blast in only two directions: up or down. The concussion is therefore amplified in the shaft as it bounces along the enclosure, increasing the damage to the target.

On the off chance that those in an elevator car survive an initial blast, they still can be killed if the elevator falls to the bottom of the shaft, depending on the location of the car at the moment of the attack. Although newer elevators have emergency systems designed to prevent freak freefall accidents, a strategically placed device could disable all safety systems.

Although elevator attacks are effective, they rarely are employed. The last notable elevator bombing occurred in February 2005, killing a former police chief in Tirana, Albania. This latest attack, however, emphasizes the need for routine elevator searches, which are not always included in security sweeps, as well as proper screening of employees.

Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.

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