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Terrorists Increasingly Targeting Hotels

A new study by a private intelligence firm says terrorist attacks on hotels have risen dramatically in recent years. The group says tighter security at embassies and consulates has caused al-Qaida and allied groups to shift their attention to easier targets.

Before September 11, 2001, al-Qaida made a name for itself by attacks on Western military and diplomatic targets, such as the USS Cole and the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

But the private intelligence firm STRATFOR says tough security measures implemented since the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington have forced al-Qaida and its allies to strike soft targets like hotels.

"The militants are shifting away from harder targets. As security measures are put in place at airports, we've seen a shift kind of away from aircraft to embassies. And then as embassy security was ratcheted up, we saw another shift over towards hotels. And so really there's kind of a line as security that is tightened at certain targets; it makes other targets more vulnerable to militants," said

Scott Stewart, STRATFOR's Vice President for Tactical Intelligence:

Stewart adds that the fact that hotels are now targeted says something about how al-Qaida has changed. "We really saw al-Qaida going from being 'al-Qaida the core group,' where they had a small group of highly trained professional terrorist operatives, into more of what we call 'al-Qaida the movement,' where we have these regional franchises or going towards the grassroots guys - the kind of do-it-yourself militant operative. And those people don't have the same skill level as the professional al-Qaida operatives. And so they also tend to gravitate more towards the easier targets to strike," he said.

Since 2001, attacks on hotels have more than doubled when compared with the eight years prior to the September 11 attacks. Suicide bombers struck hotels in Islamabad and Peshawar, Pakistan, and in Jakarta, Indonesia, last year, for example, while armed gunmen attacked two luxury hotels in Mumbai, India.

Stewart says hotels are a favorite target of militants because they are frequented by Western visitors, and the country's political and military elite. "That kind of a five-star international hotel is really the kind of social nucleus for the wealthy people in that country, but also for foreigners - whether it's foreign businessmen, whether it's foreign diplomats, foreign intelligence officers or even the media and correspondents. They will stay at these same hotels. So it's really an ideal place to strike if you: (1) want to kill Westerners, and (2) if you want to get media [attention] for the attacks," he said.

Stewart warns that hotels by their very nature cannot be made completely secure. "There has to be kind of a balance there. I mean, they're trying to do the best job they can. But they're in a difficult position because you can't just shut it down. You need people to come in and stay at your hotel, to eat in your restaurants, to shop at the shops so that you can make money, since it's a commercial enterprise. And so it's more difficult than an embassy environment to secure," he said.

The STRATFOR report says that even with the terrorist threat, some hotels are reluctant to implement cumbersome and costly security measures such as identity and key checks, and baggage screening for fear of alienating guests. But the report adds that the possibility of lawsuits by victims of terrorist attacks could force hotels to change their procedures.