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Unconventional Crisis: Hyper Targeted Violence (HTV) in Hypercomplex Environments with Focus on Urban Terrain

By Dr. Rupali Jeswal, Intelligence and Terrorism Analyst, Clinical & Operational Psychologist, CEO: Xiphos-ISS, Bangkok, Thailand (trainer for professionals in mission-critical domains), Director of Counter Extremism Research and Trainings: International Association of Counter Terrorism & Security Professions, South-East Asia, Chief of Training Operations: DX-India

ajor incidents are events that have an extreme impact on an organization. They play an important role in determining how effective law enforcement agencies operate, and preparation for such events has a significant role in reducing the risk to society and restoring the public’s confidence in law enforcement.

Law enforcement will increasingly find themselves in situations of surprise, responding to events that have many layers of complexity, and working with paradoxes where regular planning and training mechanism might lead to a “stove-piped” response. Police organizations are operating in a highly dynamic environment that is precipitously changing and branded by uncertainty. Decision making in this uncertain environment requires creative tactics and creative thinking.

With this in mind, Police Chief presents two different approaches to major incidents by authors who have studied and/or implemented solutions to major incidents. The following article discusses hyper targeted violence in the growing urban environment and how to prepare for these types of incidents, and the next article discusses the use of Red Teaming as a strategy when planning for major incidents.

A period is launching in which, due to globalization, acculturation has occurred, and accessibility, due to the Internet, has led to transference of animosities and the spillover of geopolitics and emotions. Law enforcement will increasingly find themselves in situations of surprise, responding to events that have many layers of complexity, and working with paradoxes where regular planning and training mechanisms might lead to a “stove-piped” response.

The global environment is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). In this strategic environment, Instinct, Intuition, and Intelligence are building blocks for effective operations to detect, deter, and neutralize an unconventional crisis. Battle lines of asymmetric warfare have encroached the urban terrains; the core of all happenings is based on human values and behavior, which are constantly shifting interchangeably among assess, alert, adapt, and attack modes.1

The terrain has great influence on how tactical operations will play out. Many studies bring to light the significance of certain abilities that leaders of today must possess, including the ability to deal with cognitive complexities, tolerance of ambiguity, intellectual flexibility, self-awareness, and an enhanced understanding of the relationship among organizational sub-systems that collectively construct the prevailing organizational climate.2

Unconventional crises are hypercomplex events, which are varied and dynamic, with multiple causes and effects, such as 9/11, the Mumbai attacks, and the recent shopping mall attack in Nairobi. Unconventional crises tend to challenge the collective rapid response system and resiliency of the communities involved. These events are insidious in nature because adversaries are often simultaneously deployed in multiple locations in multiple attack teams (i.e., Mumbai—five attack teams). They destabilize the society, morale, and notion of security for long periods and spread a transnational psychological trauma, expedited by media. They can traumatize responders and communities. It is necessary when handling these crises to increase the urgency level in thought, preparation, and action because these forms of crises do not adhere to one “ground zero” but have multiple ground zeros. By virtue of their scale, multiple players, rippling effects, and spillovers, these crises have unconventional characteristics. The speed and complexities increase in relation to each other. With this in mind, a fusion-thinking mode adopting several battlefield tactics should be placed in the law enforcement toolkit.

Hyper Targeted Violence

The components of the Mumbai attack included multiple and highly mobile active shooters; multiple targets with combined weapons (Type 56 automatic assault rifles, Heckler & Koch MP5 machine guns, 9-mm pistols, hand grenades, IEDs that contained RDX and ball bearings to create shrapnel, bombs in taxis) and a deliberate use of fire to confuse responders, attract media, and cause maximum causalities. Exemplified by this attack, Hyper Targeted Violence (HTV) often employs a multitude of combinations of lethal conventional weapons against targeted populations, critical infrastructure, high-profile targets, and soft targets, along with an intentional use of force and well-planned tactics.

Understanding Urban Terrain

Urban terrain challenges are instigated by the perpetrators to capitalize on the symbolic, strategic, psychological, and operational significance of the targeted urban terrain. The 2011 edition of the U.N. World Urbanization Prospects reported that “[b]etween 2011 and 2050, the world population is expected to increase by 2.3 billion, taking the current population from 7.0 billion to 9.3 billion. At the same time, the population living in urban areas is projected to gain 2.6 billion, increasing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.2 billion in 2050.”3 Thus, the urban areas of the world are expected to absorb the equivalent of the total population growth expected over the next four decades, while at the same time drawing in additional residents from the current rural population. As a result of this shift from rural to urban living, the worldwide rural population is projected to start decreasing in about a decade, with a projected 0.3 billion fewer rural inhabitants in 2050 than today. Furthermore, most of the population growth expected in urban areas will be concentrated in the cities and towns of the less developed regions. Asia, in particular, is projected to see its urban population increase by 1.4 billion, Africa by 0.9 billion, and Latin America and the Caribbean by 0.2 billion. Population growth is therefore becoming largely an urban phenomenon concentrated in the developing world.4 Urbanization, as a part of the modern trend toward aggregation and complexity, has increased the number and accessibility of targets and methods.5

Although technological innovations have assisted in the tracking and halting of some terrorist groups and plans, these same innovations have helped other groups accomplish their goals more swiftly. Technology is a boon and a curse; in urban settings, instantaneous availability of unfolding events can aid the containment plan or hamper it, since every bit of information can be accessed by the adversaries of the approaching tactical force—for instance, during the Mumbai attacks, the controllers in Pakistan were watching the developing scenario on their television and giving instructions to the attackers. Plus, telecommunications can contribute significantly to the acceleration of unfolding crises, confusion, and even destabilization of systems (e.g., wireless communication can be compromised or mobile networks can become jammed, which can disrupt emergency operations, as it did during the July 2007 London bombings).

Managing the Unconventional Crisis in an Urban Terrain

Situations with the potential to develop into crises need some sort of intervention, beginning with a decisive point to set the wheels in motion for an important change that will thwart the crisis and lead to recovery and build resiliency for the community and the vanguards of society. But there are five phases of preparation and training that precede successful interventions:

  1. Anticipation and Forecasting (performing table-top exercises, creating threat scenarios, evaluating events of the past, examining lessons learned and ways to adopt new and different approaches, InfoOps embedded as a core competency for law enforcement, understanding human behavior during mass panic which could jeopardize the success of tactical operations)
  2. Strategic Guidance Planning (evaluating existing policies and constructing new ones, estimation of resources and gaps, units, and fusion of various units)
  3. Planning Guidance (profiling crises, considering what interventions might be applied, important managing and controlling media)
  4. Preparation (zone categorization according to assets, avenues of coordination)
  5. Enacting (simulations/red teaming, thinking like the opposing force)

Anticipating and Forecasting: Opposing Force Perspectives

There is an ample supply of examples of the crime-terror nexus with the pipeline snaking through all regions of the world. Perpetrators of HTV include categorical adversaries such as terrorists, crime syndicates, and street gangs, while other attacks may be the result of a collaborative approach. With the myriad tactics and arsenal of the opposing force (OPFOR), law enforcement professionals have to be better prepared than ever before. Additionally, perpetrators may have combat attire and military-style weapons, as in the case of the Mumbai attacks and in the 2011 attacks in Norway. Adversaries with those types of resources could also be using training tactics similar to those of the U.S. Marines and Army Rangers (i.e., four-man unit deployments and formations such as wedges, columns, echelons, and lines).

OPFORs may possess certain skills or mind-sets that allow them to consider and execute HTV. Potential skills held by HTV perpetrators include the following:

  • Ability to endure psychological pressure
  • Ability to take control of adversary
  • Capable physical fighting skills
  • Good physical fitness
  • Good awareness
  • Ability to use different types of weapons

  • Remember to prepare your heart for any operation.
  • Remember to refuge yourself from satan.
  • Remember jihad is wajib and not sunnah.
  • Remember to remind yourself of the great rewards of jihad.
  • Remember the tears of the children of Palestine.
  • Remember the scream of your Afghani sister.
  • Remember the bombarded houses in Mali.
  • Remember your sisters in the crusaders’ prisons.
  • Remember you are a servant of Allah.
The above, taken from the English-language al Qaeda publication Inspire, instructs its adherants to “prepare your heart for any operation.”
HTV perpetrators tend to have certain mind-sets, as well, which include the following:

  • Willing to fight without stopping until death
  • Planning and preparation—might be better armed and trained and will often place materials in location prior to attack.
  • Think that the more horrific the killings, the better. This leads to mass terror and transnational psychological trauma, which also destabilizes the society and the sense of security.
  • Ideologically, politically, and religiously driven; also “brand driven” as evidenced when a particular group/organization claims responsibility for an attack.
  • Willing to die—may even rig themselves with explosives—and show a lack of mercy for others—ruthlessness.
  • Potentially use drugs for courage.
  • Have a belief that they will be rewarded for the violence they commit; extreme violence also propels their “brand name” and helps acquire status and support from potential benefactors for future assistance. Terrorism is business.
  • Desire to kill as many people as possible.
  • Desire for press coverage.
  • Look for the stronger hostages first and kill them.
  • Lack respect for children or their lives.
  • Willing to torture hostages.

HTV perpetrators don’t have to be affiliated with al Qaeda or its offshoots to have this mind-set; the online training manuals can convert and coax any with a criminal motive. They don’t play by any rules; they exploit of all known attack trajectories; they adapt and create. In the tactical “code book” of HTV perpetrators, focus should be given to the groups/organizations’ operational rhythm, as this is where affiliations (crime-terror nexus) are pursued.

The OPFOR may be well stocked and have access to numerous weapons. For instance, a Zeta Training Camp located outside of Higueras, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, had an artillery consisting of the following weapons:

  • 124 long arms (AR-15, AK-47, shotguns)
  • 15 pistols
  • 2 Barrett .50 caliber rifles
  • 77 40 mm grenades
  • 32 fragmentation grenades
  • 4 40mm grenade launchers
  • 3 RPG launchers
  • 2 RPG rockets
  • 3 M-72 LAW rockets
  • 1,375 rifle magazines (various types)
  • 5,643 rounds of ammunition (various types)
  • 15 SUVs (6 armored)
  • 10 homemade spike strips made of heavy chain with welded heavy-duty nails
  • 72 bulletproof vests6

Intelligence gathered on al Qaeda suggests that the group has encouraged operatives to consider smaller, simpler, one-man operations for a number of reasons. The strategy moves the war to the enemy’s territory and uses the fact that it is difficult and expensive for a government to provide security for a wide range of low-profile targets. It also contributes to the spreading of insecurity in communities. These “low-profile” targets become attractive for HTV attacks and have the same effect on the targeted society and the government as more complex attacks. This is understood by the perpetrators of HTV—the 2004 Madrid bombings were identified by the bombers as a “deterrence attack.”

Small team or one-man operations require less planning, allow for increased speed, and provide a quick getaway. As there are typically multiple targets, these consume and waste the time of the security forces and create confusion and chaos. This “deterrence and resistance strategy” by the perpetrators is leading to the bleeding of society and the economy, as well as lowering public morale.

Another message relayed through these low-cost operations is that their simple operations and weapons are enough to terrorize and cripple the economy. It is also important to note that lone operators are encouraged to employ the art of ninjutsu for low-profile assassinations as it requires no use of weapons.

This approach means that public places like shopping malls; parking lots; and transportation centers are a concern, as they are targets that can be attacked by smaller, one-man operations while still producing a big effect. This is urban warfare, and due to the nature of the urban terrain, HTV events will increase in number. By necessity, rapid response will mean exactly as the term suggests—rapid!

Strategic Guidance and Planning

The speed at which every law enforcement unit can engage in self-assembly (spontaneous self-ordering of their substructures into superstructures to respond to the unconventional crisis) depends largely on planning for such events that involves the collective resources and interoperability of various response forces, policy makers, and the community. The planning phase should employ theoretical and empirical perspectives and approaches with diverse views and open debates.

To contain HTV situations, the coordinated teamwork and interoperability of various units and specialists should be a fluid performance, and this is achieved when strategic and planning guidance make roadmaps for unconventional crises. More than individual performance, small unit tactics must be practiced. In every crisis there is a “golden window” that can be monopolized to contain the event and reduce the magnitude of disaster. This golden window can be utilized only by the ones first on the scene, that is, the local police unit.

For instance, the first 15 to 45 minutes are the most hazardous and critical in a hostage situation, and, like all forms of critical crises, there is loss of control and chaos. In a hypercomplex environment, an unconventional crisis will involve multiple scenarios: buildings on fire, hostage situations, bomb explosions, shoot-outs, and more. During attacks, the police, firefighters, and emergency medical crews can face any or all of an array of automatic firearms, grenades, IEDs, stabbings, ambushes, incendiary weapons, and arson.

HTV perpetrators have certain elements in common, although the details may differ. The operational rhythm can provide valuable understanding for law enforcement.
The critical engine for growth, prosperity, and viability of any learning organization (LO) in the current turbulent and unconventional environment is to be innovative and to develop, react, and modify ideas collectively. The response system must be flexible enough to change and adapt to the paradoxical nature of the situation; have confidence in the “know-how” for their unit’s self-assembly; and the capabilities to initiate the right response. Responders must know when there is a need for interdependence on each other and when an independent maneuver must be initiated. These options are known as progressive systemization and progressive segregation, respectively. Each response force must be able to make decisions, plan, and act in a joint theatre with other response teams. The rapid interoperability of various response forces (police, firefighters, special units, emergency medical units, etc.) and shared strategies are required to contain and neutralize HTV assault incidents. History has shown that the attack initiation-totermination timeline for most deadly attacks is short and deaths occur rapidly.

However, as multiple ground zeros emerge, units must also be able to engage in decentralization, which takes place when they have the resources and authority to break away and make their subsystem (a particular unit) more important than the collective system. During the strategic guidance and planning phases, these sorts of events must be hypothesized by context diagrams of the urban terrain according to its assets (symbolic, financial, psychological, etc.); the various case scenarios; and the types of processes for response that might be needed. Planning must consider any external entities in the form of structures or community that can act as a support system or create an obstacle to rapid response; what sort of data are stored of that particular urban terrain; and if there are mechanics set up for a smooth data flow to gather information as the situation develops.

MOSAIC Theatre of Operations

Planning exercises with hypercomplex maps for law enforcement must include spontaneous scenarios, courses of action, and fusion groups that have each been prepared beforehand for their roles, movements, coordination, and coalition—a sort of pre-rehearsed “spontaneous” combination, including the emerging roles as critical drivers for response efforts as the unconventional crisis develops. There should be an understanding that comfortable hierarchical distinctions will be blurred; the disruption might have no front lines and no linear transitions—but instead will be a multi-theatre hazard to be contained. Planning, response, and recovery might be blended into one package of analysis and decision making. Every officer must be trained to cultivate critical thinking processes, fear and perception management skills, and situational analysis and have the strategic leadership qualities necessary to take action.

The limitations on planning efforts must involve stakeholders and policymakers to be a part of the capacity building for a Multi-faceted Organized System for Asymmetrical Imminent Crisis (MOSAIC) theatre of operations so as to understand the “make-up” (all potential hazards) of unconventional crises on an urban terrain and to utilize, understand, and differentiate between strategic, operational, and tactical policing.


To contain the initial critical stage of HTV dimensions, officers must not be placed at a disadvantage due to inadequate planning and training. In other words, they must be prepared, as these dimensions are successive, rapid, and unpredictable.

In Mumbai, gunmen armed with Type 56 assault rifles (Chinese version of Kalashnikov AK-47) and backpacks loaded with ammunition and grenades arrived by dinghy and spread out within the city, where they then barricaded themselves. Local special forces took several hours to arrive, so the first response and initial fight-back was left to the police officers who were armed with bolt-action rifles. Most of the hostages killed in the Mumbai attacks died within 30 minutes of capture. The hostage rescue plan suffered from serious defects, including (a) a failure to set up an operational command center and (b) storm teams that went in blind, having no understanding of the basic structural layout of the two major buildings (the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Trident-Oberoi Hotels). Simply put, they were not prepared.

The concept of operations regarding preparations for community protection and preparedness during critical crisis is constructed on an understanding of decisive zonal terrains and commanding terrains. An area and its structures can be used as assets—force multipliers if an attack occurs in that particular zone—or, as demonstrated in the Mumbai example, can be hazards if the response team is unprepared.

A mathematical approach to this view of terrains follows:

If a field is a line (one dimensional), a village is a square (two dimensional), and a village with a population of fewer than 3,000 surrounded by valleys, forest, and so forth, is a cube (three dimensional), then towns and cities with a population of more than 3,000 and into the millions (i.e., urban terrain) are hypercubes (four dimensional). The structure of a hypercube can be drawn, but it is difficult to imagine. Likewise, urban terrain challenges the resourcefulness and ingenuity of law enforcement. To think the unthinkable in planning and preparation is a key process and requires four-dimensional thinking. Whoever controls certain critical objectives will have an important strategic and/or tactical advantage. Due to the inherent complexity of urban terrain, multiple avenues of approach (AOA) exist for this battlefield, along with fields of fire for the attacker and defenders.

To handle urban warfare, new “thinking steps” must be undertaken to explore new means of planning, developing alliances, and educating/training the vanguards of society (law enforcement) and the community. Unconventional crises are evolving in nature, which calls for a trans-disciplinary approach that is a fusion of many disciplines along with the existing interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches. Specialized disciplinary methods develop a tool set of analysis and operations, which while important, is inadequate as a tool for unconventional crises. Security is like oxygen—once you realize it is decreasing, then it is already too late!

Rings of Relevance
Planners need to think about antecedents, force multipliers, and force transformation during hasty attacks, which have rings of relevance. A hasty attack requires a rapid mental estimate; a rapid selection of a course of action; and rapid, decisive, violent action to maximize the opportunity.

In addition to combatting unconventional crises, responders need to distinguish community outreach programs that can be empowered and those that should be merely engaged. There is a vast difference between empowering and engaging; both serve as force multipliers, but have different modus operandi.


Unconventional crises most frequently hit urban environments, and they do not follow a rulebook. These kinds of crises are fluid, morphing, overlapping, and creating new, unanticipated situations. It is recommended that law enforcement create predictive models of potential risk assessment and crisis management and map game-ending scenarios, which could potentially aggravate crises instead of containing them.

A simulations-developed focus should also include local resource management in the planning, incorporating local human resources, local logistics, local organizations’ management, technological management, intelligence and information, and media management.

Trainings in tactical diagramming for security forces of critical infrastructures, symbolic buildings and sites, and various zones of a city should be incorporated into dry drills to prepare law enforcement and other emergency responders for a hypercomplex event. A crisis platform should bring together directorates and departments (geographical and horizontal departments) to create a concept of operation for an HTV unconventional crisis where effectiveness is the ability to enact real-time, ad hoc decisions and actions. A unified vision of operations and an understanding of clear directives and procedures among various response forces are key for effective and rapid response. Combating this lethal multi-hazard dynamic environment requires a nontraditional approach. The main or standard tactic can change in a blink of an eye, so an effective response requires a mind-set that can quickly assess, decide, communicate, coordinate, and act. This first rapid response can drastically alter the mission plan and tactics.

Training in Critical Leadership Intelligence can be bottom-up or top-down, individual or group, and, critical leadership has three domains: strategic, operational, and interpersonal.


Police organizations are operating in highly dynamic environments that are precipitously changing and branded by uncertainty. Decision making in an uncertain environment requires not just tactics, but also using one’s mind. Officers must begin to think like their adversaries, to understand the avenues of approach in and on an urban terrain. They must also employ coup d’oeil, which is perceptive insight of any given situation. Hypercomplex events and unconventional crises destabilize the entire system; thus, there has to be a blueprint for the “fallback” position of all responding forces. Of these forces, police and other law enforcement are a point of focus because the new line of decisions and defense is going to come from the front lines. Every officer is a leader and must be trained for high performance during these “unthinkable crises.” ♦

1Dr. Rupali Jeswal and Damien Martin, “Behavioral Complexity on the Battlefield,” Defense and Security Alert (May 2013): 28–31, (accessed November 8, 2013).
2Walter F. Ulmer, “Military Leadership into the 21st Century: Another Bridge Too Far?” Parameters 38 (Spring 1998): 7, (accessed November 8, 2013).
3David Satterthwaite, “The Transition to a Predominantly Urban World and its Underpinnings,” Human Settlements Discussion Paper Series: Theme: Urban Change 4 (International Institute of for Environment and Development, 2007), (accessed November 8, 2013).
4United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division, “Executive Summary,” in World Urbanization Prospects (United Nations, 2011), (accessed November 8, 2013).
5Dr. Anar Valiyev, “Urban Terrorism,” Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, (accessed November 8, 2013).
6Cristo Panevino, Zeta Camp (March 28, 2012), 4 slides.

Further Reading:
  • “Dealing with Surprises and Unconventional Crises,” workshop report (Washington D.C.: July 1, 2009),
  • Erwan Lagadec, Leadership in Unconventional Crises, A Transatlantic and Cross-Sector Assessment (Washington, D.C.: Center for Transatlantic Relations, 2009).
  • Sid Heal, An Illustrated Guide to Tactical Diagramming (New York: Lantern Books, November 2005).

    Please cite as:

    Rupali Jeswal, “Unconventional Crisis: Hyper Targeted Violence (HTV) in Hypercomplex Environments with Focus on Urban Terrain,” The Police Chief 80 (December 2013): 66–70.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 12, December 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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