The recent Valentines Day bombing attempt in Bangkok contains a great lesson learned for US first responders, that many are not aware of. The practice of graffiti marking is however, well known in the context of gang activity to mark territory or activity of a particular group or individual. But how many in the US would react if they saw a sticker, commercially made, bearing the single word “Sejeal” upon it?
56 such stickers were found post incident plastered along routes in Thailand, potentially marking escape routes, attack paths, or targeting locations. 300 were found in the home that was being rented by the Iranians in the failed plot, 100 at the Nasa Vegas hotel where Leila Rohani stayed, and more inside a motorcycle that was used by the terrorists.
“Sejeal” is in reference to the Sejeal Stones that were legendary stones dropped by birds during a battle between Mohammad and Yemenite tribesman. The stones scared away the elephants that the Yemenis were using in the battle, and effectively turned the tide of the conflict. More recently, Sejeal is a label given to improvised missiles being used in the Middle East.
How many US responders and citizens would be aware to this fact? In Iraq, flags, graffiti signs, and other markers were used for similar purposes, some with symbols, but others with various names or slogans. Just as police are tuned into gang symbols and understand the meanings when a gang symbol appears in a new area, so to must they be educated on various symbols that terrorist “gangs” and individuals can use for a more insidious and deadly purpose.
The Thais are very alert to bombings, having endured almost a decade of a very large bombing campaign in the South of Thailand, and take the IED threat very seriously. Earlier Bangkok was the scene of a wave of bombings during New Years 2007, another failed attempt by an Iranian group to use a Large Truck Bomb (LVBIED) during the 90s, and other IED devices used in everything from civil unrest to domestic disturbances. As such, they are attuned in a way that many in the US should be aware of and emulate at home. The Department of Homeland Securities “See Something, Say Something” campaign is only as good as the information that people are given, and many remain unaware of indicators of terrorist activity.
As I sit during a brief pause in my travel in Pattaya, an event occurred here yesterday which illustrates this point. Everyone in Thailand is aware of the Sejeal sticker information. Here in Pattaya, an alert citizen Mr. Tawee, spotted three suspicious men plastering stickers along Soi (Street) 2, and spraying graffiti. The stickers had the word “Napalm” on them and the tags the word “C4”. He duly reported it to the police, and the investigation quickly located the culprits who were foreign gang members with a misdirected sense of timing and words while on vacation. I wandered Soi 2 yesterday and there was a mix of farang (foreigners) and Thais and nothing out of the normal eclectic bustle that is Pattaya, yet Mr. Tawee was alert and not afraid to report what he thought was suspicious. Good call on his part; as this time it turns out to be gangs, but next time might just as easily be terrorist bent on destruction.