Aaron Cohen, a counterterrorism expert and former member of the elite Israeli special forces unit, said on CNN early Friday that the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, was a “colossal” security failure that could have been stopped. At least 80 people were killed on Thursday when a truck barreled through a crowd of people celebrating on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais.
Cohen said, “This is a security failure on a colossal level. This is a colossal failure on a basic security level for event planning. There should have been some kind of physical barrier, where armed, present, properly trained, heavily-armed police officers were checking vehicles. There were grenades in the car. There was an AK-47 in the car. There was somebody who was about to commit an act of of murder.”
He said that if the vehicle had been checked and the driver screened, “with a proper physical barricade in place, they would have been stopped.”
Cohen said that an Israeli-style triple security layering needs to be in place for events like the Bastille Day celebration in France. “That truck was moving in slowly, which leads me to believe that the person was going to a specific place for a specific reason,” he said. “There was surveillance that was being conducted for the terrorist to inflict the most damage.”
“Israelis deploy a Triple-D system, which stands for deter, detect, and deny.” He said if a similar event had been held in Israel, cars would have had limited access to the street. “The deterrence would also involve heavier armed security personnel.”
“There is already a heavy military feel to feel to France, I don’t know how much more you can get,” he said. But he suggested that assault weapon-carrying police officers should be placed anywhere you have massive crowds. “That’s where terrorists go.”
He said the final step of the Israeli layering system is “denial,” which is an important part of training for law enforcement. “If you look what happened recently in Turkey, in Istanbul, a Turkish police officer ended up firing at that terrorist who went in with an AK-47 who was firing openly in the center-mass, the thoracic area. The terrorist went down.” Cohen said Israeli police are trained to fire a round into the center of the head. “It’s not personal, we’re not trying to kill the terrorist, we’re trying to keep his hands from moving. Had [the Turkish police officer] shot that terrorist in the head, that explosion we saw moments afterwards wouldn’t have been able to happen because they wouldn’t have hit the button.”
When asked what could have been done to stop the large panel truck as it rolled down the Promenade des Anglais, Cohen didn’t mince words: “My Israeli answer? Stop and check the truck. You’ve got AK-47s in the truck. I’ll tell you in Israel what we learned from El Al Airlines which is protected by the Israeli FBI. The body language of somebody who is about to commit an act of murder is just as red-flagged as someone who has just committed an act of murder.”
Cohen advocates “anti-terror specific training” similar to the Israeli Triple-D system to prevent future attacks.