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Homeland Security Research Program Director's Recent Lecture Addresses All-Too Familiar Political Violence at Sporting Events

April 16, 2013

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Editor's Note: As part of Dean Alexander's work as the Homeland Security Research Program (HSRP) director and a faculty member in Western Illinois University's School of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration (LEJA), Alexander interviewed Fatah and Hamas prisoners incarcerated in an Israeli prison in Beersheba (in 2011), the findings of which he uses in his instruction for WIU students, as well as in his guest lectures. He has also served as an invited lecturer to present his research findings at NATO's Centre of Excellence—Defense Against Terrorism in Ankara, Turkey. Since 2010, Alexander has presented lectures covering law enforcement responses to terrorism; terror financing; legal aspects of terrorism; the organized crime/terror nexus; terrorism and business; suicide bombings; terror group structures; and cyberterrorism at the NATO Centre in Turkey. Alexander has also lectured at NATO's Centre of Excellence—Human Intelligence in Oradea, Romania.

As part of the HSRP Lecture Series in Spring 2013, a panel discussion, "The Complexities of Operating in Conflict Zones," is slated for 3:15-4:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 16 in Stipes Hall 121. Also sponsored by the School of LEJA and the WIU Department of Military Science, the panel members will cover: "Doing Business in Conflict Zones: Threats and Opportunities" by Alexander; "Military Economic Development Challenges in a Conflict Zone" by Lt. Col. Lawrence Pickett, assistant professor/Ranger Company adviser, military science; and "Costs Appending to Engineering Projects in Conflict Zones" by Lt. Col. John Drew, chair, military science

MACOMB, IL -- Monday's explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring dozens, underscore the fragility and susceptibility of sporting events. Dean Alexander, director of the Western Illinois University Homeland Security Research Program (HSRP) and associate professor in WIU's School of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration (LEJA), recently addressed this unfortunate phenomenon in a lecture he presented at Baskent University in Ankara, Turkey, last month.

Prior to Monday's events in Boston, Alexander was covering the topic based on the fact that Istanbul is one of three finalists for hosting the Summer Olympics in 2020. In light of that what happened April 15, security at the London Marathon—slated for this coming weekend (April 21)—is expected to be strengthened.

"Sadly, we should not be surprised at political violence at sporting events. In April 2008, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber killed 15 and injured over 100, when he detonated himself at the start of a marathon race near Colombo, Sri Lanka. The attack killed the Highway Minister of Sri Lanka, who also served a government peace negotiator, and the marathon coach of the Sri Lankan national team," he explained.

According to Alexander—who travels widely to lecture about homeland security and counterterrorism issues at home and abroad—awareness of this issue came to light in September 1972, when eight members of the Palestinian group Black September entered the Munich, Germany, Olympic Village and stormed the quarters of the Israeli delegation. They murdered two Israelis and took nine more hostages, demanding the release of more than 200 Arab prisoners, mostly in Israel. After a day of failed negotiations with German authorities, the terrorists and hostages were ferried to a nearby air base, where a plane was waiting, as the terrorists requested. But a nighttime firefight between German snipers and the terrorists left the nine hostages dead, along with five of their captors and a sniper.

"Security efforts at the Olympics have expanded since that incident with varying results. In July 1996, a knapsack bomb exploded at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia, killing two and injuring 120 people. Eric Rudolph, who pled guilty to the attacks and is now serving life in prison, undertook the attack in support of the violent, anti-abortion group, the Army of God," Alexander added.

In Winter 2002, the first post-9/11 Olympics, security measures ranged from a restricted flight zone over Salt Lake City to stationing sharpshooters at nine Olympics venues. No terror incident arose at the event. The security matrix was also expanded during recent Olympic games, including in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.

Alexander also noted that political violence has targeted soccer events globally. In July 2010, twin suicide bombings at an Ethiopian restaurant and at a rugby club in Kampala, Uganda, killed 76 and injured at least 85 people. Al Shabaab took credit for the attack. The victims were watching the World Cup matches.

"In July 2007, two suicide bombers in Baghdad killed 50 people and injured 135 celebrating the Iraqi national team victory in the Asian Cup finals. In May 2002, ETA detonated two car bombs near the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, the night before the European Champions League match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. About two-dozen people were injured in the attacks," Alexander noted. "And in March 2009, a dozen Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team's bus near the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. Eight Pakistanis were killed and six Sri Lankan national team members were injured."

The effects of political violence on sporting events can be gauged according to various parameters, including: fan attendance, athletes, sponsorships, broadcasting, media coverage, revenue and security measures, among others, Alexander added.

"Security responses to such threats include such efforts as expanding physical and technological security measures; public-private partnerships; intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination; and improving crowd control and terrorism indicators," he noted.

For more information about counterterrorism, homeland security and the Homeland Security Research Program at Western, contact Alexander at

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