The very nature of popular music events makes them attractive for terrorists and extremely difficult to defend. Here are a few reasons why these targets aren’t going away. Open-air festivals and concerts provide a particular challenge for law enforcement officials charged with keeping people safe. Violent extremists have targeted these events to create chaos and destruction in places where people should feel comfort and enjoyment. 

Sprawling Event Venues & Loud Volume

Today’s event venues are often held in large areas of open space. In such circumstances, there are simply too many people unprotected from outside elements. Following an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017, Salman Abedi, a British citizen of Libyan descent, detonated a suicide bomb during the exit from the show.  More than 800 people were injured, and Abedi took the lives of 22 individuals.  Abedi had been a “subject of interest” for MI5 in 2015 and had been reported to authorities as many as five times by leaders of the Muslim community in Manchester, but the service had no reason to take further action at the time. The attack took place at the Manchester Arena, where approximately 14,200 people were attending the event.  The improvised explosive device, packed with nuts, bolts, and screws to act as shrapnel, was detonated in the foyer of the arena following the last performance of the evening.  The bomb was so deadly that it killed people over 65 feet away from the explosion’s source.  The attack had added tragedy due to the type of casualties: out of the 139 people who needed hospitalization or were severely injured, 79 were children. 

Cultural Significance

Soft targets like music festivals and concerts offer terrorists practical and symbolic value. The symbolism of attacking Westerners who are enjoying themselves is what makes it an attractive target.  On November 13, 2015, three gunman stormed into the Bataclan theater in Paris and killed 89 people attending a heavy metal concert.  In a night that was coordinated to the last detail, the brunt of the damage came in the tight, dark spaces of the concert hall. There was little security, as the perpetrators killed three people on the sidewalk in front of the venue and then simply walked in to carry out the rest of their attack. The killers were part of an ISIS cell operating out of Belgium and France and had come in response to French and American airstrikes in Syria. In the nearly three years following the incident, Paris’ music scene has almost returned to normal, but the ubiquitous police presence is a reminder that danger still remains.

Masses of People

Events with large crowds will always be attractive targets to extremists, whether the reason stems from religious extremism or a political motive. In the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, 58 people were killed when Stephen Paddock opened fireon a Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. Over 22,000 people were in attendance when Paddock began spraying bullets indiscriminately into the crowd. When a threat goes undetected before the attack, it can be very difficult to thwart once it is in motion due to the unorganized chaos that follows. Frighteningly, Paddock had reserved hotel rooms overlooking the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago a few months before the Vegas massacre and was reported to have searched online for information regarding Fenway Park and associated Boston music festivals.

Despite the efforts of officials in recent years to prevent attacks on soft targets, large-scale casualties have still occurred at musical events with an alarming frequency. Officials recognize that these targets are difficult to harden by their very nature. Therefore, new approaches are needed to detect and monitor relevant activity that may indicate the planning of such attacks.

Lumina’s risk sensing capabilities illuminate areas of emergent unrest by monitoring online behavioral patterns consistent with the means and motivation of attack planning. By predictively identifying these online behavioral patterns, Lumina empowers organizations and venues to identify and mitigate potential threats to their physical security.