Terrorist with suicide backpack

Last October 2019, the U.K. Home Secretary set up a Public Inquiry to investigate the deaths of the victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena attack. Twenty two concert goers were killed and hundreds wounded and hundreds more severely traumatized by the Islamic terrorist attack that day.  Inquiry hearings began in September 2020 and will continue into next year.

This week, testimony was made by Kyle Lawler, a security officer working the night of the Ariana Grande concert.  His story is a tragic and compelling argument for how we must do security differently.

At the time of the attack, Mr. Lawler was 18 years old and making $5.50 an hour as a security officer.  The suicide terrorist Salman Abedi was sitting near an exit from the Manchester Arena, wearing a very large backpack and dressed in clothing heavy for a hot summer night.  He looked suspicious.

From Mr. Lawler’s statement:

“I just had a bad feeling about him … I felt something was wrong,” Lawler said adding that he felt “conflicted” because even though he “felt that he did not belong there” he “did not know why.”

“I did not want people to think that I was stereotyping him because of his race,” he said.  “I was scared of being wrong and being branded a racist … I wanted to get it right and not to mess up by overreacting or judging someone by their race,” he said.

The terrorist saw Mr. Lawler watching him from about ten feet away and tried to avoid eye contact and “became fidgety.”

“I felt unsure about what to do. It’s very difficult to define a terrorist.”

Unable to reach other staff on his radio he began to “panic” because he was certain Abedi was “not [there] for a proper reason.”

Finally, he gave up trying to radio in his concerns to colleagues and left the area.  Minutes later, the explosives were detonated.  Mr. Lawler had initially told the police that he had left seconds and not minutes before the blast because he felt guilty for not having alerted people to the potential danger. “I had a lot of blame on myself,” he said.

Multiple issues were at play thwarting Mr. Lawler’s ability to help stop an attack and save lives which is after all the mandate of a security officer.

He claims it is difficult to define a terrorist.  But terrorist methods of operation are known and should have been part of his training.  On some level perhaps not fully conscious, he already knew that the young man presented a danger and that’s why he fled the area.  He recognized that Ahmed was inappropriately dressed, that the backpack was completely out of place, he saw he was nervous and avoiding engagement.  These are all behavioral indicators that point to a possible suicide terrorist attack.

Despite his youth and most likely limited training, Mr. Lawler’s instincts were spot on.  We are all natural profilers who are evolutionarily designed to pick up danger cues, every one of us.  Effective security takes that human inclination, adds knowledge of the adversary and assessment methods that combine into an effective security stance.

Had he been trained, he would have had the assurance, confidence and skills to act to save lives.  He would have known how to engage the suspicious man and to clear the area of people until he and his team could assess that there was or was not a real threat.

As for racial profiling, it indeed has no good place in security procedures.  It is the antithesis of predictive or proactive profiling where the indicators are not race or ethnicity but rather behavior.  Had Mr. Lawler been trained in predictive profiling then he would have been able to assure himself that he was not acting out of racism.  Political correctness, his fear of offending someone, would not have been an issue and would not have handicapped his mission to secure the Arena the arena that tragic night.


  1. Steve on October 29, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    In the cold light of day and with heaps of hindsight, it’s all very well to say 18 year old Kyle Lawler should have ignored his fear of being branded a racist, but we live in the UK, where, had the terrorist been perfectly innocent, the race card would have certainly been pulled and all the Liberals would be crucifying him and his company on anti-social media. As a result of that onslaught, yet more lives would be put at risk because security would be even less likely to want to get it wrong. So, like it or not, race does play a crucial part in actions of white security staff, whatever their training. There are also perfectly good reasons why a person of the terrorists background may wear a coat in the summer and carry a large rucksack in a cosmopolitan city such as Manchester. He could have just landed at the airport, from a very hot country where the UK summer evening wouldn’t necessarily be hot for him, and arranged to meet up at a well known landmark. You have to remember that this is a country, and I’m talking England rather than UK, where we cannot fly the English flag of St. George without being branded a right-wing fascist, little Englander and xenophobic. We are condemned for targeting black males in stop and search even though they are statistically the most likely to kill and injure other black males. Likewise, we still ask 80 year old white great-grandmothers to take their shoes off at our airports so as not to offend the more likely passengers. It’s what comes of trying to be all things to all people and it clearly doesn’t work.

  2. Gary L Baura on October 29, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Kudos to Kyle Lawler for taking the initiative at the Ariana Grande concert. Yes, You are right on target that most $5.50 an hr guards are not well trained! As I am sure you are aware, when a company pays a guard $5.50 an hr that is what they get a $5.50 security guard and if he is on the night shift the only thing he is guarding is his eye lids. This is still a problem in the Corporate world, I have seen it here in Melbourne, FL. In the state of FL to be certified one must attend the 40hr D /unarmed guard and the 40hr G/armed guard courses. I went through these courses after I retired from the US Army (Abn Inf & SF) and for both courses most of the curriculum was law and with the G course minimal training with a side arm. Also after the April 8th 2009 high jacking of the Maersk Alabama ship by Somali pirates a former Team member of mine called and said would I consider going on a security detail for a ship that was going to transit the Guardafui Channel. So I signed up went to the company hqs in Virginia that was awarded the contract and we had training for two weeks. The other members of the team consisted of SF (My former Tm member and I), Marines, Coast Guard and I few others from other service, with training in Force Protection. We trained on water cannons, LRAD and I suggested Maxa Beam Searchlight. Keeping in mind now there is a more up to date equipment and all of the teams are now armed. The second week of training I asked the question were we going to carry weapon, the answer was that the shipping company would not allow it because of the possibility of being sued if one of use shot an unarmed pirate. Also we were fitted for body armor the end of the first week and the day we were going home to standby for the date when would meet the ship at a port in West Africa, we were told that they hoped that the body armor would be there when we boarded the ship. No weapons, no body armor and trying to defend a ship with water hoses, LRAD and Maxi Beam seemed to me to be a no win situation. Myself and a couple of other members of the bowed out, fortunately enough those that went on the detail never encountered pirates. I am sure now that the ship companies are protected by well trained (Mostly former military) personnel, since one doesn’t hear much on the news of ships being high jacked. Jut an old crusty soldier making some comments!

    Gary L Baura
    US Army SF Retired

  3. Joseph on October 30, 2020 at 2:58 am

    In US, Canada and Europe, most lucid, perceptive people take note of those demographic groups which perpetrate crime at a far higher rate than the native white population. To merely highlight the problem can bring social, professional and even financial ruin. Here, the truth is indeed no defense. There is diminishing “freedom of speech” to even discuss this topic.

  4. Anonymous on November 11, 2020 at 9:11 pm

    Outstanding article and thank you for sharing. Situational Awareness should absolutely be taught at all levels of education. Glad he was able to come to terms and share after, and appreciate the post.


    SSG Mike D

Leave a Comment