Threat to vulnerable targets

Threat to vulnerable targets

Terrorist threats to vulnerable targets, including critical infrastructure and public places (or ‘soft targets’) are a complex security challenge for member states. Attacks on urban centers, religious sites and places of worship, major sports events and civilian aviation are on the rise and terrorist groups have repeatedly called on their followers to target people in public spaces, which are especially vulnerable due to their open and accessible nature. Although governments, including at the local level, bear the primary responsibility for protecting “soft” targets against terrorist attacks, the private owners and/or operators of such sites must also take steps to address the related security needs and reduce their vulnerabilities. It is therefore crucial to strengthen public-private partnerships, ensure appropriate coordination between central and local governments, and engage relevant stakeholders such as community and faith leaders, civil society and international and regional organizations, to prevent such attacks from occurring and adopt good practices to effectively respond, mitigate and recover from them if they take place.


"Protecting transport hubs, markets and malls, touristic venues, sporting or cultural events and religious sites is very challenging, but not impossible.

We can take action to make those targets less vulnerable without fundamentally changing their “open” nature.

Effective prevention and risk mitigation require collaboration and innovation; cooperation between public and private actors; coordination between law enforcement, first responders and local authorities; and information exchange, preparedness and training”.

Mr. Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General, UNOCT remarks at the Launch event of the Global Programme on Countering Terrorist Threats against Vulnerable Targets, 19 January 2021


Protecting vulnerable targets programming 

UNOCT's Global Programme on Countering Terrorist Threats against Vulnerable Targets responds to a call by Member States, including through the General Assembly (Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and 7th review resolution A/RES/75/291) and the Security Council (resolutions 2341 (2017), 2396 (2017) and 2617 (2021); and the CTC Madrid Guiding Principles and their 2018 Addendum), to enhance UN support to Member States to address gaps and challenges in protecting vulnerable targets, which include critical infrastructures and ‘soft’ targets.

The Programme aims at identifying and sharing policies and good practices to understand, prevent and counter terrorist threats against vulnerable targets; strengthening Member States’ capacity to develop comprehensive and collaborative strategies including through public-private partnerships; and providing, upon request, tailored capacity-building to prevent, protect, mitigate, investigate, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks against vulnerable targets, including urban centres and major touristic venues, religious sites, and the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The Vulnerable Targets programme collaborates with other UNOCT programmes with expertise on different aspects of critical infrastructure and “soft targets” protection such as the programmes on Cybersecurity and New Technologies, CBRN, AROS, Sports and Security, and TAM.



  • Knowledge Products: Modular Guides and Repository of Good Practices
    The Programme collects and disseminates good practices and thematic guidelines on policies, mechanisms, and tools to enhance the protection of vulnerable targets with full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. In early 2022, the Programme will launch five specialized Modules on the protection of “soft targets” (i.e. general vulnerable targets protection; urban centres, tourist venues, religious sites, and unmanned aircraft systems) and will update the Compendium of Good Practices on Critical Infrastructure Protection that UNOCT, CTED and INTERPOL produced in 2018. Additionally, good practices on the protection of vulnerable targets across the world are gathered in the UNOCT Connect and Learn platform, in a dedicated digital library that serves as online repository of good practices.

  • Tailored National Action Plans or “Roadmaps”
    The Programme supports requesting Member States in identifying priorities and needs through specialized consultations resulting in “roadmaps” or national plans of action to protect vulnerable targets. In this context, public-private partnerships and the involvement of civil society and other relevant stakeholders are promoted. 

  • Operational Trainings
    The Programme supports the implementation of the above-mentioned “roadmaps” by providing operational training courses to beneficiary Member States in areas such as vulnerability/risk assessment, information sharing, investigation and crisis response and recovery.

  • Mentoring Services
    The Programme provides mentoring services to beneficiary Member States to support the development and implementation of strategies and standard operating procedures.

  • Global Network of Experts on Vulnerable Targets Protection
    The Programme has created a Global Network of Experts on Vulnerable Targets Protection, hosted in UNOCT’s Connect and Learn online platform. This network provides a dedicated space for relevant officials from Member States and other stakeholders to exchange information and good practices, and develop synergies on the protection against terrorist attacks on vulnerable targets, including critical infrastructure and “soft targets.”


Partnerships and funding

The programme, which is generously funded by the State of Qatar, is led by the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) in cooperation with the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), and in close consultation with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).