Terror is Coming

From Friday's Wall Street Journal:

Two years ago, analysts at the Department of Homeland Security speculated that the quick-hit strikes in Iraq favored by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi could inspire a shift in tactics by Osama bin Laden's planners, who had favored spectacular, coordinated assaults. Specifically, they feared the two styles could be merged.

U.S. security officials worry their fears may be coming true: That attempts by a diverse group of jihadis to attack nightclubs and airports in Britain signal a new model of Islamist terrorism has arrived, less ambitious than the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but potentially deadly nonetheless -- and even more difficult to detect.

The possible tactical shift -- involving seemingly untrained operatives using simple weapons and hasty planning -- raises difficult questions for security services, especially regarding resource allocation. Should they prepare to detect and disrupt only major catastrophic attacks? Or shadow every possible extremist in the hope of pre-empting more likely attacks on, for example, shopping malls using a homemade gasoline bomb or legally purchased firearms?

I've wondered for a long time why we haven't seen more such attacks in the U.S. since 9/11. As the article notes, small-scale attacks can still inspire terror. The death toll adds up quickly. Car bombs and the like are not technically difficult, especially for those dedicated enough to lose their own lives in the process.

Remember the D.C. sniper attacks in 2002? For three weeks, one grown man and a teenage boy wreaked havioc in the nation's capital, terrifying millions of people and killing ten. The everyday act of walking from your car into the mall, or pumping gas at a service station, struck fear into every resident of the region.

Now imagine it had been a well-funded group of 4-5 jihadists instead of the two amateurs. By using multiple vehicles, simultaneous shootings in different locations, and a variety of weapons they could probably have gone much longer without being caught. The area was close to being paralyzed as it was. It could have been much worse.

As talented and thorough as our intelligence agencies may be - and we know they have prevented at least some attempted attacks - it defies logic that almost six years after 9/11, we haven't seen even small-scale incidents in the U.S. The only explanation I can think of is that the jihadists must not want to carry out such terrorism here. At least not yet.

Bush loyalists will argue that the Iraq conflict is keeping the al Qaeda forces pinned down over there so we don't have to fight them here. More likely, our Iraq involvement is providing the jihadists with a training ground to perfect their tactics. Nothing we are doing in Iraq stops any jihadists who want to come to the U.S. and create terror. All they need to do is have a few guys walk across the border with some cash. Within a few days, they could buy everything they need to create havoc.

If you think 9/11 made an impact, just wait until somebody named Abdul blows himself up inside a crowded Starbucks in some quiet Midwestern suburb. Will thousands die? No. Nonetheless, your life will never be the same. People will be afraid to go out in public. The economy will grind to a halt. You will lose even more of your civil liberties as politicians overreact. Muslims, even peaceful ones, may have to be rounded up for their own safety as mobs seek vengeance. America will change - and it won't be for the better.

I'd like to think that this scenario won't come true, but it is probably just a matter of time. Furthermore, there is really nothing that anyone, even Mayor Giuliani, can do to stop it. Turning America into a police state is not as easy as it sounds. The attempt would simply inspire other kinds of violent resistance.

In scripture we see fire mentioned often as a tool of purification. Will America be purified by fire at the hands of Islam? I'm afraid so. I don't see a lot of alternatives.

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