Friday, December 08, 2006

What does this say about terror?


Police have foiled a plot -- and I use the term loosely -- to "blow up" a Chicago-area shopping mall, as the AP headline breathlessly reports.

A Muslim convert who talked about his desire to wage jihad against civilians was charged Friday in a plot to set off hand grenades at a shopping mall at the height of the Christmas rush, authorities said.

Blow up a mall? He wanted four hand grenades, and planned to set them off in garbage cans. Not particularly nice, but a far cry from "blowing up" a mall.

Let's note two other things about this case:

1. As usually happens, he never got close to carrying out his plan. He was arrested when he met with an undercover agent to trade stereo speakers for the grenades.

2. He was caught through old-fashioned police work: a tip from an acquaintance, followed by a police sting operation.

Thus this case demonstrates two things:

1. The low threat actually posed by terrorists. Most of the people we've been arresting lately are low-capability loons. We haven't sniffed a serious domestic plot since shortly after 9/11.

2. Law enforcement is the proper venue for catching and punishing would-be terrorists, with a supporting role provided by the military and intelligence agencies. And they don't need to dramatically curtail civil liberties to do it.

I'm not suggesting that terrorism is something to be taken lightly; far from it. We should take it very seriously indeed, as these police did. Beyond catching bad guys, we should take reasonable and prudent security measures to make us less vulnerable to attack in the first place. And the perps should be punished severely.

But we do not need to overreact.

For more detail on that approach, check out "Terror: a military or a criminal problem" in my sidebar, under "Notable Posts".

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3 Comments:

Blogger Not Your Mama said...

I read the "terrorist's" comments and um...can you say "mentally ill".

That said, there is a lot more sympathy (empathy?) for extremism and terrorist tactics in some segments of the African-American community than most people seem to be aware of and certainly those who are do not want to talk about.

It's not an easy thing to talk about, nothing involving race or religion ever is but we should be talking about it because it isn't just going to go away.

Are we going to experience a "terror attack" perpetrated by a US citizen of African-American descent at some point. You betcha.

The feds know this too which is why wether or not I agree with the way they've handled the situations that have come up thus far, I at least understand why they are taking them as seriously as they are.

Too bad we can't expend some of that energy on alleviating some of the social conditions that have brought us to this.

12/09/2006 11:38 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Here's an interesting question. The nutjobs have always been with us. And I don't think this guy qualifies as a terrorist in the "dedicated, smart, well-trained" sense of Al-Qaeda and the like. But has the emergence of Islamic terrorism provided them with a focus for their violent fantasies? So a side effect of brand-name terrorism is a flurry of "me too" attacks from the mentally ill?

It also would provide them some sense of self-worth. "I'm not crazy; I'm a freedom fighter!"

12/09/2006 10:43 PM  
Blogger Not Your Mama said...

Exactly. If the world were suffering from random terrorist attacks by organized groups of Cowboy Rodeo Clowns opposed to the drinking of chocolate flavoured Yoohoo.....

The mentally ill, the just-plain angry, not so stable members of any group that feels disenfranchised, rightly or wrongly.

Don't discount internal terrorism from the white-is-right folks either, Tim McVeigh was not a one-in-a-million fluke.

We just have too many people who've not been invited to the table. If you spend any time at all in anything from a "poor" to working-class on up to middle-class neighbourhood it's hard to miss the rage.

What does anyone do when they feel they are threatened, abused, and discounted? Ally themselves with whoever they believe will be their ticket out.

12/10/2006 1:58 PM  

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