by Barry Rubin
Whoever perpetrated the terror attack in Boston, Americans have been probably underestimating the extent of the terror war against them and what has been its overwhelming single point of origin. This fact is not altered by the staging of at least two major attacks–on the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta and the 1995 attack on the Oklahoma federal building–by right-wing extremists.
The official stance seems to be that Americans seem to believe that they are generally safe from terror attacks but that once and a while, almost at random, something bad happens. The relative success of law enforcement and intelligence agencies is clear, yet the intensity of any terrorist war is measured not by successful attacks but by the number of attacks. One should always remember, as an Israeli official working on this issue once said in private conversation, that counterterrorism was the only profession where succeeding 99 percent of the time was to fail.
Remember, too, that the reported number of terrorist attacks—the murderous assault on passengers at the El Al airline counter in Los Angeles and the Fort Hood massacre are examples—is reduced because some are redefined for political reasons as criminal or the result of mental instability. The attacks that are discounted are always radical Islamist ones, not left- or right-wing attacks due to purely domestic issues.
Ironically, these forces are quite close to those the U.S. government policy is supporting in Syria and Egypt, seeking good relations with in Lebanon and elsewhere.
The line is drawn, of course, with al-Qaida. The difference between al-Qaida and the other revolutionary Islamist groups is that al-Qaida has an active strategy of targeting the United States for direct attack.
It should be no mystery why the Obama Administration has a pro-Islamist policy. It is based on the belief that these forces can be won over, convinced that America is not their enemy, or appeased so that they will continue their strategy of not launching terror attacks on the United States. So all groups outside of al-Qaida (and perhaps part of the Taliban) are redefined into being moderate Islamists. This is not fully done with Hamas but it is often defined as somewhat good in that it is supposedly restraining even more radical Salafists. Since al-Qaida has no serious presence in Egypt (except to a limited degree in the Sinai) Egypt’s Islamist regime is also backed in large part on the rationale that it, too, is restraining scarier Salafists. The United States, however, has put no restrictions on supporting the supply of weapons for similar Salafist groups in Syria or, previously, in Libya.
Such a strategy, as narrowly defined, can possibly work. That is, it can encourage revolutionary Islamists not to launch violent attacks on U.S. territory and facilities abroad by showing that al-Qaeda’s strategy fails.
Of course, why should revolutionary Islamist groups attack the United States directly in order to stage revolutions at home when their very goal–staging revolutions at home that can oust U.S. influence from the Middle East–is being helped by that same United States? You don’t have to rob someone if the victims hand over the money willingly. And these groups can attack the United States in every other way–stirring up anti-Americanism; hitting at U.S. interests, influence and allies; thus laying the basis for bigger offensives from a stronger situation in future.
In short, this American policy creates a huge strategic threat which ultimately would be far more costly, involving not hundreds of terrorists but tens of millions of people living under radical Islamist rule. Having a dozen Middle Eastern states under radical Islamist rule is not good for U.S. interests.
Ultimately, when they are strong enough it is reasonable to expect that their confidence and attacks would escalate. Moreover, Islamist victories inspire more people to accept that ideology and join the global jihad.
As an illustration of the level of current threat, let’s examine major terrorist plots targeting New York City alone. All of the material used is taken from official New York City police statements. Suppose we were to add such attacks in the rest of the country to this list or minor plots in New York. Hhow long would the list be?
Since September 11, 2001, there have been 18 known terrorist attacks planned in New York City and they all have something in common, the worldview of the perpetrators. You can read more here about each one and how they were foiled. In some cases, they were called off by al-Qaeda:
–In 2002, Iyman Faris, a U.S.-based al-Qaeda operative, planned to cut the Brooklyn Bridge’s support cables at the direction of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
|–In 2003, al-Qaeda had planned to release
cyanide gas in New York City’s subway system and attack other public
places.–In 2006, Uzair Paracha, a Brooklyn resident, was sentenced to 30
years in federal prison after he was convicted of attempting to help
al-Qaeda operative Majid Khan enter the United States to attack gas
tanks. Paracha’s father worked with al-Qaida to smuggle explosives –
including possibly nuclear weapons – into the United States using the
New York office of Paracha’s import-export business.–Dhiren Barot (aka
Issa al-Hindi) was sentenced to life in prison by a United Kingdom court
in 2006 after pleading guilty to planning to attack several targets
both in the UK and the U.S., including the New York Stock Exchange,
Citigroup’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, and the Prudential
Building in Newark, NJ.–Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay plotted
in 2004 to place explosive devices in the Herald Square subway station
in Manhattan.–In July 2006, the FBI revealed it had uncovered a plot
involving an attack on a PATH commuter train tunnel connecting New York
and New Jersey by Islamists, the placement of suicide bombers on trains,
and the destruction of the retaining wall separating the Hudson River
from the World Trade Center site in the hopes of causing massive
flooding in the city’s Financial District.–Beginning in 2006, four
Islamists plotted to detonate the jet-fuel storage tanks and supply
lines for John F. Kennedy Airport in order to cause wide-scale
destruction and economic disruption in an attack they intended to dwarf
–In a series of three trials spanning 2008 to 2010, eight Muslims were convicted in Britain of attempting to simultaneously detonate explosives in seven airliners traveling from London to several North American metropolises, including New York.
–Bryant Neal Vinas, of Long Island, New York, traveled to Pakistan with an intent to die fighting against American forces in Afghanistan. In summer of 2008, Vinas spoke to al-Qaeda about targeting the Long Island Railroad using a suitcase bomb that would be left in a car and set to detonate.
–In May 2009, four Islamists placed what they believed were functioning bombs outside of Jewish targets in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale and additionally constructed plans to fire missiles at military transport planes at Stewart International Airport near Newburgh, NY.
–In September 2009, the New York City subway system was targeted for attack by three individuals supporting al-Qaeda who planned to set off bombs in the subway during rush hour shortly after the eighth anniversary of 9/11.
–Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American residing in Connecticut, attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010.
–Ahmed Ferhani, an Queens resident born in Algeria, along with Mohammad Mamdouh, a Moroccan immigrant, were arrested in May 2011 in an NYPD operation in which Ferhani purchased a hand grenade, three semi-automatic pistols and ammunition from an undercover detective. NYPD’s investigation into the pair revealed their desire to attack a synagogue in New York City.
–Jose Pimentel, a native of the Dominican Republic and convert to Islam, was charged with plotting to detonate bombs in and around New York City in November 2011.
–Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, a 21-year-old native of Bangladesh residing in the U.S. on a student visa, was arrested in October 2012 as he attempted to remotely detonate what he believed was a bomb in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in lower Manhattan.
–Raees Alam Qazi and Sheheryar Alam Qazi, Pakistan-born brothers, were arrested by federal authorities in Florida in November 2012 for charges relating to a plan to bomb popular New York City landmarks including Times Square, Wall Street and city theaters.
–Jesse Morton, a New York City-based Muslim convert, was apprehended in Morocco and pleaded guilty in February 2012 to conspiring to solicit murder, making threatening communications, and using the Internet to place others in fear, most notably through his website Revolution Muslim.
–And even this list doesn’t include the 2007 plot to attack nearby Fort Dix by a half-dozen Islamists since that was handled by the New Jersey authorities.
I’m often reminded of my experience in organizing a project on terrorist threats at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) between 1989 and 1991. When I sought a renewal of our grant from the Ford Foundation, the official there said no because “We don’t think terrorism will be a problem in the future.”
The officials conducting U.S. policy (those who support it and aren’t horrified career people) have said that al-Qaeda is all but over and that the pro-Islamist policy will prevent anti-American Islamism in future. They are just as wrong.
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