In the past week, military excursions into the tribal regions of Pakistan targeted Islamist militants believed to have connections to a number of plots designed to strike at the European mainland. As more evidence comes to light, it becomes clearer that Islamist militants have been preparing to hit “soft” targets in and around Europe, in a manner and fashion similar to the coordinated attacks in Mumbai in 2008. While the United States appears to have avoided the target lists associated with this latest round of threats, it would be foolish to assume that the American homeland can avoid such threats ad infinitum.
As the threat from al-Qaeda becomes more diffuse, similar organizations inspired by its twisted interpretation of Islam have risen to occupy the forefront of emerging threats facing the United States. Al-Qaeda on the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and al-Shabaab of Somalia have each emerged as largely autonomous organizations whose respective pursuits threaten American interests.
While many terrorist organizations operate largely devoid of contact with Western society, many adherents to Jihadism, perhaps only tangentially associated to such organizations, use the openness found in Western culture to exploit geographic limitations and spread their anti-modern, anti-pluralistic rhetoric across large divides. In so doing, these individuals act as conduits of radicalism, fomenting antipathy and anger among a homegrown population of disaffected individuals. Within this phenomenon we see the emergence of an ever increasing threat: the homegrown terrorist.
As incidents of domestic radicalization continue to rise, the danger that a group of indoctrinated, domestic-based individuals will use their unfettered access to American targets rises as well. Possessing U.S. passports allows such individuals to travel freely, unencumbered by the same level of scrutiny placed on foreign terrorists attempting to infiltrate U.S. targets.
While travel to training camps overseas certainly poses its own risks for revelation among domestic law enforcement and intelligence agencies, such travel itself has become less necessary given the level of open-source training materials available across myriad forms of communication, notably the Internet. The Internet has become both an invaluable asset and remarkable challenge for intelligence and public safety agencies combating terrorism in the United States.
The Mumbai attacks of 2008 offer a glimpse of the danger that has become increasingly relevant to Western societies. In a series of coordinated attacks, Islamist militants stormed multiple locations, deploying timed-bombings and teams of heavily armed gunmen to locations throughout the city. These attacks were conducted with simultaneity and caused security forces to scramble in an effort to contain an attack with multiple points of engagement. When the terror spree was finished, 166 innocent civilians were killed and over 300 wounded.
Recent chatter among Islamist groups, suggesting an intention to reproduce Mumbai-style attacks against a variety of European targets, prompted multiple U.S. drone strikes that killed several suspected militants in Pakistan, including eight German nationals. With recent events in mind, it is incumbent upon public and private institutions in both Europe and the United States to maintain their vigilance against future attacks of that nature. Attacking “soft” targets in the United States, such as malls, hotels, schools, or other less target-hardened sites with high levels of human traffic, will continue to be among the terrorists’ preferred targets.
Local law enforcement must team with their state and federal counterparts to ensure that timely intelligence is disseminated in an efficient manner. Further, state and local law enforcement must prepare to encounter large, coordinated attacks with multiple venues. An attack against an American city, such as the one that befell Mumbai, would tax the resources of most any law enforcement agency in the United States. As such, it is necessary to incorporate the anticipation of such an attack into the training and mindset of law enforcement. Anticipation and training for an event of that nature can mitigate the damages that such an attack would have should it reach an operational stage.
Scott Erickson has worked in the field of law enforcement for the past decade and holds both his B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice Studies. He is contributor to The Daily Caller.
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