On Saturday afternoon, just moments before authorities say Jose Pimentel was about to complete work on a powerful pipe bomb intended to kill American citizens, New York Police Department personnel burst into his apartment and put a hasty end to his aspirations.
Pimentel, who went by the alias Muhammed Yusuf, was described by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a “lone wolf, motivated by his own resentment of the presence of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as inspired by al-Qaeda propaganda.”
The archetypal “lone wolf,” Pimentel appears to have been plotting attacks against U.S. citizens and war veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan without the direct assistance or collaboration of others.
Reports suggest that Pimentel had learned to assemble a bomb by following the step-by-step instructions provided through the Islamist online publication Inspire.
Inspire, a monthly online magazine produced by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has been one of the most visible online recruiting tools used by Islamists in recent years. Its previous editor, Samir Khan, was recently killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.
Pimentel, an American citizen born in the Dominican Republic, caught the attention of authorities back in 2009 after vocalizing his desire to travel to Yemen and “become a martyr,” according to Ray Kelly, commissioner of the NYPD.
Beyond the disconcerting implications of yet another incident of homegrown terrorism, a different element of the Pimentel case raises concern and calls into question the distribution of responsibility among federal, state, and local law enforcement in the investigation of localized incidents of terrorism.
In this case, the NYPD had to take immediate action in arresting Pimentel, because they simply could not wait for the FBI to conclude its assessment process prior to moving in for the arrest. To do so would have potentially allowed Pimentel to be in possession of an operational explosive device.
During its investigation, the NYPD had tried to get the FBI to participate more directly in the operation; however, the FBI determined that Pimentel did not pose a credible threat to the public. According to law enforcement officials, the FBI concluded that Pimentel “didn’t have the predisposition or the ability to do anything on his own.”
It would appear that the FBI’s initial assessment of Jose Pimentel was inaccurate to say the least. As most state and local law enforcement agencies typically defer to their federal counterparts in the midst of investigations containing a nexus to terrorism, it is conceivable that had the Pimentel case originated in a jurisdiction other than New York City, the FBI’s apparent lack of interest in the case could have proven the endpoint in the investigation. Had that been the case, we can only guess what devastation Pimentel could have accomplished.
The NYPD has the most comprehensive, sophisticated, and robust anti-terrorism apparatus among all domestic law enforcement organizations. It should come as no surprise, given New York’s unfortunate history of terrorist attacks and the perennial crosshairs it finds itself in.
But not all law enforcement organizations possess the resources or mindset of the NYPD. Due to the idiosyncratic threat facing New York, the NYPD has necessarily adopted a more proactive sense of personal responsibility for its own safety and protection.
Resource limitations cannot always be overcome. But altering the mindset of state and local law enforcement throughout the nation can and should be achieved. State and local law enforcement cannot assume that local inquiries will always be subsumed into the FBI’s broader terrorist investigations.
Sometimes, local authorities must take action when their federal counterparts are unwilling to do so. “We had to act quickly because he was, in fact, putting this bomb together,” Kelly said. “He was drilling the holes and it would have been not appropriate for us to let him walk out the door with that bomb.”