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January 5, 2010 - Ray Hall (Archive)
A commonly accepted dictionary definition of terrorism is the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians to attain goals that are political or religious or idealogical in nature through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear.

Terror is a weapon of the weak and a weapon used against the most vulnerable in a society--civilians, men and women. Terror is most effective when targeted against women, the aged, the feeble and children are the most rewarding targets.

Throughout history countries and large armies have not fared well combatting terror as a weapon. As a weapon terror is cheap and as long there exists a single perpetrator willing to ignite a can of gasoline inside a crowded building the threat can never be extinguished.

Although terrorism was widespread across the globe the United States remained oblivious to its consequences until twenty-four terrorists hijacked four airplanes and crashed them into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and one into a field in Pennsylvania. On September 11, 2001, terrorism became a uniquely American problem and we realized our vulnerability.

On December 22, 2001, Americans were again reminded of our vulnerability when Richard Reid, a British citizen, tried to blow up an American Airlines Flight he boarded in Paris bound for Miami. His efforts eluded governmental roadblocks and was thwarted by an airline employee who thought he might have been smoking.

Fast forward to Christmas Day 2009 and Northwest Flight 253 where twenty-three year old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab set his crotch on fire. This young Nigerian eluded multiple government agencies, including a warning from his father to the CIA, and boarded a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Abdulmutallab was apprehended by determined passengers.

Terrorism experts agree that Osama Bin Laden no longer has command and control over a massive terrorist network but he remains a powerful symbol for freelance individuals or small groups determined to wreak death and destruction. Thankfully the 9-11 brand of terrorism is becoming increasingly difficult to replicate as evidenced by the eight year span between the shoe bomber and the inept crotch bomber. Left to its own resources it might have taken Al-Qaeda a full eight years to find someone willing to die for the cause by sneaking explosives aboard an airplane, but that part of the operation was a success. Osama Bin Laden remains influential and we can expect that probes against our defenses will continue.

As terrifying as the persistent threat of blowing up passenger planes might be another terrorist act that occurred in Afghanistan after Christmas has even more dreadful implications and portends a well entrenched enemy. On December 30, 2009, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian spy and an Al Qaeda double agent arranged for a meeting with CIA officials at a Forward Operating Base near Khost where he would provide information on the location of Ayman al-Zawahirl who is believed to be the Number Two Man in Al Qaeda. Once inside the base this Jordanian Doctor set off explosives strapped to his waist and killed seven CIA agents and another Jordanian spy.

Experts believe al-Balawi was connected to a group with links to Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. That sort of double agent spying requires a certain sophistication with a level of organization unanticipated by our intelligence agencies. Instead of having Al Qaeda and Bin Laden on the run as has been reported this type of networking suggests that Al Qaeda’s top command can assemble and develop strategies.

Conservative/Republicans have always complained that government is incapable of doing anything efficiently but paradoxically they expect 100 percent accuracy when it comes to heading off terrorist attacks. If the two would be bombers teaches us anything it is that government cannot protect its citizens in every circumstance. Regardless, government has been successful in making an attack on US soil much more difficult and that is about all that is reasonable to expect.


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Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab 23 Year old Nigerian who concealed explosives in his underwear to blow up a plane landing at Detroit.