With the tenth anniversary of the 9/11/2001 attacks upon us, people are asking me whether I expect a terrorist attack on American soil to be attempted this weekend. I think there’s good news and bad news about that:
Good news: Organizationally, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for a jihadist organization like Al Qaeda to expend the resources to try something on or about the day when it’s least likely to catch us by surprise and most likely to be foiled by our heightened security (although, a strong-enough emotional drive to avenge Usama bin Laden’s death could conceivably cloud jihadist organizational leaders’ collective judgment in that regard).
Bad news: Jihadist organizations like Al Qaeda may have shifted tactics since 9/11/2001 to become less “operational” and more “inspirational.” I’ve written and spoken a lot in recent years about the jihadist mindset and the dangers posed by angry, disaffected, restless individuals who are looking for something to believe in, something to give their lives “meaning,” and something to “justify” inflicting their hatred violently upon innocent others. For such individuals, all that a jihadist organization like Al Qaeda may have to do to turn them into isolated jihadists and spur them to attempt isolated attacks on Americans is to give them false hopes that if they do, they’ll be glorified as “heroes” or “martyrs” of a “noble” cause. Individual jihadists such as these are difficult to detect and may see an attack on the tenth anniversary of 9/11/2001 as an opportunity to be “immortalized” as “legends” in the jihadist world.
Good news: As we saw in last year’s attempted car-bombing in New York’s Times Square, individual jihadist terrorists acting without much organizational direction, support, and coordination have tended to be more inept, less successful, and thankfully, less lethal than their organizationally-directed, supported, and coordinated counterparts whose orchestrated behavior has been, thankfully, relatively more detectable and stoppable in the planning, preparation, and practice phases since 9/11/2001 (fortunately, a guy who’s told that suicide leads to glory and responds by actually attempting it instead of asking, “Then why haven’t you committed it?” probably isn’t the brightest guy in the world).
Bottom line: It probably goes without saying but nevertheless bears repeating that as we’re reflecting this weekend on the losses and sacrifices made by our fellow Americans in the name of our freedom and security on 9/11/2001 and since, it’s as critical as ever, maybe even more critical, if any of us sees something, that we say something.