Since the 2001 September 11th attacks, there has been no terror attack on United States soil. The specific rationales for this absence of terrorist activity range from highly politicized debates over the effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security, newly implemented “Interrogation Techniques,” and our “Wars of Necessity” (Afghanistan and Iraq), to strong empirical evidence showing that the 9/11 attacks were simply a singular, unrepeatable occurrence. Looking beyond these polarizing rationales it is important to understand the underlying and virtually undisputed fact: There have been no terror attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11 and there has been little to no evidence to suggest that Al-Qaeda or any other terror network has ever gotten remotely close to attacking successfully. Unfortunately, several days ago these facts shifted, albeit only slightly.
On Sept. 24th, documents were filed against Najibullah Zazi, claiming that he both bought and intended to use hydrogen peroxide and acetone to assemble and detonate an explosive device. Although the government has not yet begun to fully prosecute the Afghani immigrant, officials claim that Zazi confessed to attending an Al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan. The prosecution also discovered Zazi’s personally handwritten instructions on how to successfully build and detonate a homemade explosive. Authorities have secured tapes of Zazi buying the chemicals and have uncovered evidence indicating that he repeatedly tried to enlist help in assembling several bombs. Authorities further discovered nine empty backpacks that are believed to have been the intended delivery mechanisms for the bombs. It is important to note that backpack explosives were used in the Madrid bombings that were responsible for the deaths of 191 people.
On Sept. 29th, Zazi pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism and was remanded into court custody. Zazi’s next court date is Dec. 3rd.
Outside of the initial facts of the case, one key issue is of particular importance; namely, the effectiveness of domestic authorities in both identifying and apprehending Zazi.
On this point it is important to note that it was the FBI and local police acting with court approval that were responsible for building the case against Zazi. The case did not rely on United States military or CIA action. More importantly, authorities were able to build a case without resorting to morally and/or legally suspect interrogation methods or unauthorized wiretappings. Zazi is being prosecuted within a court of law and has retained his constitutional rights as an accused criminal. Regardless of a person’s particular political alignment it is extremely reassuring to see terrorism being treated as a police-able crime instead of as a potentially limitless and ill-defined war on a individual or a noun (terrorism).
Although several news outlets reference internal disputes within the NYC police force, the disagreements seem to be relatively benign and only slightly mitigate the overwhelming benefits of locally policing terrorism.
We too often let the emotions of September 11th cloud our judgments on proper counterterrorism techniques and unintentionally give credence and media coverage to individual terrorists who deserve neither. Having the president or upper level officials specifically target and reference terrorists only emboldens the entire movement and provides a tangible rallying point for militant agendas. In short, we should strive to make others see terrorism as synonymous with murder and/or rape and not as the moral sanctuary for the impoverished, disenfranchised and ill adjusted masses of the world.
Today is not the time for unjustified hysteria or the time to amass rolls of duct tape and plastic sheets, but today is the day to quietly and respectfully note the effectiveness of local solutions in combating a global problem.