Friday, February 27, 2009

Terrorists Are Dumb--from Slate

From Slate
This is the third essay in a series of eight exploring why the United States suffered no follow-up terror attacks after 9/11. To read the series introduction, click here.

In "The Terrorists-Are-Dumb Theory" I noted the terrible price al-Qaida paid in Afghanistan for 9/11. To repeat: Nearly 80 percent of its Afghanistan-based membership was killed in the U.S. invasion, according to journalist Lawrence Wright. Two-thirds of al-Qaida's leadership was captured or killed. The terror group's membership may now be down to as few as 200 or 300. Let's assume, as many believe, that this alone has made it very difficult for al-Qaida to stage a follow-up attack on the United States. Couldn't the job still be done by angry jihadis already living in the United States? Where are al-Qaida's sleeper cells?

Sleeping, apparently. Since 9/11, relatively few people have been prosecuted for conspiring with al-Qaida. In 2002, Brooklyn-born Jose Padilla was arrested in Chicago for allegedly plotting to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb," but five years later he would be tried (and convicted) on an entirely different charge concerning plans to commit terrorism abroad. In 2006, seven men from Liberty City in Miami were arrested for plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago with a Federal Bureau of Investigation informant posing as an al-Qaida terrorist. The FBI's own deputy director termed the conspiracy "more aspirational than operational," and the prosecution ended in a mistrial. In December 2008, the departing Bush administration put the total number of terrorists "and their supporters" arrested and convicted inside the United States since 9/11 at "more than two dozen," which would seem a weak effort but for the fact that no terror attacks occurred here during that time. In the absence of other evidence, we must conclude that inside the United States, homegrown, al-Qaida-inspired terrorist conspiracy-mongering seldom advances very far.

That record stands in stark contrast to that of the United Kingdom, which since 9/11 has incubated several very serious terrorism plots inspired or directed by al-Qaida. One of these reached fruition—the London Underground
bombings of July 7, 2005, which killed 52 people and injured nearly 800 more. A follow-up attack two weeks later was thwarted only because the bombs failed to go off. Richard Reid, the foiled shoe bomber, boarded a Miami-bound plane in Paris but was a British citizen. The 2006 plot that begat airport bans on carrying liquids and gels also originated inside the United Kingdom and reportedly was in its final stages when halted by British authorities. In 2007, a suicide car bomber attacked the Glasgow airport but, fortunately, succeeded in killing only himself; around the same time British authorities found two unexploded car bombs in London's West End. Even when it isn't linked directly to terrorism, Muslim radicalism seems more prevalent—and certainly more visible—inside the United Kingdom, and in Western Europe generally, than it is inside the United States.

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