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American Terrorist Threat
Since the events of September 11. 2001. Americans have had an increased concern about the possibility of more terrorism within United States borders. Although our government has made monumental efforts to prevent future attacks. A terrorist only has to slip through once. whereas our vigilance has to be 100% successful at all times. Because of that fact it seems inevitable that eventually. we will see more terrorist attacks within the United States.
Because we were attacked by people from outside our borders. many Americans tend to think of terrorist threats as in terms of outsiders who come here to do harm. Thus we have increased supervision at border entries. We know that this can work; an alert border guard between Washington state and Canada stopped a car and probably foiled a terrorist attack planned for Los Angeles.
However, some terrorist experts believe that we already have terrorist living within the United States. Steven Emerson wrote in his book about happening upon a conference being attended by men in Middle Eastern Clothes. Curious. he went in. He found booths were books calling for the destruction of Christians and other "infidels" in a jihad. Her heard speakers calling for death to Jews and "annihilation for the West." (5) In researching these events. he found out that the FBI was not tracking internal terrorist threats and only concerned itself after crimes had been committed.
The conference he happened upon was held two months before the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.
History of terrorism
The term "terrorism" first emerged during the French Revolution. The country had been thrown into anarchy. And the terrorists viewed themselves as freedom fighters trying to end abuse by those in power. Hoffman (2000) quotes the opposition leader Robespierre as saying. "Terror is nothing but justice. prompt. severe. And inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue."
Until recently. terrorism was linked with nationalism of one form or another. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) tried to use diplomacy for years to demonstrate the plight of their people. But it was acts of terror that pushed the issue to the forefront. Stern (2000) reports that from 1990 to 1995 there were over 27,000 terrorist acts in the world. resulting in almost 52,000 deaths and many more injuries. With the possible exception of Palestinians. who are at least partly fighting for a homeland. these were not acts designed to liberate a people. But to communicate a political point.
But today. we do not mean freedom fighters legitimately fighting for freedom when talk about terrorism in the United States. A newer type of terrorist has emerged. They have no tie to any particular state or government. And are often a loosely associated network of smaller groups. such as the Al-queda. who masterminded the September 11 attacks. They also target diplomatic missions. military targets such as the U.S.S. Cole. Or civilians. such as we see in car bombings. Earlier terrorists wanted to limit damage. They needed credibility to form a new government. Newer terrorists. however. want to do more damage to both infrastructure and people. The desire to do widespread damage was particularly evident on September 11. 2001. where the intent seemed to be to collapse at least one building.
But at the same time. they affiliate themselves with countries with weak central governments. They open schools and provide health care (1). They seek out areas already embroiled in internal turmoil. such as Afghanistan was under the Taliban. Colombia. And Chechnya (1).
Hoffman (2002) makes the distinction between terror as policy by governments. such as many Nazi practices. And terrorism. which he defines as violence committed by organizations not part of a government. He defines terrorism as "the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change." One particular newer type of terrorist is the suicide bomber. Suicide bombers in the Middle East build bombs that contain shrapnel designed to maim or kill as many people as possible. They are trained psychologically to destroy as many as possible. knowing they will die in the process (Staff writers, 2000).
Ambassador Michael Sheehan (2000) said. "Terrorist acts cause crisis. provoke outrage. fray community ties. And undermine faith in our democratic institutions. Only six people died in the World Trade Center bombing [in 1993]. But such an event. If repeated annually. would put intolerable strains on our society." Sheehan points out that terrorist attacks may serve several purposes. including the disruption of peace processes. Or the aggravation of conflicts.
Hoffman (2002) takes a somewhat compassionate view of the older kind of terrorist. who was fighting for the benefit of others and a very specific cause. such as freedom. He went so far as to describe them as altruistic. because the terrorist was taking personal risks to help a group of people. This seems disconcerting at first. until one realizes that the formation of our country included acts of defiance such as the Boston Tea Party. If we had lost that war. colonial "terrorism" would have predated that of the French Revolution.
Current terrorist concerns
The intelligence community both in the United States and abroad were on heightened alert around the Millennium. In addition to information gathered from informants and other means. some events supported the need for concern. In December of 1998. officials in Jordan arrested members of a cell linked to al-Queda. This cell was planning attacks on tourists (1). At about the same time. officials in Algeria caught Algerians attempting to smuggle explosives into the United States. This group was also linked to Osama bin Laden (1). Shortly after. hijackers managed to hijack an Indian airline plane. They held the passengers hostage for a week. killing one (1). There were other incidents. such as the intercept at the United States/Canadian border mentioned earlier.
Concerns about terrorist attacks that have their beginnings in other concerns are obviously very real today. Sheehan (2000) noted that Iran promoted and supported several terrorist groups including
Hizballah. HAMAS. Palestinian Islamic Jihad. And Ahmed Jabril's PFLP-GC." Iran's goal was to disrupt the Middle East peace process. Sheehan notes that the then-director of the CIA. George Tenet. said that "Iran...remains the most active state sponsor of terrorism." Interestingly. Iraq was not mentioned.
As Emerson (2002) demonstrates in his book. however. watching our borders will not be enough to prevent terrorist attacks. because terrorists are now living among us. This was demonstrated late last year when men alleged to be part of a terrorist cell were arrested in upstate New York. Nearly all were United States citizens. Emerson demonstrates in his book a systematic approach of recruiting people with U.S. passports. raising money. And building a communications network capable of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
As terrorism has evolved or de-evolved from Hoffman's view of using extreme message to fight for noble goals to the use of bloodshed and destruction to make a political statement. targets have changed as well. Targets now include civilians and non-military targets as well as military targets. Along with military instillations and equipment. hotels. tourist sites and public transportation have been targeted. Buses are often attacked in Israel. And one group of terrorists released nerve gas in a Japanese subway several years ago.
While Sheehan (2000) notes that several terrorist attacks were prevented in 2000. The continuing threat is recognized. Emerson (2002) emphasizes that only a very small number of American Muslims are knowingly involved with any sort of terrorist movement. But also explains how terrorists have used fronts for raising money that appear on the surface to be nonprofit. charitable organizations. He makes the chilling prediction that it is only a matter of time before we see suicide attacks within the United States.
Can we prevent terrorism on U.S. soil?
Stern (2000) quotes Thomas Schelling: "Despite the high ratio of damage and grief to the resources required for a terrorist act. terrorism has proved to be a remarkably ineffectual means to accomplishing anything." This statement is only partly true. The Red Brigade and the Baader Meinhof Group have faded from view. However. other terrorist groups have been tremendously successful. They played an important role in the formation of Israel and helped Kenya win independence. It would be dangerous to assume that terrorism will fade because those who practice it conclude it is ineffective. In particular. The al-Queda network viewed the events of September 11 as tremendously successful.
Sheehan (2000) suggests that we must "drain the swamps" that hides terrorists. This is the strategy followed beginning in 2001 when the United Stated waged war on al-Queda by attacking their strongholds in Afghanistan. The goal was to eliminate the physical and political climate that allowed them to thrive. Sheehan (2000) makes the point that terrorists need places they can meet. train. plan. And hide. And that they find this space within the borders of sympathetic countries. These are often relatively lawless countries where they can have free rein. Or where the government…[continue]
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