For some time now we’ve seen the radicalized Islamic terror organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (otherwise referred to as Daesh) not only move through the regions of Syria and then Iraq unimpeded, but also hold its territory in the face of a feeble International efforts to counter their advance. With murder, public executions, and kidnapping as part of their toolbox – the group has made no qualms in its slick media campaigns regarding its intent to strike the West. And given ISIS’s social, economic and logistical reach it may only be a matter of time.
Now before you go running back to your closet to grab your kit and uber battle-rifle from the safe, realize it won’t be a war you are thinking of. Far from it. If ISIS can establish enough of a network/cell here in the US, their operations will look a lot like high-profile attacks we have seen before.
As Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us, the lessons learned on the battlefield have a tendency to traverse from one theatre to the next. So while there are innumerable examples, here are four that were most prominent in the media;
2005 London Bombings – In 2005 four Islamist British men (born in the UK and radicalized in-country) used a series of backpack-style bombs in the subway systems and one double-decker bus at the height of rush hour to produce significant causalities in a confined space. With over 50 killed and 700 injured it was the most devastating attack in England since the Lockerbie bombing in 1988.
- 2008 Mumbai Hotel Attacks – A series of rolling attacks and bombings by radicalized Islamists spread out across four days in downtown Mumbai and carried out by Pakistani members of Lashkar-Taiba. The attacks killed 164 people and wounded 308 more. The attacks were focused on a series of high-end hotels known to frequent foreign tourists.
- 2013 Westgate Shopping Mall Attack – In September, between 10 and 15 assailants from al-Shabaab attacked the high-end Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. They shot down and murdered men, women and children resulting in 67 deaths and 175 wounded. Many were asked when confronted by the terrorists if they were Muslin or Christian – the wrong answer got you killed.
- 2015 Charlie Hebdo Attack in Paris – Three gunmen with ties to Yemen’s al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula attacked the Paris office of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. The gunmen specifically targeted the publication for its offensive depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, before wandering the streets screaming “Allahu Akbar” (translated as “God is Great”) and proclaiming the attack as retribution for Hebdo’s insult against Islam. The attack killed 12 while the three gunmen were later killed in shootouts with police. The common law wife of one of the gunmen slipped through the dragnet and made it back to Syria before disappearing.
In examining these events some similarities emerge. Principally, although there was a great deal of planning likely involved, they were all done so in a manner that shows a high level of attention to detail and ability to subvert local authorities (for the most part) until it moved into the execution phase. Once executed, local authorities were nearly helpless to stop the mass casualty event as it transpired or in its aftermath. So the premise that somehow here in America we would be any more protected is dependant on how effective law enforcement and the government is at evaluating and reacting to the threats here in the US ahead of a potential attack.
Given the fact that there are well over 20 known mosques associated to the Muslim Brotherhood in the US; actively advocating violence against Americans and “training” its disciples today – the odds the US government and law enforcement can keep up with how many people are being radicalized (a majority are from prisons, but many others are not and come from a variety of American demographics) is low. (Emerson) Indeed without some change in the metric, it stands to think logically it is only a matter of time until they can radicalize a US-born citizen who has no criminal history and doesn’t “flag” in any database, in effect, a “ghost gun” for radical jihad and ISIS in the West. That individual(s) would then be able to move freely (or as part of a cell), purchase the necessary materials, and support whatever plans were required. Were they not pitiful wannabes, the Tsarnaev Brothers would be a perfect example of the insider threat as they had immigrated to the US as children and integrated into American society, and gradually gravitated to radical Islam that culminated with the 2013 events in Boston.
So following the logical discourse, whatever ISIS’s plan would be, it wouldn’t include a frontal attack against a military base or law enforcement. They represent too “hard” a target with low shock value. To quote the Joker…”It’s not about the money, it’s about sending a message”. This would mean if/when ISIS or any other radicalized group attains a foothold here in the US, the cell would likely target places with a “high” shock value in an area they know has a high odds of success. As seen in the Mumbai attack, hotels are places with large concentrations of civilians/families and minimally armed security. So are malls. Areas deemed “gun free” often present the optimal places, as many civilians would likewise not be capable of defending themselves or others. Throw in the fact that the average response time for first-responders is between 10 and 12 minutes then the attack would be in full effect before they arrived, let alone coordinated their own response in a culture hiding behind “gun free” zones. And given the continual conflict between Progressive communities that value individual liberties over safety, juxtaposition of American law with others like Sharia, the space for radical safe havens in the fabric of American society is increasing. In effect we are following the course Europe set over a decade ago by enabling cultural islands where host nation laws are subverted, and is now realizing the errors of such an approach.
So what are we to do?
Be alert. Cities with draconian anti-gun laws, and an over valuing of government involvement will likely be the first to see the presence of ISIS or its spinoffs. These groups rely on the liberal freedoms afforded to the citizenry, and conceal the group’s efforts. Other locations like New York City, Baltimore, Miami, and Washington D.C. are more or less expecting terrorism and have taken measures to prepare. Also, when your local city council holds meetings or debates in public forms that can have impact to your community – go, and make your voice heard.
If you have a concealed carry license, get training and carry every day. If not for yourself but for those whom you could save. Get medical training – even the basic levels to stop hemorrhagic blood loss. And maintain your situational awareness. Our nation has declined because of the growing ignorance and indifference of its citizens. Yet amid that, many decry the overreach of government and law enforcement for the claims of public safety. But fact is the government agencies and law enforcement still represent the largest organized effort to stop ISIS or other groups from gaining a foothold in the US, and they need the assistance of aware and involved citizens. Whatever the future holds, the only way groups like ISIS can attain a foothold in America would be if the communities and people that represent it’s social strata stop taking an avid role in their nation’s direction and security. As the saying goes evil will prevail when good men do nothing.
Emerson, Steven. American jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us. New York: Free Press, 2002.
Terror at the Mall. Dir. Dan Reed. Home Box Office. 2014.