Another Perspective

The Ultimate WMD

What explains the ineptitude of terrorists inside the U.S. and UK since 9/11?

By 8.7.07

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This summer's plot to explode twin car bombs in the heart of London never came off. The cars, crammed with gas canisters and nails, were discovered by an ambulance crew and defused by British bomb squads on June 29th.

The following day, however, Kafeel Ahmed, who engineered the car bombs, took a more direct approach and, with Bilal Abdullah, drove a Jeep Cherokee packed with explosives into the passenger terminal at Glasgow Airport in Scotland. The only victims turned out to be the two terrorists -- Ahmed himself was burned over 90% of his body and he died last week. The entire gang, including several Muslim physicians, was quickly rolled up.

Despite the educational backgrounds of the conspirators, the plot was striking for its Keystone Cops ineptitude. Plastic syringes used as makeshift firing mechanisms in the first two cars didn't spark; the mobile phones that were supposed to ignite the syringes rang and rang as the terrorists tried repeatedly to detonate the bombs from remote locations -- which made the conspiracy easy to crack using call records. And when Ahmed rammed the Jeep into the Glasgow Terminal the next day, the car failed at first to explode; passersby came to his aid, thinking the crash an accident, until he climbed out of the wreck, started pouring out gas canisters, which in turn ignited the engine...and quickly engulfed him in flames.

Such incidents are, in a paradoxical way, almost soothing. They remind us of the severe degree of difficulty built into the 3/11/04 train bombings in Madrid, the 7/7/05 subway bombings in London, and, above all, the 9/11/01 attacks in America. Far more frequent are the foiled plots, the parade of jihadist clown posses who self-destruct before they can do damage. The would-be assault on soldiers at Fort Dix, for example, fell apart earlier this year when the nitwits planning it brought videotape of themselves firing rifles in the woods and shouting "Allahu akbar!" to a Circuit City to convert into a DVD. Even more ill-conceived was an Islamist plot to blow up fuel tanks and a 40 mile pipeline in and around JFK Airport -- a physical impossibility, given the fail-safes built into the system's design. Yet Russell Defrietas, lead terrorist, thought it a dandy idea: "Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to do to the United States... they love JFK, he's like the man. If you hit that...it's like you can kill the man twice." Defrietas followed in the great cerebral tradition of Iyman Faris, the Kashmir-born truck driver and naturalized American citizen, who thought he just might be able to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blow torch. He confessed to the plot in 2003.

Realistically, however, we shouldn't take too much comfort in our enemy's recent failure rate...because right now their first stringers are tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan. This, of course, is what President Bush means when he insists we're fighting the war against Islamic terror "over there" so that we don't have to fight it back here -- though war critics cannot seem to fathom this point. Getting an operation like September 11th off the ground entails recruiting, training and supplying "martyrs" who are shrewd enough to carry out the mission yet wild-eyed enough never to question the morality of murdering thousands of civilians. In short, it requires large sums of cash.

Money, after all, is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction -- the one WMD Saddam indisputably had stockpiled before the American invasion of 2003. Self-starters, even well-heeled ones like the doctors who botched the London and Glasgow jobs, cannot, as a rule, shell out the funds necessary to pull off a major attack. For that, you need the kind of operating budgets that usually come from global organizations like al Qaeda or from sovereign governments like Iran or Syria.

But al Qaeda, Iran and Syria, in case you haven't noticed, are currently too preoccupied with what's going on the Middle East to divert much of their terrorist cash elsewhere. That equation will change, of course, if America pulls out of Iraq prematurely. Then they'll be free to start fielding their varsity teams over here.

Count on it.

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About the Author
Mark Goldblatt teaches at Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY). His latest novel, Sloth, was published last year by Greenpoint Press.