"A Christmas tree lighting? In Portland? Seriously?" Such was my flip reaction to news that 19-year-old Muslim Somali immigrant Mohamed Mohamud had attempted to set off a van full of explosives in downtown Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square Friday night during the city's holiday tree lighting ceremony.
More news will come out today as Mohamud gets his first of many days in court, but what we think we know so for is that Mohamud picked the target because there were a lot of people there -- including women and children -- to be killed or maimed, and because nobody would see it coming.
So: Friday night, Mohamud was at the ceremony. He shouted "Allah Akbar!" ("God is Great"; though apparently it loses something in the translation) and dialed a number on a cell phone that he believed would trigger an explosive that he had planted nearby. Instead, the phone dialed the FBI. Agents arrested him on the spot.
The crowd, apparently, was never in any real danger. One of the young man's co-religionists tipped the FBI off that Mohamud wanted to blow something up, and so agents had posed as Jihadists. They gave him a fake bomb and fake instructions for how to blow it up with that damning cell phone call.
Mohamud thus makes three in a string of recent examples of Islamists who have plotted unsuccessfully to blow up Americans on U.S. soil. Last month in another sting, the FBI arrested Farooque Ahmed in Virginia for casing the D.C. Metro system to plot a bomb attack. In May, Faisal Shahzad created but did not managed to detonate a bomb in New York's Times Square. These incidents are linked, and so is their failure. The linkage is obvious. All men were Muslim immigrants who decided to bring Jihad to America. That it didn't work out is not merely a matter of luck.
Four years ago in these cyber pages, I coined Lott's Law of Diminishing Returns on (Islamic) Terrorism. For some reason, I noticed, a pattern had emerged in Western nations following September 11, 2001. Jihadist terror networks would get one really big bang for their buck, followed by a series of screwups and failures. This was true in the U.S. (9/11), the UK London Metro), Spain (Madrid), and Australia (Bali).
Moreover, I speculated why that was the case. I argued the world political situation had changed so that Islamo-terrorism now sets a six-part process in train:
One, after terror attacks, police and intelligence agencies start shaking down local Muslims for information and threatening awful repercussions if somebody doesn't start talking.
Two, political correctness and civil liberties take a back seat to fears of more terrorism. Said police are given latitude by legislatures to do "what needs to be done."
Three, the public attitudes of non-Muslims shift on a host of related issues: from immigration to racial profiling to torture. This gives elected officials and police the opportunity to act the part of restrained peacemaker compared to the angry mob.
Four, local Muslims feel the pressure and for whatever reason -- fear of backlash, threat of deportation, or genuine patriotic sentiment -- they start to publicly cooperate with local authorities, even while they whine about the unfairness. More important, they privately snitch on each other.
Five, those leaks prove invaluable. They work to sever the supply lines of money and information that run from international organizers to local terrorists.
Six, what the neighborhood division of the forces of darkness has left over is mostly the bottom of the barrel: would-be bombers with fantastic imaginations but zero expertise, loners, and screw-ups like Mohamed Mohamud, who couldn't even wipe that smile off Santa's face.
This doesn't mean that Islamo terror attacks can't succeed. It simply makes them much more difficult to pull off. One thing that I wondered about as wrote that article four years ago was whether the political situation would change enough to slow or stop the anti-terror process. Based on recent headlines, I think it's fair to say: It hasn't so far.