There’s good and bad news on the domestic terrorism front.
First, the good news. In light of Friday’s arrest of a young man from Somalia, our intel system appears to be working properly. The subject of the arrest, one Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, planned to explode a device in downtown Portland at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The only hitch in his program was that the government was one step ahead.
Federal agents were aware of Mohamud’s cybersearch for like-minded killers for some time, and intervened before he was able to join with any terrorist groups. His “handler,” an undercover agent investigating Mohamud’s subversive activities, ultimately provided a dummy device which Mohamud allegedly attempted to detonate.
This will, of course, raise the question of federal entrapment, but the FBI appears to have properly handled this issue by having all plans for an explosive event originate with Mohamud. All in all, solid police work.
Still more good news is the notion that this alleged terrorist was working alone. Despite attempts to reach out to the jihadist community at large for assistance, Mohamud became a de facto “lone wolf” operator.
The bad news is a continuation on this theme.
While the term lone wolf is usually reserved for would-be terrorists such as Mohamed Mohamud or Faisal Shahzad (the Times Square bomber), it also encompasses other violent criminals like Maurice Clemmons and Christopher Monfort. Federal agents and police officers send and receive thousands of intelligence reports on lone wolves: prior felons who have proclaimed their intent to kill police officers; radicals who mix anti-government rhetoric with homemade explosives; jihadists bent on traveling to the Middle East to fight American forces, or choosing to remain in the U.S. as a tool for domestic terrorism.
Because lone wolves act and plan alone, recognizing the imminent danger from one of these radicalized individuals can be a very difficult job. The current situation is encouraging only in that many of these so-called lone wolves have not found each other and formed a pack. When that time comes we may need more than solid police work.
We may need some luck.