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Tag: terrorism


Up close and personal with terrorists

This is too long to fit into our pages (Foreign Policy has a lot more room), but readers shouldn’t miss it.

You Can’t Tell a Terrorist by His Eyes

Jessica Stern (The Hoover Institute)
Jessica Stern (The Hoover Institution)

By Jessica Stern
2013, Foreign Policy

A few times, I have felt myself in the presence of true evil. At those times, I learned what it means to have the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s not just an expression. It happened to me when I met with a leader who recruited cannon fodder for his “jihad,” and on a few other occasions in the last couple decades that I’ve spent interviewing terrorists to learn why they do what they do. But, more often, the evil I’ve witnessed has been banal. I have found myself able to understand the mistaken moral logic that can turn a boy into a terrorist.

Here’s a surprising thing. Almost everywhere — in Pakistan, in Indonesia, in Texas — terrorists offer you tea. Sometimes a full meal.

Otherwise, they are quite different from one another. Their motivations vary — from irredentism, to pleasing the God they claim to worship, to cleansing the Earth of the mud-people that contaminate the world of purity in their minds. Some live in war zones with grievances that are easy for outsiders to grasp; for others, living in the cushy West, the war that is taking place is principally in their own minds, often over identity. Some are paid, some are blackmailed. Some are recruited, and some recruit themselves to their own holy war, whether at home or far away.

That latter seems to be what happened with Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who, according to the latest reporting, recruited themselves to their own “jihad” against America, based, in part, on their opposition to the U.S. role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When it comes to understanding — and stopping — these kinds of leaderless resisters and small cells, we need to understand how terrorists think as individuals. Read more »


A new kind of terrorism on American soil

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Anyone who thinks the war on terror is something less than a war should take a better look at the images out of Boston on Monday.

Innocent runners and spectators — not soldiers — deliberately targeted. An 8-year-old among the dead; many survivors gravely injured. Limbs blown off. Streams of blood on the pavement.

Most sobering of all is the certainty that many rejoiced at the carnage. Hatred of the United States — of the entire West — is endemic in parts of the world. Some in this country share the sentiment. Read more »


Legal martyrdom for an ‘American’ terror leader

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

As a couple Supreme Court justices and others have noted, the Constitution is not a suicide pact. It doesn’t require the president to passively watch international terrorists mount attack after attack on Americans from safe havens beyond the reach of the law.

Barack Obama’s decision to kill an al-Qaida leader hiding in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, was thoroughly justified regardless of al-Awlaki’s U.S. citizenship.

Some civil libertarians complain that this American-bred terrorist was denied his constitutional right to due process. U.S. agents, presumably, were supposed to try to arrest him in some terrorist snake pit, risking his escape and their lives, in hopes of spiriting him off to America to receive a court-appointed attorney, a proper trial and the usual rounds of appeals.

There’s no real doubt that al-Awlaki was an eager would-be murderer of Americans. His fiery calls for terror attacks were openly posted on the Internet; by all accounts he was complicit in the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound passenger jet in 2009 and the 2010 plot to detonate bombs concealed in printer cartridges at various U.S. targets, including a Jewish center in Chicago.

Nidal Malik Hasan, accused of massacring 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, reportedly exchanged many emails with al-Awlaki prior to the attack.

Al-Awlaki’s nationality seems about as relevant as the U.S. citizenship of a few German soldiers who fought against Americans in World War II. The struggle with al-Qaida abroad is a war, not a courtroom drama.
Read more »


For Osama bin Laden, no more human sacrifices

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

One of the most telling details reported from the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday was the human shield. The female human shield.

Those who studied the scene of the firefight say that one of his wives was physically positioned to protect one of the men who was shot, whose number included one of bin Laden’s sons and two of his brothers.

The woman may have shared his murderous values, but in al-Qaida, females are not fellow warriors on an equal footing. It looks as if she didn’t choose

Read more »


Another far-too-close call with airborne explosives

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Americans have been in a roaring argument with each other all year about the future course of the country.

But last week brought a chilling reminder that some see us not as Republicans, Democrats or whatever, but as infidel Westerners worthy of nothing but death.

Two high-explosive bombs expertly concealed in printer ink containers appear to have been designed to explode in flight en route to the United States. They’d been addressed to two Jewish centers in Chicago. In the minds of Islamic terrorists, all Americans deserve hatred, but some deserve more hatred than others.

The bombs came from Yemen, which in the last couple years has become a full-fledged base of operations for al-Qaida. The local franchise is called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula; it consists of high-end professionals, like the man believed to have constructed these devices, as well as rank-and-file Islamist warriors who’ve fled a welcome crackdown on terrorists in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Like last year’s attempted Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner, this was way too close a call.
Read more »


In Seattle, terror drives the First Amendment underground

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Terrorist intimidation has just cost a Seattle cartoonist her freedom. Her crime: exercising her First Amendment rights.

That’s Seattle, as in the United States. There doesn’t seem to be a Seattle in Yemen.

Molly Norris, whose work appears in the Seattle Weekly, gained international attention last spring after she drew a mock promotion of an imaginary event, “Everbody Draw Mohammed Day.” The spoof poster, published on Facebook, depicted various inanimate objects – including a coffee cup and a domino – each claiming to be the true likeness of the founder of Islam.

Norris drew it as a satirical comment on Comedy Central’s censorship of two South Park episodes in which cartoon characters refer to another character – inside a bear costume – as Muhammad. Comedy Central backed away from those episodes because of death threats from radical Muslims.

The poster proposed “Draw Mohammed Day” to – in its own words – “defend a little something our country is famous for … the First Amendment.”

Taken seriously by many, the fictitious event went viral. Pakistan – one of the world’s largest countries – has responded by shutting down Facebook within its borders. Anwar al-Awlaki, a fugitive U.S.-born cleric, has issued a fatwa calling for Norris’ death.

Some fatwas are more to be feared than others. This one is apparently much to be feared. The Seattle Weekly’s editor-in-chief, Mark Fefer, wrote Wednesday that “Molly Norris’ comic is not in the paper this week. That’s because there is no more Molly.”
Read more »


More for Helen Thomas groupies to explain away

Some more to chew on for diehard Helen Thomas fans. I particularly like the “Thank God for Hezbollah” quote.

Let’s not forget her question at President Obama’s first press conference about whether “so-called terrorists” – i.e., al-Qaida and the Taliban – were being given sanctuary by Pakistan. I won’t bother making the argument that there’s nothing “so-called” about their terrorism.


With safeguards, let those terror suspects talk

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Somebody in the White House should have winced Sunday when Attorney General Eric Holder raised the possibility of more Miranda-less questioning of terror suspects.

“We’re now dealing with international terrorism,” he said about the attempted Times Square bombing, describing it as a “new threat.” The “now” and “new” suggest that that the bomber’s apparent Taliban connection was a big surprise that has suddenly required the Obama administration to rethink how it handles suspects.

Let’s hope Holder and others in the administration weren’t caught that flat-footed. There’s nothing remotely new about international terrorism; the World Trade Center was first bombed in 1993, and the likes of al-Qaida have been targeting the United States ever since.

The supposed novelty of an international attack has at least given the Obama administration a pretext for re-examining its overly rigid practice of reading Miranda rights almost immediately to suspected terrorists arrested on American soil.

This conventional police approach is clearly a reaction to abuses of the Bush era. It’s also an overreaction.
Delaying a Miranda warning or questioning someone as an enemy combatant, by themselves, are not the same as torture or extraordinary rendition. Extended questioning without a warning can be done within the law. There’s also room to legally expand the practice, as Holder seemed to be conceding.
Read more »