A recent terrorism plot foiled by federal and state law enforcement illustrates the threat the United States faces from terrorists trying to export the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq to the home front, said Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano during a speech yesterday.
"The recent arrest and indictment of Najibullah Zazi on a charge of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction... against persons or property in the U.S. serves as a vivid example of the threat we continue to face," Napolitano told the Interagency Council for Applied Homeland Security Technology's Counter-IED Symposium.
Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan legal immigrant, was arrested and charged with plotting a terrorist attack in September. According to the FBI's motion for a permanent order of detention, "Zazi received detailed bomb-making instructions in Pakistan, purchased components of improvised explosive devices, and traveled to New York City on September 10, 2009 in furtherance of his criminal plans."
Napolitano told the audience that recent FBI arrests and intelligence reports show al Qaeda and sympathizers are still determined to strike United States' soil. The fear is that the widespread use of IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq will migrate to the United States. According to USA Today in March, coalition soldiers in Afghanistan are increasingly wounded or killed by IEDs.
To defend against IED attacks, Napolitano stressed American collective responsibility. Individual citizens need to say something when they see something suspicious and everyone needs to do their part to strengthen the preparedness of their families, their communities, and their businesses.
"This means all of us having an awareness of what to look out for, of how to spot suspicious packages of individuals, of whom to call in emergencies," Napolitano said.
Napolitano outlined what the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is doing to help prepare for the IED threat. At the national level, the department partners with other federal agencies, including the Pentagon, to create planning documents on combating terrorist use of explosives.
DHS then coordinates with state and local partners—especially those with specialized responsibilities like bomb squads, dive teams, and explosives detection canine teams—to help prevent, detect, protect, respond, and research IEDs.
Napolitano went on to list many initiatives DHS has taken to combat the threat of IEDs at state and local levels.
Counter-IED capabilities have been funded from the multi-billion dollar homeland security grant programs while DHS shares critical IED information with state and local law enforcement as well as the private sector. Next week, DHS will work with officials from the hotel and retail sectors to get frontline employees training on how to spot IEDs.
The department also reaches out to the public and chemical suppliers to educate them on precursor chemicals and IEDs.
Explosive detections machines have been rolled out at U.S. airports and approximately 700 explosive canine teams have been deployed throughout the country to protect mass transit systems, federal buildings, airports, and border crossings.
Over 90 protective security advisors stationed across the country help coordinate security improvements at public and private critical infrastructure with public and private sector partners, while dangerous chemicals and chemical plants will be protected underneath the Chemical Facilities Antiterrorism Standards.
And to strengthen national preparedness, DHS has assessed the response capabilities of over 175 state and local bomb squads and dive teams.
These efforts, however, will fail if DHS acts alone, Napolitano said.
"[O]ur success will hinge on our ability to work with our partners across the board at all levels of government and the private sector to monitor, protect against, and ultimately reduce the threat of an IED being used successfully."
♦ Picture of IEDs from Baghdad by the Defense Department/WikiMediaCommons