Terrorism Expert: America's Blindspot is the Homeland

By Matthew Harwood

Saturday's botched attack in Times Square continues to show that al Qaeda and its sympathizers have successfully sown the seeds of jihad on American shores, a respected terrorism expert said Friday.

Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., terrorism expert and Georgetown Professor Bruce Hoffman argued a confluence of terrorism trends converged last Saturday evening in Times Square.

The attack demonstrated that a foreign terrorist group, the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), with previously only parochial concerns, is believed to have radicalized, trained, and deployed naturalized American Faisal Shahzad—a well-educated, upperly mobile young Muslim man—to kill his fellow citizens.

The attempted attack against Times Square, Hoffman maintains, shows the blind spot in America's defense strategy is the homeland itself, repeating his thesis from a recent essay he wrote for The National Interest called "American Jihad," on which the talk was based.

(Assistant Editor Joe Straw reported on "The Evolving Terrorist Threat" against the United States homefront in the April 2010 issue of Security Management.)

Hoffman said Shahzad's failed attack and other similar incidents over the last year should provoke some tough questions about the U.S. war on terrorism: Can the United States really be winning it when the threats are diversifying beyond al Qaeda to other groups? Can a war be won when the enemy recruits American citizens and residents to attack their country from the inside? 

Hoffman also argued that recent plots and attacks have punctured some conventional wisdoms.

"The notion that the American melting-pot theory had somehow provided a firewall against radicalization and recruitment in this country has now fallen by the wayside," Hoffman concluded. Instead, the American public and policy makers must realize that "al Qaeda has accomplished the unthinkable—establishing an embryonic terrorist recruitment, radicalization, and operational infrastructure in the United States."

Shahzad's attack also calls into question the effectiveness of the CIA's drone attacks across the Middle East and Asia. "A tactic isn't a strategy, and we shouldn't confuse the two," Hoffman said, advocating for an ideological component to drone strikes that dilutes the next generation's enthusiasm for jihad. The professor doesn't believe the United States can kill or capture its way to victory in its struggle against jihadists.

Hoffman also took issue with some in the media or in government's characterization of the Shahzad's plot as an amateurish, one-off event. Rather Saturday's failed attack in Times Square is just one more notch on the jihadist movement's belt. Hoffman said there has been at least 14 jihadist plots to attack the United States since 2009, "a watershed in terms of terrorist plots, instances, or the proclivity of Americans to go overseas to seek terrorist training."

Two attacks were successful. In June of last year, Muslim convert Abdulhakim Muhammad murdered an Army recruiter in Little Rock, Arkansas, while a few months later Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan massacred 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in November. Unlike Hasan, who Hoffman called a bona fide "lone wolf," Muhammad claimed to have received training in Yemen.

And Hoffman believes that Shahzad's failed bomb attack wasn't incompetent but rushed. Shahzad, however, made numerous, fatal mistakes during his attempted attack that led customs agents to apprehend him from onboard a Dubai-bound flight at JFK Airport in New York City before it could depart.

This may indicate that al Qaeda and affiliated movements are trying to overwhelm U.S. intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials with multiple smaller plots so a larger, more devastating attack can slip past the nation's defenses, theorized Hoffman.

Al Qaeda, said Hoffman, is an adherent of the Irish Republic Army's taut to Great Britain: "You have to be lucky all the time, we only have to be lucky once."

♦ Photo by Victoria/WikiMediaCommons


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