Time Square Bomber, Sleeping Cell or a Time Bomb?

By Ali Younes

The failed car-bombing attempt last week in New York Time square is an important reminder that terrorism is not simply going away with just tighter security measures by this country or any other. What we know so far about the personal life of the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, is rather a grim reminder of what future would-be terrorists look like.  We might not see terrorism on the scale of September 11 attacks anymore, what we might see, rather, is more of the lone operator type such as Shahzad. Shahzad might not be a card-carrying member of the Taliban or Al Qaida, but certainly shares its anti-American rational and is inspired by its extensive propaganda operations in the cyberspace.

The question is was shahzad a sleeping cell waiting to be activated or was he later turned into one, or he just simply acted alone thus becoming a time bomb to exact revenge against the US for the war in Afghanistan and the US involvement in Pakistan.

Whether Shahzad decided to act alone or in coordination with groups in Pakistan is important to know, but that’s only half of the story. A key point here is that Shahzad’s actions will refocus the gaze of the US law enforcement agencies on larger scope of people and potential suspects by casting a wider net to catch them before they attempt to strike their intended targets. As result we will end up seeing an increase in the intensity of the US domestic intelligence gathering and spying on U.S. citizens of Middle East origins and Muslim Americans. This is, of course, will represent a major set back in terms of the civil liberties of Muslim Americans and will place them collectively under a cloud of suspicion. 

The apparent normality of Shahzad life and his lack of extremist credentials that helped him stay below the radar are important in understanding the development of terrorism and the metamorphosis of Al Qaida and its associate organizations.  We may no longer witness terrorists flying airplanes to slam them into sky scrapers anymore at least in the U.S.  This large scale terrorism might be considered obsolete given the tight security measures that were put in place in the years that followed the September, 11 attacks.

More, sending terrorists trained in fragile or failed states such as Yemen and Somalia who might slip through the cracks and enter the United States remains a possibility. Their chances of beating a multi-layered intelligence networks designed to catch them before they enter the United States remain slim however. The case of Nigerian suspect Omar Farouk, who attempted to blow up the Northwest airlines plane over Detroit last year, showed that Al Qaida was able to slip a lone operative through the cracks as a result of luck but not as a result of careful planning.

Al Qaida might not be able to send highly trained operatives into the United States to commit spectacular terrorist operations, but what it can do is inspire disgruntled and alienated individuals who for whatever reasons turn into ticking time bombs and commit terrorist acts.  Counterterrorism operations or drone attacks in South Waziristan, the mountains of Yemen or Somalia are simply addressing the violent manifestations of discontent with the U.S. policies around the world. The real battle against terrorism is fought by a balanced U.S. diplomacy in the region that will address the sources of anti-US sentiments and grievances.

– Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: ali.younes@charter.ne.

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