The Justice Department announced this week that it will seek the death penalty in the trial against Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It seems clear the verdict will be guilty and the punishment will be death. For some, this may seem appropriate, but in executing Tsarnaev, we will lose a big opportunity to better understand radicalization and terrorism.
Paul Anthony Ciancia, the 23-year-old who shot TSA agents at LAX, made his first court appearance this month. Since the shooting, news outlets have reported on the attack itself, on Ciancia’s mental state and on methods for improving security. Yet, in the extensive coverage of the shooter’s actions, there is one word that is conspicuously and erroneously absent: terrorist.
Just after 9 AM on Friday, November 1, a gunman walked up to a screening checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport and opened fire. The attack by Jason Anthony Ciancia, a 23-year-old New Jersey native living in Los Angeles, resulted in the first on-the-job death of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer. The utility of attacking a critical point in the aviation system is enormous, and Ciancia’s attack is evidence of why securing the aviation domain is so important.
Last week, a Las Vegas couple was arrested for plotting to kidnap and kill police officers. This conspiracy to kill police officers is a case of homegrown terrorism, a growing threat to U.S. national security. When we look at the diversity of violent extremist ideologies and thousands of followers who present a threat to the United States, we are looking into a mirror.
As the United States enters another chapter in the ongoing effort to protect U.S. citizens and assets, the phenomenon of homegrown terrorism is likely to take center stage, requiring a new approach and perspective toward homeland security. This is the subject of Homegrown Violent Extremism, a new book from counterterrorism expert and fellow Security Debrief contributor Erroll Southers.
We now have information on 800,000 people in our terrorist databases. We have “big data,” as the people would say who pretend to know something about it. Big Data, they often claim, will solve the problem. To my mind, we have a big search, analysis and distribution problem, and despite “big data” claims of prowess, connecting the dots before a terrorist strikes is never going to be an easy thing.
As the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings continues, one of the more clouded aspects is the tale of “Misha,” a mysterious US-based Islamist who has been accused by members of the Tsarnaev family of radicalizing Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two alleged bombers. Today I was able to meet “Misha,” whose real name is Mikhail Allakhverdov.
You may not have seen a recent article in Eurasia Review describing how Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is using Internet games to target children at an early age, luring them into extremist beliefs. While Congress is actively seeking ways to limit the extent of those violent acts, we have a moral obligation to consider how other proven sinister forces might be threatening – with the use of popular media – our children and those predisposed to manipulation.
The radical ideology that attracts people to sympathize with and engage in Islamist terrorism is all-too-often not given the weight it deserves. Two recent separate articulations on the vital need to do more to counter and actually triumph over extremist Islamist ideology deserve a close look, those of former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith at the Aspen Security Forum and HSPI Director Frank Cilluffo speaking before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs.
It has been almost a year since the death of Osama bin Laden. Though we are right to be proud in dispensing justice to the terrorist mastermind, it is no time to rest on our laurels. Al-Qaeda is weakened and scattered, but this has only led them to adjust their tactics. A particularly worrisome trend is al-Qaeda’s shift toward recruiting homegrown terrorists.