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Because it's harder than we think?

David asks:

How come Al Qaeda never followed up on 9/11? In Iraq, or Israel, we see repeated terror attacks, just like in the movie. But in the United States in real life, we had 9/11 and then nothing. Why?

It's an unsettling question. Planting a bomb on a bus or a subway seems trivially easy. My fear is that it's only a matter of time untill it happens here.

Then again, consider where the terrorist attacks have been happening: Israel. Iraq. Indonesia. Turkey. Russia. Tunisia. Saudi Arabia. (Also consider such previously terrorism-prone places such as Spain and Northern Ireland). They've been happening there because that's where the terrorists already live. In each of those countries, they can count on the support of a not-insignificant percentage of the population. While it takes only a few people to set a bomb, one needs hundreds, if not thousands, of local supporters for an extended campaign of bombings. Israel's problem is not that they are slouches; their problem is that they live among hundreds of thousands of terrorist supporters. (If not more.)

Also consider that the number of people in on the 9/11 plot had to be kept small. The more people in the know, the more likely their chances of getting caught before pulling it off. In other words, planning to leave people behind to blow up buses and subways would risk blowing the whole plot. In any case, it is likely that Al Qaeda considered the attacks that did happen - one building hit, then another a few minutes later, then another a few more minutes later, then another that was supposed to be hit a few more minutes later - enough exclamation points already. (I know *I* wasn't thinking "is that all there is?")

I'd also optimistically consider that since 9/11 we are doing something right. As a blogger named Emily puts it:

I don't believe that not having to deal with (yet - knock on wood. HARD) suicide bombing or other terrorist "activities" on a regular basis doesn't make us weak. In fact, it makes us strong. You know why? Because life is pretty damn pleasant when you don't live with that reality, and when we were finally forced to, WE KICKED ASS. The Taliban? Gone. Al-Quaeda? On the run or hiding in caves.

Perhaps the terrorists have learned that while Americans are willing to more or less tolerate things blowing up in far-off lands, if things start blowing up again here, we're capable of kicking ass even harder.

Well, perhaps. It's a comforting hope, anyway.


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Comments (5)

While it takes only a few people to set a bomb, one needs hundreds, if not thousands, of local supporters for an extended campaign of bombings.

I'm curious - how do you figure that? If you had enough explosive, you could go on a one-man bombing campaign. (Witness Eric Rudolph - he may have received assistance here and there, but it's nowhere on the order of hundreds of supporters.)

The D.C. snipers are another good example. Two guys in an old car kept millions of people terrorized. They only got caught because they were really stupid.

The United States has thousands of miles of basically undefended coastline. It is very, very easy to smuggle people in. (I have good friends who have done it in the past.) If you were a terrorist group, all you would have to do is get your people on pleasure boats in the Carribean and you could have ten two-man teams on the ground in the U.S. very quickly.

All this leads me to conclude that terrorists aren't even trying to mount these kinds of operations. It may be they are afraid of military retaliation, but I doubt it. They're martyrs, so why would death frighten them? I think it's more likely that 9/11 accomplished strategically what they wanted it to accomplish, and now they are seeing how things shake out.


[Wacko comments deleted for the sake of propriety]

Scott XYZ:


para 6: "They're used to having their CIA moles control the news at WaPo and the NYTimes - they weren't ready to have these venerable organs get nicknamed Pravda on the Potomac and Izvestia on the Hudson by the bloggers..."

para 7: "A lot of the loopholed haven't been closed"

Gary Collard:

Where can I get me one of them kewl tinfoil hats?


I do agree with you somewhat - sure, ten two-man teams on the ground can do a lot of damage. We saw that on 9/11. But for a sustained campaign intended to cause massive casualties on a regular basis - think weekly bus bombs or the like, a bit bigger than the damage that Eric Rudolph caused - it'd be easier for them to have many many supporters already here to recruit from and hide among (as has been the case in Palestine or Chechnya or Northern Ireland). Doesn't mean it won't happen eventually, but it could explain why it hasn't happened yet.

The terrorists are indeed trying to mount these operations - they just seem to be mounting them in Iraq and Turkey rather than the U.S. and Britain. I still believe lack of a ready population here explains some of that. I concede that it's true that martyrs aren't likely to be afraid of death (though notice that the Al Qaeda leadership seems to be hiding rather than strapping the explosives on themselves); what I meant to imply is that they might have learned that bringing the war here didn't work exactly as they planned - that all they accomplished so far is the overthrow of two governments friendly to them. It's not that they're necessarily afraid, it's that we didn't roll over as expected.

So come to think of it, perhaps being over there is forcing the terrorists to play defense. They're fighting to regain what was lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, making it even harder for them to fight here.

Boy, there could be a lot of reasons. Perhaps I'll summarize them all (the good ones and the bad ones) in another blog post sometime...


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 10, 2004 7:13 PM.

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