A successful counter-terrorism operation led by the FBI and the New York City Police Department ended with the arrest of four New York City men in connection with plots to bomb Jewish synagogues and gun down military planes in upstate areas.
According to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly the suspects, identified as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen allegedly “wanted to commit jihad.” A first reading of the material made available by authorities and statements issued by officials help us ask several questions and raise a number of points for debate.
A Victory for Law Enforcement
The first thing to acknowledge is the success of the operation conducted by the counter-terrorism agencies to stop a “jihadi” attack against the country.
According to the Associated Press, the arrests came following a nearly yearlong undercover operation that began in Newburgh, N.Y., roughly 70 miles north of New York City. The patience, professionalism and sophistication of the law enforcement procedures in engaging the “cell” until it is trapped tell us that the first lines of defense are efficient. Since the 9/11 attacks the New York task forces have been able to arrest suspects in a number of plots including against the Fort Dix New Jersey military base, John F. Kennedy Airport, the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.
This leads us to realize that in fact both New York and the nation have been attacked but the shield has worked well, so far. The dismantling of the first cell of 2009 is certainly good news and an additional victory to be credited to the counter-terrorism units but it should be a stark reminder that we –- as a nation — are still under attack, eight years after the September 11 massacres. And if we are under attack, it only means that we are still at war, a real one, not a “man-made disaster.”
New York Targeted?
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said rightly so that the alleged plot shows “that the homeland security threats against New York City are sadly all too real and underscores why we must remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent terrorism.” However, even though the Big Apple (and the NY state) seems to get the largest share in Jihadi terror attempts, we need to remember that the United States as a whole is really targeted and our guards must not let go elsewhere. The radical forces we’re confronting worldwide and the ideology that is behind the attacks do not have a private feud with the city of New York, but their penetration of the largest metropolitan area of America happens to be the greatest.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters outside the Bronx temple that one of the men said, “If Jews were killed in this attack … that would be all right.” Undoubtedly American Jewish target are of prime choice to the Jihadi terrorists, homegrown or infiltrated. With the extreme anti-Semitic material the terror propaganda machine is producing, the brainwashing of recruits against anything Jewish is only the logical result. This is additional evidence that the war of ideas waged by the propagandists on TV and online is inherent to the terror campaigns against civil societies. Where would the four terror apprentices get the scheme that destroying Jewish temples and killing faithful is “all right”? Well, from the ideologue who is writing or speaking to them via the networks. But let’s be attentive to the scope of targeting. Even if this plot was sensationally aimed at Jewish targets, military planes were to be shut down and civilians were to be killed indiscriminately. The Jihadi guidelines are against all Americans, from all creeds. Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their allies have decreed the “duty to massacre up to four million Americans.” So far, we haven’t heard of a counter order yet from these folks. The orders are still on. Mayor Bloomberg, who stressed that Riverdale Temple “is open to people of all faiths, including a Muslim girl who sometimes pray there, warned against stereotypes. Bloomberg, Kelly and other city leaders met privately with congregants early Thursday to alleviate security concerns. Sadly NY officials should not be too worried about the so-called sectarian back clash. First, Americans are by now well aware of the difference between Jihadists and common Muslims. Second, the Jihadists have targeted Muslims in huge numbers around the world. Unfortunately every day this year a Jihadi terror action is killing at least one member of a Muslim country. Interfaith is not what worries the perpetrators.
Who Are These Terrorists?
NBC New York aired underscored that the four men are Muslim, all citizens and one of Haitian descent. Being Muslim is not the issue here. The problem is that they are “Jihadists” and US citizens at the same time: Which means that we’re dealing with what many calls homegrown terror cell. As I warned in my book Future Jihad, the type of cells we have been witnessing and will unfortunately see for a while is mutating with time. They can be of all ethnic backgrounds and their knowledge of faith and ideology can also be at different levels. But one common ground to all: They have been touched at some point by an “ideology” which we have been warning about. Note that original nationality is also exploding the stereotype: Haitian, Albanian, Asian, African, European, Middle Eastern, etc.
Motives: Be careful How You Detect Them
According to a criminal complaint, “Cromitie began working with an FBI informant in June 2008 when he told the official that his parents has lived in Afghanistan and that he was upset with the ongoing war there, including the deaths of many Muslim in Afghanistan and Pakistan by U.S. military forces.” Compare this statement with many statements made by previously stopped cells: they are the same, almost to the word. They are produced by the same “ideological war room.” Cromitie didn’t mention the killing of more Muslims by the Taliban, al Qaeda and the likes. Same goes for all previous arrests. Isn’t it interesting? We need to be careful and not buy the propaganda served by the alleged terrorists but at the same time we need not to be naïve. NBC NY for example said “the motives behind the alleged plot are not yet known, but authorities said that Cromitie was apparently upset over the war in Afghanistan.” After eight years of conflict with the Jihadists and dozens of cells dismantled, their literature reviewed there is no question about “motives.” It is a war, and in each one of its attack, there is the overarching motive, ie, the ideology.
From all what we know relating to the previously stopped plots in the Fort Dix, Virginia Paintball, Miami Sears Tower group, Oregon training and much more, and in light of what we witnessed in Mumbai few months ago, we need to realize that the developing trend and the threats to come will most likely look like a combination of all the above. It is an urban Jihad, as I described it as of 2005.
The Bottom Line
These arrests, added to all previous arrests tell us one thing: The Jihadists are still at war with America and all other democracies. They haven’t stopped, they will continue to try, citizens or not, of all ethnic background, united under one ideology, protected by our Laws and taking full advantage of our wrong debate on national security. If we don’t see them as an “army” spreading across the country and if we do not educate our public as much as needed about them, one day and despite the bravery of our law enforcement people, one cell will not be stopped. Hopefully that day won’t come.
Dr. Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.
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