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U.S. training to stop London-style attack

(The Associated Press circulated the following article on August 28.)

WASHINGTON -- With the Pentagon still in flames from the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Shawn Kelley arrived to survey a surreal scene: mangled metal, charred ruins and firefighters hosing the smoky roof, crawling over rubble, searching for survivors.

Kelley had come to the Pentagon to help deal with a terrorist strike on America. Four years later, he's working to prevent one.

Every month or so, Kelley travels from his suburban Washington home to the New Mexico desert to train police, firefighters and others how to detect -- and stop -- suicide bombers.

For Kelley, who helped coordinate firefighters at the Pentagon, this is no textbook lesson. He's convinced America will face an attack again.

''It's not 'if' it's going to happen,'' he says. ''It's 'when' it's going to happen.''

Kelley, chief fire officer in Arlington County, Va., says the July transit bombings in London that killed 56 people ''woke us back up a little bit. ... You can't help think ... gee whiz, will we be next?''

The specter of more suicide attacks in the United States has loomed ever since Sept. 11, 2001; Osama bin Laden has made threats, FBI Director Robert Mueller and other U.S. officials have issued warnings.

But the London attacks -- followed two weeks later by four botched bombings -- have renewed fears and left many people asking: Why haven't suicide terrorists struck on U.S. soil? And how well-prepared is America to stop them?

No one knows what or where something might happen, but experts list several reasons why suicide bombers, who've spread their terror across Europe, Asia and Africa, have not hit here:

-- The nation is better protected and more vigilant than it was before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Airports have racheted up security, government buildings have erected barriers, police have made arrests that may have foiled terrorist plans.

-- Terrorists are targeting more accessible places, especially Iraq.

-- Muslims in America aren't as radicalized as they are in some other parts of the world, so there's no ready supply of suicide-bomb volunteers.

-- The timing isn't right. Just because nothing has happened in four years doesn't mean terrorists aren't plotting now. Eight years elapsed between the two attacks on the World Trade Center, and al-Qaida, some experts note, is methodical and deliberate and will wait for the right opportunity.

''My belief is when al-Qaida is ready to target something, it'll be on their timeline and not on anybody else's,'' says Sgt. Al Doane of the Sarasota County, Fla., sheriff's department, a recent student at the New Mexico suicide bombing course. ''They might be waiting until we're completely relaxed or perhaps they're not ready.''

An AP-Ipsos poll taken in July after the London attacks by four suicide bombers found a sense of inevitability here: 57 percent of Americans polled believed terrorists will someday strike a train, bus or subway in the United States.

For now, terrorists are aiming beyond U.S. borders, says Bruce Newsome, a terrorism researcher at RAND Corp.

''They would like to kill Americans at home but they're patient and they're not stupid,'' he says. ''They're killing plenty of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, so why bother with a much increased risk of attempting operations in the U.S.?'' Jihadists, he adds, lack the ''potential supportive environment'' here that they find in some other parts of the world.

In Israel, for example, Palestinian extremists live in a subculture that glorifies suicide bombers, making it easier to find motivated people, says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University-San Bernadino.

''The level of anger that exists in places where people are experiencing what they perceive as oppression and humiliation doesn't exist in the numbers that you need here,'' he says.

Tighter immigration measures in the post-Sept. 11 world have made it harder for terrorists to infiltrate this country. Some experts also say that recruiting would be very difficult among U.S. Muslims.

''When they wake up in the morning, send their kids to school, and go off to their businesses and jobs, they're not feeling that alienation, that exploitation ... that would push them over the edge,'' says Mark Ensalaco, director of the international studies program at the University of Dayton and a terrorism expert.

U.S. Muslims may be frustrated with anti-Muslim rhetoric and some government policies, but those are issues best addressed through community involvement and political participation, says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

''I think Muslims feel part of the American social fabric,'' he says. ''They are better able to practice their faith here than in some parts of the so-called Muslim world.''

American Muslim scholars recently have spoken out, too, issuing an edict denouncing violence. ''There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism,'' they wrote. ''Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram -- or forbidden.''

Suicide attackers have struck in Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Turkey, Indonesia, Kenya, Israel and Russia, among other countries.

Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist and author of ''Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,'' has studied 462 suicide terrorists, looking for what they have in common.

Few, he says, fit the ''profile of repressed, lonely individuals on the margins of society'' and many are reasonably well-educated from middle or working-class backgrounds. For them, suicide terrorism is not mainly the product of ''an evil ideology or Islamic fundamentalism,'' but a response to foreign occupation. Suicide campaigns usually aim to ''compel a democratic state to withdraw troops from a place the terrorists prize.''

Pape says the terrorism threat is now higher in western Europe than in America because al-Qaida is focusing on U.S. allies in Iraq to pressure them to withdraw their troops. He notes the pullout of Spanish forces after last year's Madrid train bombing.

''They appear to have a deliberate strategy to go after our allies,'' he says, calling this action ''just a steppingstone to attacking us in the future.''

Not everyone has such a bleak outlook.

Phil Anderson, a senior associate for homeland security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says America tends to overestimate its enemies.

''I'm very skeptical about what the bad guys can do,'' he says. Anderson calls Sept. 11 a ''pretty primitive'' operation launched in a less secure climate than now exists.

''They came into what was a very open society with a complacent population,'' he says. ''They studied. They learned. They leveraged that to their advantage. Are they able to do that again? I don't think so.''

Yet Americans remain on edge.

Shopping mall and stadium managers, police chiefs and transit workers have all taken steps to prepare for an attack.

Last month, the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued new guidelines for dealing with suicide attacks, which said if lethal force is justified, shots should be aimed at the bomber's head. The recommendations came before a Brazilian man was shot in the head in a subway by London police who mistakenly took him for a bombing suspect.

Transport Workers Union of America Local 100 in New York recently hired an Israeli security expert to train about 50 bus and subway workers how to spot suspicious behavior.

Malls have beefed up security with surveillance technology, visible command control centers, guards using Segway scooters for patrols and physical barriers such as concrete planters.

''People started considering every possibility after Sept. 11,'' says Scott Born, a division vice president at Valor Security Services, which provides security for 175 U.S. malls. ''Before it was public access and architecture. Now it's security.''

And the Department of Homeland Security has consulted with professional and college sports associations and held terrorism awareness workshops for security personnel employed at stadiums, schools and hospitals. It also has conducted more than 450 state and local exercises -- from seminars to a full-scale mock drill in the New York City subway.

The agency has worked, too, with the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, which teaches a suicide bombing detection and response course for police, firefighters and others.

Patrick Chagnon, a Connecticut state police detective who teaches there and also leads terrorism awareness seminars, says he always stresses the need to be alert -- just like a good police officer walking a beat.

A terrorist ''just doesn't wake up and say, 'Today's the day,''' he says. ''It could be one to five years in planning. The tools are out there to identify things before they happen.''

Terrorists, he says, have made their intentions clear.

''They have attacked. They say they will attack again,'' he adds. ''It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that if you give them the opportunity, they will.''

Monday, August 29, 2005

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