Revenge for Bin Laden killing: How worried should Americans be?
Official threat level is unchanged, but security is tight at airports, subways, and other gathering spots, in wake of Bin Laden killing. 'Revenge is very important' to jihadists, warns one expert.
In the wake of the US Navy Seals’ killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Sunday, security in American cities has been heightened amid concern that Al Qaeda or its sympathizers may try to retaliate against the United States.Skip to next paragraph
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Travelers will see more intense screening at airports. In subways and other areas with heavy foot traffic, police, often with K-9 units, are more apparent. Plainclothes officers are keeping an eye on hotels where dignitaries often stay. An elite unit of Marines trained to handle chemical and biological weapon attacks has been recalled from Japan. Many other security measures that are not readily apparent are doubtless being taken.
How long will this extra vigilance continue? And how will the antiterrorism forces know it’s safe to relax?
IN PICTURES: Navy Seals in action
The Department of Homeland Security has not raised the threat level since Bin Laden's death, saying it takes that step only in the face of specific or credible information. But some terrorism experts in the US say it’s not a matter of “if” there will be a revenge attack but of “when” – and their level of concern is high.
“Revenge is very important to them,” Tawfik Hamid, chairman for the Study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomac Institute, a think tank in Washington, says of jihadists. “It is part of the mental process, part of the culture.”
For Al Qaeda or groups allied with it, any attack would be designed to inflict “the maximum level of pain,” says Mr. Hamid. Attacks on groups of children or tourists, or a bar that is popular with American students in a country abroad, are among the possibilities because they are soft targets that are hard to defend, he says. “They will look for something that is the easiest and fastest way to tell the US this is revenge for Bin Laden.”
Hamid expects such an attack to occur within two or three months. If an attack is delayed for years, he says, it becomes harder to characterize it as revenge.
If Bin Laden's demise prompts jihadists to accelerate plans for an attack, that might actually help the US intelligence community, he says. “If they become emotional and feel they have to move fast in their thirst for revenge, they can make mistakes, and we can infiltrate them and cause more destruction to them.”