Faisal Shahzad, French terror arrests, and drone strikes: evidence of a working strategy?
Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, was sentenced today as French police arrested alleged militants. Policing and intelligence-sharing has improved dramatically since 9/11.
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But Pakistani-American Mr. Shahzad was captured after his incompetently constructed bomb failed to explode, and was fingered by a Times Square vendor (himself a Muslim) as he bungled his way to a life sentence in jail, much like the failed British "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid (Mr. Reid had sought to detonate a high explosive with a match, something that is practically impossible).Skip to next paragraph
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The arrests in France – it isn't yet clear if the men were allegedly planning attacks themselves or were simply in the arms smuggling business and had ties to militants – followed an arrest of a French-Algerian in Italy. The police there then shared what they learned from that suspect with the French authorities. And the drone strikes that killed the alleged German and British plotters in Pakistan followed the detention of another man by the authorities in Afghanistan.
Fruits of improved intelligence
All this points to a picture of unsuccessful would-be jihadis on the one hand, and the dramatically improved policing and intelligence sharing that Europe, the US, and other states have developed since 9/11. In the US, Shahzad has been convicted for his crime, while the trial of four American Muslims who plotted to destroy a New York synagogue (using fake weapons supplied to them by the FBI in a sting operation) is in its closing stages.
Since the 2005 attack in London, Western law enforcement has been repeatedly successful in uncovering would-be attackers. Take the case of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan resident of the US who went home to fight in 2008 and received training at an Al Qaeda camp in Pakistan, then returned home on a mission to bomb the New York subway system.
He purchased chemicals from a beauty supply company that could have been used to assemble a bomb, but was arrested in September 2009 thanks to a tip-off from British intelligence agents who intercepted a communication between him and his Al Qaeda handler. Mr. Najibullah pleaded guilty to planning to attack the subway, and has since been cooperating with authorities.
None of this means that some day an attacker won't get through the net. As the old cliché goes, a terrorist only has to get lucky once. But given the scores of young Muslim men who have gone from the US, Europe, and across the Middle East to fight in Afghanistan, Iraq, and smaller wars in Somalia and Yemen, Al Qaeda's desire to reexport terrorism has largely been a failure so far.