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Today is the 14th Anniversary of 9/11. Americans of age recall exactly where they were on that morning of September 11, 2001. That was the day that 19 members of the radical Islamic group al-Qa’eda attacked America from the skies and incinerated 3,000 people. As a new law professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law, in San Antonio, Texas, I was working on my second cup of coffee with the television turned on in the living room.
Then I saw it; like a promo for a bad movie, the news channel was reporting that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. As a former Army staff officer who was deeply involved in terrorism issues during my twenty years of service, my gut feeling told me that it was not an accident, but a terror attack. When I saw in real time a second aircraft plow into the other tower, I knew the culprits – radical Islam.
Indeed, not only had I served a quarter of my career in the Army as the senior legal advisor to the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) dealing with the legal and tactical aspects of terrorism, in 2000 I had published a chapter in a book for the US Army War College detailing the group al-Qa’eda and the imminent threat they posed to the United States homeland by means of a massive terror attack.
At first, some Americans were deeply incredulous about the cause of the attack. When it became clear that the terrorists were members of the Afghan based group called al-Qa’eda the nation quickly closed ranks and supported President George W. Bush’s plan to counter strike them with a heavy military blow. But as we soon discovered, it was more than just bombing a rogue Islamist terrorist group “over there;” the United States was quickly faced with a plethora of legal and policy issues associated with how to deal with a much bigger threat. What President Bush euphemistically dubbed the “War on Terror,” was on.
After 14 years and two major combat missions in the Middle East costing over 50,000 Americans in dead and wounded, the War on Terror is still with us today. So where are we?
We know that al-Qa’eda has reconstituted itself following the 2011 death of Osama Bin Laden and still represents a real threat to the United States in terms of a massive terror attack on American soil. They were behind the attack in Paris earlier this year.
But what about the new face of radical Islam – ISIS? In a front page story in the Washington Times of May 8, 2015, I was asked if ISIS was able to attack the United States in a similar manner as al-Qa’eda had done on 9/11. I stated that “much Islamic State rhetoric may be bluster” but “if unchecked, it likely could execute a 9/11-scale attack in the U.S. a few years from now.”
If ISIS acquires a true weapon of mass destruction (WMD), we will wake to the news headline: “New York – Gone.” Four days after my remarks, former CIA Director, Mike Morell agreed that it was “only a matter of time before the jihadist group [ISIS] is likely to be in a position to direct more elaborate attacks on American soil that could result in mass casualties.”
Indeed, ISIS has inspired hundreds of Americans to act or attempt to act on their behalf, but these are the domestic jihadists not the jihadists operatives that would be sent into America from the ISIS caliphate, what I call ISIS central. The jihadists coming from ISIS central have the military skills and operational discipline to execute successful large scale attacks, homegrown jihadists do not.
Since 9/11 literally hundreds of terror attacks have been attempted here in the United States by homegrown jihadists that are inspired by radical Islam. In New York City alone, dozens of plots have been broken up by excellent law enforcement work at the State and federal level coupled with the fact that the vast majority have been unsuccessful because the operatives were sloppy and amateurish in either the planning or follow through.
ISIS central has the operational discipline required to strike us a heavy blow and cause fantastic mass civilian casualties. It has the men, time, money, and skill to land a devastating terror attack on America, and they will do it.
America may be war weary after the years in Afghanistan and Iraq, but fatigue has no counterpart with ISIS. ISIS is neglecting neither offensive nor defensive weapons and tactics.
In July 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security issued a white paper entitled: Terror Threat Snapshot. The paper listed three top takeaways:
- ISIS is dead set on attacking America and its allies. With the recent attacks in France and against tourists in Tunisia, ISIS has now been linked to 47 terrorist plots or attacks against the West, including 11 inside the United States. The rate of ISIS terror plots against the West has more than doubled in 2015 (19 plots in all of 2014; 28 already this year).
- The number of post-9/11 jihadi terror plots in the United States has surged. There have been more U.S.-based terror plots or attacks in the first half of 2015 (a total of 24) than in any full year since 9/11. Overall, homegrown jihadi plots have tripled in just the past five years (from 36 plots/attacks in June 2010 to 118 today).
- Islamist terrorists are getting better at recruiting Americans. Ten U.S.-based ISIS supporters have been arrested in the last month, bringing the total to 55 ISIS-inspired individuals arrested and charged in America (not included two which have been charged in absentia). ISIS followers have now been arrested in at least 19 States.
ISIS probably can’t carry out large-scale attacks in the U.S. right now, but such limitations can easily disappear, the Islamic State is certainly working on gaining that capability and it has a proven track record. It cost al-Qa’eda just under one million dollars to fund all of the logistics connected with the terror operation on 9/11, “ISIS has billions of dollars – with a ‘b’ – and if they plan an attack from over there, it’s going to be 75 percent [probability] successful and larger than 9/11.”