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The attack in Garland appears to confirm the observation that there are two kinds of terrorist attacks. The first kind – which we saw on 9/11, the London Tube and Madrid train attacks, the Mumbai attack, and in the Charlie Hebdo massacre – are made by hardened, patient, and well-trained semi-professionals, whose activities are funded (and often directed) from overseas. In contrast, the second kind — think of the Tsarnaevs or Major Hasan — is typified by amateurishness, lack of planning, and poor impulse control. Moreover, it seems that failure to join the ranks of the former often leads to the latter.
As if their nearly complete failure wasn’t evidence enough, the news in this New York Times piece should confirm that the Garland attack was a strong instance of the latter:
But any secret ties that officials might find may be less important than the public exchanges of messages on Twitter by one of the gunmen, Elton Simpson, in the weeks before the attack. Mr. Simpson, a convert to Islam with a long history of extremism, regularly traded calls for violence on Twitter with Islamic State fighters and supporters, as well as avowed enemies of Pamela Geller, the organizer of the cartoon contest.
His Twitter contacts included Junaid Hussain, a British fighter with the Islamic State in Syria known as Abu Hussain al-Britani, and Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, a Somali-American now in Somalia who uses the name Mujahid Miski and frequently promotes the Islamic State. Both men called for violence, and Mr. Hassan had suggested the Texas event as a possible target.
On April 23, 10 days before the Texas attack, Mr. Hassan linked to the planned cartoon event in Texas, praised the January shootings at a satirical newspaper in Paris and called on jihadists in the United States to follow that example…
It goes on from there. These guys weren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer.
Notably, both kinds of terrorists are dangerous, albeit for very different reasons. The former are like vampires in that they have a plan, can learn, and are willing to be patient (though they have their weaknesses and strange obsessions). The latter are more like zombies in their relative brainlessness and the ease with which they are identified, but also because they can live among us before turning and because they have a potential (unrealized, so far) to grow in numbers.
From the outside, our national security and law enforcement agencies seem to have focused their energies on the former kind of terrorist, as evidenced by their affinity for trolling metadata in search of clandestine cells communicating with allies around the world. This focus, however, causes them to either miss or fail to adequately follow-up on Islamists who telegraph their intentions with painful openness.
A few questions for members, especially those with more expertise on the matter than I:
- Are these two types an accurate description of what’s happening. Did I miss anything?
- On the assumption I have it right, do the different types warrant different kinds of prevention and response? If so, please elaborate.
- On that same assumption, why do our political leaders and national security officials appear to make little — if any — distinction between the two?