“Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”
Note left for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by Terrorist Group IRA After She Narrowly Avoided Injury in Brighton Hotel Bombing on October 12, 1984.
An affidavit filed by an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force agent in support of an application for search warrants in the Boston jihad terror case demonstrates once again how luck, incompetence, and poor training sometimes frustrate terrorists’ ideas.
Without taking an iota away from the investigative success in the case (read the full affidavit and other filings in the case to see how investigators were onto these characters like ink on print fairly early on), it is clear that the plotters could have wreaked horrific damage had they had a bit more knowledge about the potential lethality of firearms that are widely and easily available on the U.S. civilian market — even in Massachusetts.
An excerpt from the affidavit follows, setting out the would-be terrorists’ idea of attacking a shopping mall in the United States. They even gave thought to how to deal with first responders.
Fortunately, however, these jihadists thought they need machine guns, i.e., fully automatic weapons — hold the trigger down and the gun will fire until ammo is exhausted — to do the job. They gave up when they found out they could not obtain machine guns. However, knowledgeable experts understand that controlled fire from semiautomatic weapons — pull the trigger for each round — is at least as lethal and often more lethal than machine gun fire.
Thank g-d these extremist would-be terrorists were “weaponry pea brains.”
BACKGROUND ON THE THREAT OF SMALL ARMS TERROR ATTACKS
The private intelligence and analytical service Stratfor has written about the potential for small arms terror attacks in several postings. These follow with links as background:
Observation on threat of armed attacks generally [note: this link may not work for non-subscribers. Sorry!:
STRATFOR has long held that the United States and Europe are vulnerable to armed attacks against soft targets. In an open society, it is impossible to protect everything. Moreover, conducting attacks against soft targets such as hotels or malls can be done with ease, and can prove quite effective at creating carnage.
In fact, as we’ve previously pointed out,Cho Seung Hui killed more people with handguns in his attack at Virginia Tech than Jemaah Islamiyah was able to kill in Jakarta, Indonesia, in the August 2003 bombing of the Marriott Hotel and the September 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy combined. Clearly, armed assaults pose a threat.
Observation on automatic versus semiautomatic weapons specifically from a Stratfor discussion of “lone wolf attacks”:
Immaturity and lack of common sense also are significant hurdles for some would-be lone-wolf attackers. For instance, a person who attempts to buy an illicit fully automatic weapon when he could easily — and legally — obtain a less expensive semiautomatic version of the same weapon clearly is influenced by Hollywood and does not understand the effectiveness of controlled, sustained fire versus the spray-and-pray shooting he sees in the movies or on TV. As [Joseph Paul] Franklin and several mentally disturbed shooters have demonstrated, automatic weapons are not needed to inflict carnage.
EXCERPTS FROM AFFIDAVIT
Given the above context, the following excerpts from the affidavit pretty much speak for themselves and demonstrate how we got lucky this time.
Excerpts from Exhibit A, Affidavit of Heidi L. Williams in Support of Application for Search and Seizure Warrant, United District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Case No. 09-120-LTS
46. Because they believed, based on ABOUSAMRA’s experiences there, that Pakistan was not feasible, ABOUSAMRA, MEHANNA, and CW2 began exploring other options, including committing terrorist attacks in the United States. For example, in 2003, ABOUSAMRA, MEHANNA and CW2 discussed the feasibility of shooting and killing a specific member of the executive branch of the United States government. In another conversation around the same time, ABOUSAMRA and CW2 discussed targeting a second member of the executive branch of the U.S. government.
47. While some of these plans involved no more than one or two conversations, at least one involved multiple conversations, discussions, and preparations. For example, in the latter half of 2003, ABAOUSAMRA, MEHANNA and CW2 discussed a plan to obtain automatic weapons, go to a shopping mall, and randomly shoot people. They were inspired by the success of the Washington, D.C. area snipers who were successful in terrorizing the public. [Footnote 15: In the fall of 2002, there were a series of sniper shootings in the area of Washington, D.C. (Maryland and Northern Virginia), that received a great deal of media attention and “terrorized” residents of those areas because of the apparent randomness of the attacks. Ultimately, two men, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, were arrested and convicted of some of the shootings.] ABOUSAMRA justified attacks on civilians, such as the September 11, 2001 attacks; ABOUSAMRA stated that civilians were not innocent because they paid taxes to support the government, and because they were Kufar (non-believers).
48. The three men discussed the logistics of a mall attack, including the types of weapons needed, the number of people who would be involved, and how to coordinate the attack from different entrances. They considered the emergency responses and the attack of those responders.
49. In furtherance of the plan, CW2 traveled to new Hampshire to meet with Daniel Maldonado, in an attempt to acquire the necessary weapons. According to CW2, Maldonado was a convert to Islam who, prior to his conversion, had contacts with gang members. Therefore, CW2 believed that Maldonado would have access to the weapons they needed. According to CW2, Maldonado told CW2 that he would be able to obtain handguns, but would be unable to obtain automatic weapons. CW2 told Maldonado not to ask the reason he needed the weapons. CW2 described Maldonado as someone with extreme beliefs, like ABOUSAMRA and MEHANNA.
50. After returning to Massachusetts, CW2 told ABOUSAMRA and MEHANNA that Maldonado would only be able to provide handguns. Because of the logistical problems of executing the operations with just handguns, the plan was abandoned.