Major Challenges Ahead Following NYC Bombings

Elizabeth Salsberg - 4A Nanotechnology
Posted on: September 27, 2016

On Saturday September 17, 2016, a pressure-cooker-based bomb device exploded in a Chelsea dumpster on West 23rd street in Manhattan, injuring 29.  Similar bomb devices were also discovered at West 27th street and at Seaside Park, New Jersey shortly thereafter. Police suspect a man named Ahmad Khan Rahami planned the attack; he was taken into custody following a shootout with police. Fortunately, nobody was killed in what was considered “a failed attack.” Rahami was charged with multiple crimes, including using weapons of mass destruction, bombing a place of public use, and attempted murder of a police officer.

Rahami had been previously investigated by the FBI following comments from his father that he suspected his son might have been involved in terrorism. The FBI, however, reported not finding any evidence suggesting that Rahami had ties to terrorism. Rahami had made several trips to Pakistan in recent years. One such trip lasted an entire year. Rahami told customs officers he was visiting his family, which appeared credible given his family is originally from Pakistan and he had married a Pakistani in 2011. After interviews at the US border on his return, he was not flagged as a serious terror threat.

Following the gunfight in which Rahami was captured, police found a notebook containing opinions sympathetic with extremist causes, including “killing the kuffar,” or “killing the unbelievers.” Anwar al-Awlaki, the deceased chief propagandist for al-Qaida, was praised and cited throughout the notebook. This evidence appears to suggest that indeed Rahami did have ties to terrorism and was inspired by al-Qaida.

What is unclear is whether this would be considered a home-grown attack similar to those recently carried out in Orlando, Florida (49 killed) and San Bernardino, California (14 killed). Rahami’s family emigrated from Pakistan to the US when he was a minor and was granted US citizenship. Given Rahami’s multiple trips to Pakistan, this is not a traditional home-grown “lone wolf” attack as there is reasonably high potential for terrorist organization recruitment in Pakistan. Either way, this demonstrates that efforts by authorities to disrupt recruiting networks are hardly the only necessary measure to prevent future terrorist attacks.

This attack comes ahead of a critical time in US politics with the Presidential election scheduled for the first week of November. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will undoubtedly gain momentum from this failed attack. Voters on the fence could easily succumb to his anti-immigrant ideals reminiscent of those leading up to Brexit, particularly, now, in the state of New York. Pollsters believe that New York, typically a Democrat-leaning state, could swing in Trump’s favour this time around. The chances of this happening are definitely higher given this recent attack.

Furthermore, this attack illustrates the challenges presently faced by the FBI and other US authorities day in, day out. Out of those travelling to terrorist hot spots, how do they sort out who is travelling for non-terrorist related reasons such as visiting family and who is not? This is incredibly difficult to do. It is certainly not reasonable to ban travelling to these countries. Besides, such a ban would logically encourage home grown ‘lone wolf’ attacks. These issues are highly intertwined, and further investigation and manpower will be needed to address this difficult question.

Many years from now, history books will cite terrorist attacks as the events that defined the present time, starting from the 9/11 attacks in 2001. How will the US and the world as a whole respond? What else will those books have to say?