TrendU.S. officials: Smaller terrorist attacks would be devastating

Published 7 May 2010

Terrorism experts say Saturday’s botched car bombing in New York’s Times Square, and other recent plots, could be a sign that militant groups, hard-hit by U.S. drone strikes targeting their leaders, were starting to opt for smaller, rather than more spectacular, terror attacks; there are about 450 commercial airports and more than 50,000 malls and shopping centers in the United States; National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair and CIA chief Leon Panetta have both warned these could be targets for attack

Scene of the recent Times Square bomb attempt // Source:

After the failed bombing of a passenger jet on Christmas Day, U.S. intelligence officials told the White House what kept them awake at night was the risk that militants could launch waves of small scale attacks on hard-to-protect targets on U.S. soil.

The threat of nuclear terrorism was the theme of President Barack Obama’s security summit last month, but many in the U.S. intelligence community believe the chances that al Qaeda will obtain atomic weapons are at the low end of the probability scale and they have more immediate fears.

More likely, they say, al Qaeda and other groups could shift focus to less-sophisticated violent attacks on soft targets that have the potential over time to do as much economic damage as another massive 9/11-style event.

The Wall Street journal’s Keith Johnson writes that law-enforcement officials and others have also warned in recent months about an uptick in domestic extremist rhetoric and activity, including the arrest in March of nine members of an apocalyptic Christian militia in Michigan.

Over the past year, attacks and attempted attacks in the United States have come both from operatives entering the country from overseas and from homegrown radicals.

Among attacks linked to Islamic extremism in the U.S. are:

  • the November shooting that killed thirteen soldiers at Ft. Hood, Texas, in which Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is suspected
  • the foiled plot to bomb New York City subway stations by Najibullah Zazi in September
  • a pair of foiled plots to blow up public buildings in Dallas, Texas and Springfield, Illinois, in September
  • a plot to attack Marine Corps training facilities in Quantico, Virginia, in July
  • a shooting at a military recruitment center in Arkansas in June
  • a plot to blow up Jewish centers and aircraft around New York in May

Additionally, several groups of people raised in the United States have participated, or been accused of participating in, terrorist plots overseas. That list includes:

  • David Headley, who pleaded guilty to helping plan last year’s deadly rampage by gunmen in Mumbai, India
  • five young men from Alexandria, Virginia, charged in Pakistan with planning to fight alongside the Taliban
  • a group of Somali-Americans in Minnesota who allegedly tried to fight alongside Islamic militants in Somalia

There have also been some incidents of domestic extremism unrelated to Islamic radicals, including the Austin, Texas man who flew a small plane into the local office of the Internal Revenue Service in February, killing himself and one other person, and the March arrest