A successful counterterrorism operation led by the FBI and the NYPD ended with the arrest of four New York City men in connection with plots to bomb Jewish temples, other city locations, and gun down military planes in upstate areas.
According to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the suspects—identified as James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen—allegedly "wanted to commit Jihad." A first reading official statementts and of material made available by authorities prompt several questions and raise a number of points for debate.
Law Enforcement Victory
First, one must acknowledge the success of the counterterrorism agencies' efforts to stop a "Jihadi" attack against the country. According to the Associated Press, the arrests came following a nearly year-long undercover operation that began in Newburgh, New York, roughly 70 miles north of New York City. The patience, professionalism, and sophistication of the law enforcement procedures used in engaging the cell indicate that the first lines of defense are efficient. Since the 9/11 attacks, New York task forces have been able to arrest suspects in a number of plots including against the Ft. Dix, New Jersey military base, JFK International Airport, the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan, and the Brooklyn bridge. This leads us to realize that both New York and the nation have been attacked, but that the shield has worked well—so far. The dismantling of this cell is certainly good news, but it should also be a stark reminder that we as a nation are still under attack. And if we are under attack, it only means that we are still at war, a real one, not a "man-made disaster."
New York Targeted?
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the alleged plot shows "that the homeland security threats against New York City are sadly all too real and underscores why we must remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent terrorism." However, even though the Big Apple (and New York state) seems to get the largest share of Jihadi terror attempts, we must remember that they are targeting the United States as a whole, and not relax defenses elsewhere. The radical forces we confront worldwide and the ideology behind the attacks do not necessarily have a private feud with the city of New York, but this, the largest metropolitan area of America, happens to receive a significant amount of their attentioon.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters outside the Bronx temple that one of the men said, "If Jews were killed in this attack... that would be all right." Undoubtedly, American Jewish targets are prime choices to Jihadi terrorists, homegrown or infiltrated. With the extreme anti-Semitic material their propaganda machine produces, the hatred of recruits of anything Jewish is only the logical result. This is additional evidence that the war of ideas waged by the terrorists' propagandists on TV and online is inherent to terror campaigns against civil societies. Where would these four terror apprentices get the idea that destroying Jewish temples and killing congregants was "all right"? Well, from the ideologue who communicates with them via the networks. Attention needs to be paid to the scope of targeting. Even if the news-grabbing focus of this plot was Jewish targets, military planes were to be shot down and civilians were to be killed indiscriminately. The Jihadis target all Americans, from all creeds. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies have decreed the "duty to massacre up to four million Americans." So far, there's been no counter order. Mayor Bloomberg, who stressed that Riverdale Temple "is open to people of all faiths," including a Muslim girl who sometimes prays there, warned against stereotypes. Bloomberg, Kelly and other city leaders met privately with congregants early Thursday to address security concerns. Sadly, New York officials should not be too worried about the so-called sectarian backlash. First, Americans are by now well aware of the difference between Jihadists and Muslims. Second, the Jihadists have targeted Muslims in huge numbers around the world. Unfortunately, at least one Muslim has died every day this year in the course of Jihadi terror actions. Interfaith outreach is not what worries the perpetrators.
Who are these Terrorists?
NBC, New York, underscored that the four men are Muslim, all U.S. citizens, and one of Haitian descent. Being Muslim is not the issue here. The problem is that they are "Jihadists" and US citizens at the same time, i.e., homegrown terrorists. The common image of the Jihadi terroris is changing. They can be of all ethnic backgrounds and their knowledge of faith and ideology can also be at different levels. There has also been a broadening of nationality of origin: Haitian, Albanian, Asian, African, and European; not just Middle Eastern.
According to the criminal complaint, "Cromitie began working with an FBI informant in June 2008 when he told the official that his parents has lived in Afghanistan and that he was upset with the ongoing war there, including about the deaths of many Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan by U.S. military forces." Compare this statement with many statements made by previously thwarted cells: they are the same, almost to the word. They are produced by the same "ideological war room." Cromitie didn’t mention the killing of more Muslims by the Taliban, al Qaeda and their allies.
The same rationale has been presented by previous Jihadis. One must be careful and not buy the propaganda served by the alleged terrorists; at the same time, one needs to not be naïve. NBC, for example, said, "the motives behind the alleged plot are not yet known, but authorities said that Cromitie was apparently upset over the war in Afghanistan." After eight years of conflict with the Jihadists and with dozens of cells dismantled and their literature reviewed, there is no question about "motives." It is a war, and in each one of its attacks, the overarching motive is the ideology.
Examining the threads common to the Fort Dix plot, Virginia Paintball, the Miami Sears Tower group, Oregon training, and many more, and in light of the attacks on Mumbai early in 2009, one can spot a developing trend, and extrapolate that the threats to come will most likely look like a combination of all the above. It is an Urban Jihad.
The Bottom Line
These arrests, added to all previous arrests, tell us one thing: The Jihadists are still at war with America and all other democracies. They haven’t stopped, they will continue to try, citizens or not, of all ethnic backgrounds, united under one ideology, protected by our laws and taking full advantage of our wrongly focused debate on national security. If we don’t see them as an "army" spreading across the country and if we do not educate our public as much as needed about them, one day—despite the bravery and good work of our law enforcement people—one cell will not be stopped. One must hope that that day won’t come.
Walid Phares writes for the Cutting Edge News is the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad. He is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy.