The Orlando Tragedy, Part 1: Shooting Triggers Needed Counterterrorism Review
Jihadism Strikes Again
“I pledge my alliance to (ISIS leader) abu bakr al Baghdadi...may Allah accept me,” wrote the murderer of 49 Sunday morning at a gay nightclub in Orlando on his Facebook page while his victims lay dead and dying at his feet.
My good friend used to frequent this very spot in Orlando and many of my friends here in the Seattle area are gay. This horrendous crime against the gay community is unacceptable and has brought a level of anger not experienced since the early 2000s.
The deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in 15 years, combined with the worst mass shooting in history, have created quite a conundrum for both policymakers and law enforcement officials.
National security, counterterrorism, gun control, Muslim-American relations, and anti-gay hate crime all come into play around this horrific event.
At 2AM Sunday morning, the killer, born to parents from Afghanistan, entered the club after exchanging fire with an undercover police officer. He then went inside, armed with an assault rifle and handgun, as police rushed to the scene. After a three hour standoff, during which the killer was also calling 911, his wife, and posting to Facebook, the police finally forced their way in, killing the shooter around 5AM.
It appears he was not alone in this gruesome attack. “I’m pretty sure it was more than one person,” according to one individual who was on the scene that night. This same witness said that there was someone holding an exit door closed, not allowing some 50 people to escape.
His current wife appeared to be his main source of assistance. She scoped out the club with him beforehand, knew of her husband’s plans, and even purchased ammunition for it. One cannot begin to make sense of the way these people view the world.
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Sad times we live in
He also cheered 9/11, so much so that he was actually removed from high school for it. When the second plane hit, the killer praised Allah, according to one person who went to school with him at the time. So, this maniac has been at that level of radicalism and anti-Americanism since at least high school, committing the unspeakable atrocity when he was 29.
He also went to visit Saudi Arabia twice. Once in March 2011, then again in March 2012. Both times he went for umrah, a non-mandatory visit to Mecca for Muslims. Law enforcement officials do not know his exact itinerary while he was there, but could confirm he was there for 10 days on the first trip and 8 days on the second.
“We obviously don't know the details yet, but it's worth recalling how the San Bernardino shooters met in Saudi Arabia and were engaged there,” said Ryan Mauro, a national security analyst for the Clarion Project. “These trips to Saudi Arabia also make it less likely that (the killer) is a so-called ‘lone wolf’ who acted mostly independently.”
What is further worth noting is that these trips came just before the killer was caught up in two FBI investigations, first in 2013, then 2014. How he passed the test, not once, but twice, calls into question our current counterterrorism measures.
Can homegrown terrorism be countered?
President Obama claimed that there was no evidence the Orlando attack was directed by external actors or part of a larger plot. Though he did pledge allegiance to ISIS, it was done seemingly last minute, used to justify his deranged view of the world.
FBI Director James Comey has been leading the investigation into the killer’s motives and details of his life. But how does one make sense of something so insane? What is crucial here is that Comey withholds using the killer’s name, something I have also not mentioned in this piece, and will not.
“You will notice that I am not using the killer’s name,” Comey stated during a speech on Monday, “part of what motivates sick people to do a thing like this is a twisted notion of fame or glory, and I don’t want to be a part of that, so that other sick and twisted minds out there don’t think this is a path to fame.” This is something that needs to be talked about more and is finally gaining traction in our political leaders and some mainstream media outlets. These mass shootings cannot be covered the way they have been. Showing the shooters’ images in a positive light, airing their grievances, blasting their story out there, and making us all remember who they are is all these messed up people really want. So, if the media keeps treating these shootings the way they have been, they will only keep increasing and accelerating at the rate they have been over the past few decades.
Comey also indicated that this attack was not part of a greater plot, and that is the very real danger of today’s terrorist threat: even ISIS itself does not know exactly when the next attack in the West will be happening. “He never struck me as a fanatic, he never struck me as suspicious,” said Griselda Reisinger, a former colleague of one of the San Bernardino shooters. That’s the scary thing, you just never know.
The killer also pledged solidarity with the Boston Marathon bombers and a suicide bomber of the al-Nusra front (a group currently fighting against ISIS), who he knew from a local mosque, according to the 911 call he made during the three-hour hostage crisis.
The mass murderer first came onto the FBI’s radar in May 2013, when he made inflammatory statements concerning his co-workers and terrorism. Over the next ten months, the Feds conducted an in-depth investigation into whether or not this man posed a danger to the country. They introduced sources to him, went over his communications, interviewed him, and ultimately found nothing incriminating. He convinced them he made these statements over anger that came about after being picked on for being a Muslim.
The FBI would then interview him again in 2014, after he was linked to the al-Nusra suicide bomber. They determined it was only a strange coincidence that they knew each other from the same mosque. Comey reiterated how tough the FBI’s job is in finding out who the real terrorists are, saying, “We are looking for needles in a nationwide haystack.” Later on, the director stated that after reviewing the investigation, there is nothing he would have done differently.
Deja vu all over again?
If this sounds like a familiar narrative, that’s because it is. Virtually every high-profile terrorist attack carried out in North America or Europe recently has been done by suspects long under investigation by law enforcement officials. The Brussels bombers were known to local police. One of them, the infamous “man in the hat,” was even arrested before, but later released. The CIA knew about a couple of the 9/11 hijackers, but did not share this vital information with the FBI, so they were not tracked, and we were hit hard.
Many fear we have a “gaping hole” in our nation’s security net that will allow further attacks like this to happen in the future. While we’ve had the San Bernardino shooting and Orlando massacre just the last seven months, attacks by, or inspired by ISIS have also been ramping up in Europe with the recent horrors in both Brussells and Paris. Security officials say these kind of attacks in the West are bound to continue. As ISIS finally begins to lose ground in Iraq and Syria, the terrorist group will attempt to launch more attacks abroad in a desperate attempt to remain relevant and feared.
Our national security apparatus has been breached all too much recently. A clearheaded review and revamping of our counterterrorism measures needs to be undertaken. And, our leaders need to start addressing this issue head on, or prod the moderate Muslim community to take a greater role, instead of waiting for someone else to solve it.
It does not seem to help when authorities, even President Obama, are downplaying the fact that there is a defined link of Islamic ideological connection to this attack. Yes, it was an attack on homosexuals as well, but, it was an attack on America first. The killer directly stated that
Like San Bernardino, these radical Muslims take their ideology to the tenth degree, taking down whoever they can in their process of purity. They do not adhere to the laws of America as they do not apply. The killer’s two visits to Saudi Arabia just before he came under investigation by the FBI are a definite sign that there could be more to this story.
Let’s hope Orlando does not happen again. Such a tragedy is so much to take. The country can cower in fear or it can prepare to stop the next one. Yes, unfortunately, there is going to be a next one.
The Orlando Tragedy is a three-part series, each focusing on a different aspect of the atrocity. Part 2: Security v. Liberty, Democrats v. Reality will be published shortly, to be followed by Part 3…
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