- Monday’s attempted terrorist attack in New York City is a reminder of how US counterterrorism policies are working.
- The attacker was unable to plan in a sophisticated way without help from terror organisations.
On Monday morning, a would-be terrorist set off a pipe bomb in a passageway linking two major New York City subway stations. The only person he managed to seriously injure was himself.
This outcome reflects the success of counterterrorism policies in the US.
Our government has disrupted and infiltrated terror networks that would seek to plan attacks in the United States. Would-be terrorists have been left to work alone or, occasionally, with close relatives they can trust not to be FBI informants.
These attackers generally lack the technical expertise in activities like bomb-making that a terrorist network like Al Qaeda could provide. It is very rare that they exhibit the resources and organisation used to terrible effect by the Las Vegas shooter Steven Paddock. Mostly, these people are just not especially good at the terrible things they’re trying to do.
Low-tech attackers do sometimes manage to kill people, as a truck attacker did along the Hudson River weeks ago. But they cannot pose a threat on the level of the 9/11 attacks. At a national level, they are a nuisance, not a crisis. They are a small part of an overall problem of violent crime in the US.
The lack of organised terror networks in the US also reflects the success of our policies about who immigrates and about how we assimilate immigrants who come here.
Some European countries have significant problems with terror networks operating within Muslim immigrant communities. As we have seen in France and Belgium, these networks have sometimes managed to operate without sufficient attention from law enforcement, and they have planned large-scale attacks that killed many people.
That’s not possible in the US because of the small number of Muslims in America who would be interested in committing mass terror, and because of the superior relations between American Muslim communities and law enforcement that would tend to cause such networks to be exposed.
It’s worth being vigilant. But Monday’s failed attack was another data point about how America is succeeding in suppressing the threat of terrorism.
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