Americans awoke on the morning of Sunday, June 12 to the horrific news of another terrorist attack. This one was a mass shooting by a lone terrorist gunman in Pulse, a night club in Orlando that caters to gays. The terrorist murdered a total of 49 persons and wounded an additional 53, many seriously. This was the deadliest shooting in US history, and the deadliest terror attack since “9/11.”
According to the investigation by the FBI and others, the terrorist gunman was an American born Muslim who had become radicalized at some point. Perhaps, he was inspired by ISIS’s or other terrorists organizations’ well-publicized and successful attacks in Europe, the US and the Middle East; perhaps, he became radicalized during his two pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia in 2011 and 2012; perhaps, he became inspired by family and friends; or, perhaps, a combination of the above. FBI Director James Comey has noted the absence so far of any direct, coordinated link between Mateen and any terrorist organization outside the US. Indications are that he acted alone, rather than as part of a cell or network, although the FBI is exploring the possibility of accomplices and/or aiders and abettors. The situation remains fluid. As yet, we do not know definitively.
The Orlando shooting attack is continuing a very disturbing trend. Now, we have to face the stark reality that American-born terrorists can become inspired to commit terror acts without having been formally trained by a terror group. They can be inspired from afar by the internet or even by news accounts of prior terror acts.
In any event, I prefer not to focus on the “why.” It may be newsworthy to some people, but I am more interested in the “how,” as in how did it happen and how do we protect ourselves better against future attacks.
Consider the following:
- Like the Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Marathon bombers, Mateen was a native- born US citizen. This adds another layer of difficulty to maintaining our security, as native born terrorists are extremely difficult to ferret out. They look, speak and appear like normal Americans and have constitutional rights.
- Mateen is a second generation American. His parents emigrated from Afghanistan.
- Mateen purchased the two firearms he used in the attack legally, although one might question the thoroughness of the background check.
- As in the case of other terror attacks, e.g. San Bernardino and Boston, in retrospect, there were warning signs that were discounted or ignored: (a) A former co-worker characterized him as “unhinged” and “unstable” and remembered that he had often expressed a desire to kill people, notably Jews, African Americans, women and gays, all of which he hated. (b) He had bragged to co-workers about “connections” to Al Qaeda and being a member of Hezbollah. (c) Co-workers described him a “loner,” “socially awkward,” and generally “disliked.” (d) Mateen’s first wife, who divorced him in 2011 after a very short marriage, characterized him as “obviously disturbed, deeply, physically abusive” and a steroid user. (e) The FBI had linked him to Moner Mohammed Abu Salha, an American radical who had committed a suicide bombing in Syria, and considered him a person of interest in multiple terrorist investigations.
Reaction has been predictable. Every business is re-examining and beefing up their security protocols. Fine, as far as it goes. The old and insoluble debate over gun laws and the Second Amendment has resurfaced. I don’t want to get bogged down in debating that one in this blog, except to say that we need to be more vigilant when it comes to noting and reporting aberrant behavior. In my opinion, many us have been reluctant to do so due to excessive concern over “political correctness.” In particular, friends, neighbors, co-workers and mosque members are likely critical sources. As in this case, often, things that are ignored at the time become clear and obvious in retrospect, but by then it is too late.
This is another example of a terror attack on a “soft target,”such as a shopping mall, school, church, movie theater, or restaurant. As I have blogged before, this is where we are most vulnerable. Not only is security light or non-existent, but also these types of attacks hit us psychologically and emotionally in various ways. They cause us to question our safety in our everyday life. Without diminishing the importance of the economy, immigration, or other issues I consider security/combatting terrorism the number 1 issue in this presidential campaign. If we’re not safe from terror, nothing else will matter.
We can expect more of these types of attacks. Truly, we are in a war against terror, and the sooner we realize that and react to it appropriately, the better.