Yurgine-Johnston: Is there a way to stop lone wolf terrorists?

November 11, 2017 GMT

Ken: On Halloween day, an ISIS-inspired terrorist attacked innocents on an urban bike path in Manhattan. ISIS instructions to suicidal Jihadists: Detonate a bomb. Can’t make a bomb? Get a gun. No gun? Then, use a car. The bad guys are winning for sure — aside from generating angst in the population, every incident bumps up the level of security, everywhere. Parades, marathons, concerts, sports events and, above all, airports. Cost to U.S. in money and time is astronomical. Is there a way to prevent attack by vehicle?

Joe: Well, deadly ISIS truck attacks have occurred in the United Kingdom, France and Germany and rental car and truck companies have been alerted to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior and red flags. Assume you own a rental car company. You are a retired doctor, money is not important to you, and you are in the business because you want something to do. A 29-year-old guy named Sayfullo Saipov, with a black beard long enough to conceal his neck, walks in and plunks down cash to rent a heavy duty pick-up truck. Are you going to rent this guy a truck without interviewing him and asking questions about why he needs a truck? The black scraggly beard makes you a bit suspicious. You rule out that he is a pitcher for the Cubs. You decide to test him and, in a loud voice, say, “Allahu Akbar.” He extends his hand and gives you a fist bump. Should you, at that point, go back in your office, call the police, tell them what is going down and run his name through an index or simply turn him down?


Ken: Add to your list Stockholm, Sweden, April 2017, and Barcelona, Spain, August 2017. This is the USA and Black Beard can’t be arrested for something that so far is only a thought, and a fist bump likely would not be grounds for a judge to warrant a search and seizure. Also, the next attack will come after the heat is off in a new city and with a different modus. The terrorist is planning to die in his effort, so what keeps him from hurling an unsuspecting woman from her car stopped at a red-light on West Madison and then hijacking it to mow down a line of hopefuls standing in line outside the Chicago Apple Store waiting to buy iPhone X? Why would Sayfullo Saipov run down the street after crashing while brandishing a BB gun unless he wanted to be shot and killed by NYPD?

Joe: I suppose avoiding crowded places and having cement blockades and barriers in various public places might be useful to reduce casualties. To prevent these incidents from happening, perhaps attention should be focused on the vehicle itself, which is an affixed apparatus that is self propelled and has features that obviously can render its use on a street to be unsafe, killing a lot of people ... unless we do something about it. This summer, I was traveling to Michigan in a Lexus. Fatigue caused me to cross and drive across the highway divider lines a few times. A message popped up on the dashboard screen to “take a coffee break.” What if proximity sensors were placed on vehicles that automatically would brake and stop the vehicle before striking anything? If a collision occurred, the vehicle could be triggered to shut down. Do you view that as attractive and feasible?


Ken: I agree collision avoidance systems and other electronic safety equipment will be mandated on vehicles in the next 10 years or so. But the principle driver for that adoption won’t be the 20 or 30 per average year victims of ISIS-inspired terror attacks (excluding 9/11) but rather the 35,000 yearly U.S. traffic fatalities. According to a 2014 government study, you can add to that about $300 billion in direct economic loss and $600 billion for “harm from loss of life, pain and decreased quality of life due to injuries.” (Sound like the fodder for the plaintiff bar?) Be that as it may, those measures are not likely to curtail attacks from the radicalized. There always will be some available path to mayhem. ISIS might well be defeated militarily in Iraq and Syria in the sense that the Caliphate loses the territory it holds now. But the spirit of ISIS, al Qaida, et al, is global, and the terrorists have figured out traceable networking only results in unwelcome investigation from law enforcement agencies and interdiction of planned attacks. Thus, the “lone wolf.”

Joe: A Princeton professor of International Affairs by the name of Jacob Shapiro, who has tracked ISIS since its emergence, feels ISIS will stick around, despite its territorial losses and continue to be a threat in terms of terrorist attacks for years to come. There is no end in sight.

Ken: Radical Islamic international terrorism depends on religious faith and the belief martyrdom in battle against nonbelievers is a gate pass to heaven. There always will be a soft target and something that can be weaponized. Maximal impact, minimal resources. The shooting at a Texas church last weekend by an unstable lunatic with a violent history and jail time in his past is different. He was not likely thinking heaven was waiting, and in this world, he should have failed the Fed background check and been denied a firearm sale. The motive for the recent Las Vegas mass shooting is still a subject of speculation. I’m thinking cherchez la femme (look for the woman).