The Tarnaev brothers were cruelly successful, but they are far from the only terrorists over the past decade with big ideas about carnage in America. There is a temptation with each act of terror to see it as an isolated act, connected to the mental state of the actor, but not to larger forces. The FBI used to have theories about “Sudden Jihad Syndrome” and “Lone Wolves” that were not only wrong, but also pulled law enforcement off the track.
“Sudden Jihad Syndrome” was invented by the FBI to explain why people who lived quietly in the United States for some period of time “suddenly” went berserk and killed others. Why Naveed Haq shot six people at the Seattle Jewish Federation, killing one; why Hesham Hadayet, an Egyptian with a history of radical statements, shot up the El Al ticket counter in LA; why Derek Shareef, a convert to Islam, planned to firebomb a mall in Rockford, IL; and why Bosnian Sulejman Talovic, killed five people in a shopping center in Salt Lake City. It was supposed to explain why Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad shot up an Army recruiting center in Little Rock, and Kosovar Arid Uka killed two soldiers on a U.S. Army bus in Germany. The FBI won’t call it “jihad,” but a “bolt from the blue” was also supposed to explain why Maj. Nidal Hassan killed 13 people at Ft. Hood; it doesn’t explain why he yelled “Allahu Akbar” as he did it.
According to the FBI, they were all “normal” guys until they weren’t; none were “affiliated” with terror organizations. The official version was that they were under some “unknown” mental stress that made them “snap” one day. Happily for Americans, what the FBI says and what it does can be two different things.
While sifting and learning from prior experiences, the FBI stopped the Ft. Dix pizza truck bombers and the Lackawanna Six before anyone was killed. In 2006 there was a foiled plan to flood lower Manhattan with bombs either in the Holland Tunnel or the PATH train tunnel under the World Trade Center site that would bring down the walls that hold back the river. In June 2007, seven men were arrested in a plot against the Sears Tower in Chicago and a Federal building in Miami. The would-be bombers were looking for al Qaeda connections, but found the FBI. Also in 2007, groups of men including Iraqis and Pakistanis were arrested in the Midwest and West Virginia. They had purchased more than 1,000 disposable cell phones from various stores — untraceable and used as bomb detonators in Madrid in 2004.
The FBI stopped talking about “Sudden Jihad Syndrome” and began talking about “Lone Wolves,” sick individuals, they said, who were still not connected — not literally connected — to anyone or anything that could be blamed. Well, not until 2011 Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, a 31-year-old former budget analyst from Connecticut (with a wife and child, which was …read more