October 21, 2009 | WebMemo on Homeland Security
An arrest on Wednesday of Boston resident Tarek Mehanna brings the latest number of known terrorist plots foiled since 9/11 to 27. Following closely on the heals of three terrorist-related arrests last month, Mehanna's arrest is a stark reminder of the danger still posed by terrorists seeking to kill Americans in the name of extremism.
This most recent plot once again proves the efficacy of increased terrorism investigatory and information-sharing measures and serves as a reminder to Congress and President Obama that these measures must be preserved and expanded.
The Mehanna Plot
Appearing in court just hours after his arrest, Mehanna was charged with conspiracy to kill two U.S. politicians, American troops in Iraq, and civilians in local shopping malls. Mehanna's co-conspirators included Ahmad Abousamra, whom authorities say is now in Syria, and an unnamed man who is said to be cooperating in the investigation.
From 2001 through May 2008, Mehanna allegedly worked with the two men to plan attacks on the two U.S. politicians and to "kill, kidnap, maim, or injure" soldiers abroad. However, after several failed attempts to join terror groups or train at Taliban camps in Iraq, Yemen, and Pakistan, the plotters allegedly began to focus on broader domestic attacks, seeking to obtain automatic weapons to kill countless civilians in local malls. It appears that the men gained inspiration from the 2002 beltway sniper attacks and justified such attacks through the belief that U.S. civilians who pay taxes to the U.S. government are "nonbelievers."
Mehanna and his co-conspirators were said to have frequently discussed conducting jihad against Americans and had often expressed a desire to die as martyrs. Mehanna himself has one previous arrest for lying to the FBI about the location of Daniel Maldonado, who had plotted with al-Qaeda to overthrow the Syrian government.
The Path Ahead
It is clear that, since 9/11, great progress has been made in developing counterterrorism measures. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 was the first in a series of steps taken to lower the barriers for law enforcement in fighting terrorism--changes that have sparked collaboration between federal, state, local, and international entities to increase American security.
Specifically, the Patriot Act has allowed law enforcement to use many of the same capabilities they have long employed to fight basic crime to fight terrorism. Bottom-up partnerships, such as Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF)--which had a role in the foiling of the Mehanna plot as well as other recent plots--have created the inter-governmental information-sharing and collaboration that has long been lacking. Further, international immigration and information-sharing agreements increased collective security and global partnerships, as seen in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
Congress and the Administration must not lose sight of these achievements and should work to continue development of America's counterterrorism capabilities by:
A Renewed Call for Vigilance
Four terrorist plots have been foiled in a mere month. This fact should serve as a sobering reminder that, eight years after 9/11, the need for strong counterterrorism measures has not waned. Wednesday's foiled attacks coupled with the other three recently thwarted plots should serve as a renewed call to Congress and the Administration for vigilance against the terrorist threat.
Jena Baker McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security, and Jessica Zuckerman is a Research Assistant, in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.