Late yesterday, the FBI arrested seven people in the Miama, FL area: five are American, one is Haitian (who is here illegally on a lapsed visa), and one described only as a “permanent alien” (that I’ve found). The indictment (link to pdf) charges them with plotting to attack the FBI office in Miami and the Sears Tower in Chicago, and of planning to wage jihad against the United States on behalf of al Qaeda (CNN):
The “jihad” was intended to be “as good or greater than 9/11,” beginning with destruction of the 110-story tower and FBI buildings, according to court documents obtained Friday by CNN.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in a news conference Friday, described the men as examples of “homegrown terrorists” who “may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda” and who have come “to view their home country as the enemy.”
They arrested 7 people, but the “group” actually seems to consist of 15 – 20 people, some of whom are in Chicago. Polimom assumes, though, that they’ve been rendered utterly moot by the raids and arrests. Here’s more from Bloomberg:
The seven, arrested late yesterday, were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of supporting the al-Qaeda terrorist organization to “wage war against the United States government.” The plan was disrupted before any harm could be done, Deputy FBI Director John Pistole said.
The men “made plans to hurt Americans,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference in Washington. “They did request equipment, they did request funding, they swore allegiance to al-Qaeda.” Gonzales said the men had no actual contact with al-Qaeda as far as officials knew, and there was no “immediate threat” to the buildings.
Pistole said the plot was “more aspirational than operational.”
This group strikes me, frankly, as inept to the point of comical (CNN again):
Neighbors said the men, who wore turbans, caused no problems but seemed odd.
“All you could do was just see their eyes. They had their whole head wrapped up. Just the eyes showing. And they were standing guard — one here, one there — like soldiers. Very quiet,” one woman said.
A man said the men never spoke to neighbors and would just nod their heads if spoken to.
Inept, bizarre, and strangely reminiscent of any number of Pink Panther movies. Furthermore, the oath they “swore to al Qaeda” was actually given to an undercover agent.
They were not an immediate threat to anyone, and were never in contact with al Qaeda. There are, however, some real problems here.
The government, for instance, now has justification for its domestic surveillance programs. It will be extremely difficult for people concerned about civil rights to raise credible alarms in the face of this group’s activities.
Also — Reports indicate the men (at least, the Americans) are part of a radical Black Muslim group, an aspect with numerous potential ramifications.
On the one hand, there is an urban subculture that is obviously socially disconnected, and marginalized, which would seem (imho) to be very rich soil for the seeds of extremism. On the other hand, the tendency of shallow thinkers to automatically ascribe behaviors of one to many (aka prejudice) could serve to further inflame racial tensions in the United States.
All in all, a very disturbing situation, potentially, in the long run. No doubt we’ll hear a lot more about this in coming days.
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Update: Time asks, “How Serious Was the Threat?” in which they notice the “B-movie”-ness that struck Polimom, and describe the group as more like a “cult”. They conclude:
Fevered minds can be very dangerous, of course. But the threat they present is quite different from that of transnational terror groups.
OTOH, CNN’s security analyst Clark Kent Ervin calls “homegrown terrorists a very big threat” (I have to agree), and to illustrate a point I made in the post, he’s quoted as saying:
And so they are actively — we know this — seeking to recruit Anglo-Americans, Hispanic-Americans. They have also been attracted to African-Americans, and we know that African-American males are disproportionately represented in prisons. And many of them have been converted to Islam, if not radical Islam. So this is a major issue. And if this turns out to be a homegrown-terror plot, this may be the beginning of many more things of this nature to come.
I share your concern about how this will be used to justify more domestic surveillance, but I’m not sure it’s a as clear as justification as you imply. If we could look back and see how the lack of such programs led to trouble, that would be one thing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. We’ve had plenty of homegrown terrorists in the US for a long time (think, for example, of the various white supremacist groups out there) and been able to generally control them within the current legal framework.
9/11 is a particularly interesting case in this regard, because our failure to prevent it seems to have stemmed not from lack of the information but an inability to put that information together. To steal a line fom the Daily Show, we have trouble connecting the dots, and the proposed solution is more dots.
But you’re right, it will be used as justification for increased surveillance.
Madonna wannabees — now there is the real danger to the Republic!
The only things this episode lacks to be a true “movie-plot threat” are:
* the group had a page on MySpace where they posted their photos and wrote that their goal in life was to “have sex with 70 under-age girls after dying a fiery and painful death.”
* their computers were found to have copies of “Flight Simulator” on them, with Meigs Field annotated with the phrase “we start from here”.
* Copies of the complete works of Derrida were found in their living quarters – it is apparent they were attempting to acquire Weapons of Mass Deconstructionism.