With nearly 40 million people, California offers an inviting target to Islamic terrorists. Ahmed Ressam, for example, aimed to blow up LAX in 1999, stopped only by a sharp-eyed customs agent. Since then, the Golden State has been free of attacks of 9/11 magnitude, mass murder in the style of “Soldier of Allah” Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas, and the kind of attacks now occurring in Europe. That could change under the strategy that emerged from the president’s recent “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.”
In attendance was Obama appointee Benjamin Wagner, U.S. Attorney for California’s Eastern District, the territory from Los Angeles County to Oregon. Steve Magagnini of the Sacramento Bee asked Wagner, “What’s our first line of defense?”
Wagner said that his office recently held a “community resilience exercise” at Sacramento State University with 30 members of the region’s Muslim community and 30 representatives from the FBI and eight local law enforcement agencies. The Muslim community, Wager said, is concerned about the recruitment problem and wants to be seen as “part of the solution.” So he wants to “share to share information and build relationships so we can get ahead of some of these issues before something bad happens.”
Magagnini raised the issue of Californian Muslim convert Nicholas Teausant, a former National Guard man arrested last year en route to Syria to join ISIS. The zealous convert came to believe his daughter’s day care center was “Zionist” and wanted to blow it up. That did not emerge in the interview.
By Wagner’s count, “about 150 Americans have gone or tried to go to join ISIL.” He said poverty doesn’t cause terrorism but “if you don’t have a lot of economic opportunity and you feel marginalized, it can create a fertile environment for recruitment.” In Wagner’s view “a lot of people who have been recruited didn’t have a long-term, religious involvement. A lot of this seems to be a teenaged fantasy.” Recruiters “have an appeal to angry, disaffected young people, and that really doesn’t have much to do with religion.”
The U.S. Attorney explained that “the Muslim community can play an important role in helping law enforcement separate radical noise from radical action, and when it’s something to be worried about and when it’s not. If the community can be successful in stepping in first, law enforcement will never have to be involved.” But Magagnini pressed the point: “Are Californians in danger from the Islamic State and al-Qaida?”
“I would say it’s not a very high threat,” Wagner responded. “It’s important that people be alert without being frightened.” The U.S. Attorney and Obama appointee acknowledged that ISIS has been urging people to “take action in your own communities, attack police, government buildings.” However, “there are limits to how much one person can do to arm people, mobilize and do damage without law enforcement intercepting it.” Then the U.S. Attorney made clear his real priorities.
“What I’m more concerned about is some sort of backlash crime here – something gruesome will happen in Syria and someone will take revenge on the local community.” Wagner quoted Obama that “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” And as the Obama appointee put it:
“Religion doesn’t cause terrorism; people cause terrorist attacks. With grisly story after grisly story, there’s been a growth in Europe of xenophobic, anti-Islamic political movements, and one of the people at our community project yesterday said negative feelings toward Muslims in the U.S. are even worse than they were after 9/11.”
So in the vision of U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, it’s mostly a teenage fantasy and has nothing to do with religion. ISIS and al-Qaida do not pose a very high threat, despite “grisly story after grisly story,” an apparent reference to murders, assassinations, torture and such. The real concern is xenophobic anti-Islamic political movements and “backlash crime” against American Muslims, who sense more negative feelings than after 9/11.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner announced no enhanced protection for California’s bridges, dams, or airports like LAX, which Ahmed Ressam sought to bomb. Wagner did not advocate heightened vigilance for theme parks, sports arenas or the government buildings that, as he explained, ISIS wants its recruits to target. And no mention of those “Zionist” daycare centers such as the one Nicholas Teausant wanted to bomb.
Should something like that take place, it would doubtless be a purely random attack, just like the one on that kosher grocery in Paris. That was a real “grisly story” indeed. On the watch of Obama appointee Benjamin Wagner, California could easily become a more dangerous place.
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