Is our own government preventing us from catching radical Islamic terrorists before they act?
In their eagerness to blame workplace violence or the ever-popular rallying cry of “guns” as the root cause of terrorist attacks, the Obama administration, Democrats in Congress, and their allies in the media are deliberately ignoring the fact that the terrorists all share a commitment to radical Islam that has created a clear pattern of behavior that could be used to prevent attacks.
For example, on a trip to Pakistan in 2011, Rahami married a Pakistani woman from the Taliban stronghold of Quetta and tried to bring her to the U.S. Despite some initial problems with her visa, she was admitted — only to return to the region days before her husband launched his bombing attacks. The circumstances of their relationship recall the post-marriage radicalization of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook by his wife Tashfeen Malik, but there is no indication that their case prompted renewed scrutiny of similar unions such as Rahami’s.
In addition to this 2011 trip, Rahami travelled so frequently to countries with a significant terrorist presence that U.S. Customs officials subjected him to “secondary screening” upon each re-entry but failed to detect his increasing radicalization. Customs was sufficiently concerned enough to flag Rahami to the FBI in 2014, but the bureau concluded he was not a threat.
These circumstances recall the activities of Tamerlan Tsarnaev whose visit to Dagestan the year before the Boston bombing raised no alarms, even though the Russians informed us of his possible contacts with radicals. And there is no evidence the Tsarnaev case led to stricter protocols that might have caught Rahami.
Finally, we know that Rahami’s own father reported him to the FBI in 2014 and said his son was a “terrorist” after a violent attack on his brother. Even though this warning came just five months after the one from Customs, the FBI assessed the accusation as an intra-familial insult, not a real charge. This episode recalls the case of the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, who also had a history of violent behavior and claimed to have ties to terrorist groups, but whom the FBI nonetheless deemed not to be a threat. There is no evidence the Mateen case has led to a heightened sensitivity to this type of indicator.
Obviously, none of these cases are identical, but there is enough common ground for us to ask some serious questions about how these red flags keep being ignored:
- What efforts have been made to assess the potential radicalizing effect of spouses like Rahami’s wife in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting?
- What are the protocols around the “secondary screening” interviews of potentially radicalized individuals returning from the Middle East? Given the Tsarnaev precedent, were efforts made to assess Rahami’s potential contact with radical Islamists on his travels, or were such questions prohibited?
- On what basis did the FBI judge a direct accusation of terrorist inclinations groundless (especially given Rahami’s travel and marital history)? Was his case reviewed after the Orlando attack?
No counterterrorism effort can be perfect, and given the jihadists’ grim determination to attack, we cannot guarantee they will never succeed again. Any one of these red flags might not have been, in and of itself, enough to stop Rahami. But the evidence in his case demonstrates there were multiple dots to be connected. There are some basic common-sense measures we could be taking to protect the American people if our government were willing to admit there is a common pattern of behavior. Our law enforcement agencies could catch more terrorists before they strike if we would only take off the blinders and let them.