At war with America

Survivor Tree, Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial
Survivor Tree, Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial


Tomorrow night the PBS program American Experience airs a documentary on what remains the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history.

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck loaded with a five-ton fertilizer bomb in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was the kind of bomb that leveled the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, killing 241 US service members. It was the kind of bomb that the IRA used to turn the heart of London’s financial district to rubble in 1993.

By the time all the bodies were counted after that April morning in 1995, 168 people lay dead, including 19 children, 15 of whom had been in the building’s daycare center. Another 675 were injured in the blast.

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that a regular theme of mine has been trying to highlight the true nature of the terrorist threat that faces the United States. I won’t link to all the earlier posts, but you can get to several of them from here.

The bottom line remains the same, and PBS’ “Oklahoma City” reminds us of the fact: The biggest terrorist threat to America comes not from immigrants or refugees but from other Americans.

You can watch the first chapter of the film below, and tune in to your local public television station tomorrow night for the full documentary.

What are we so afraid of?

(Credit: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
(Credit: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)


Donald Trump says his travel ban is about keeping bad people out of the United States:

So who exactly is our president afraid of? Maybe it’s the Al Zoubi family, who fled their home in Daraa, Syria at the beginning of the civil war in their home country and spent years as refugees in Jordan before being resettled in Michigan almost two years ago:

Perhaps it’s Dr. Suha Abushamma, an internal medicine resident at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic who was forced to board a flight back to Saudi Arabia, where she was born and raised, because she carries a Sudanese passport. While Saudi Arabia isn’t included in Trump’s ban, Sudan is. If she were carrying a Saudi passport she would have breezed through.

Meanwhile, less than a third of Americans actually believe the travel ban will make them safer.

Over the weekend Trump’s surrogates were denying that the president’s executive order amounts to a Muslim ban, claiming that it’s not about religion, but about danger. So, between 1975 and 2015, just how many people have been killed by acts of terrorism committed on U.S. soil by nationals of the seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – named in Trump’s ban?


After pouring through reams of material from databases, media reports, court documents, and so on, Cato Institute immigration expert Alex Nowrasteh concluded:

Trump’s action “is a response to a phantom menace.” Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s.

Zero Americans have been killed by Syrian refugees in a terrorist attack in the United States.

Between 1975 and 2015, the “annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist,” according to Nowrasteh.

So where have foreign-born terrorists hailed from? The top-four countries, in terms of responsibility for murders, are Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon, none of which are covered by Trump’s order.

But in the face of all this misguided fear, some beacons of hope continue to shine brightly, even as the Trump administration seemingly works its hardest to extinguish the light.

The typical face of American terrorism, Canada edition


While Fox News spent the day falsely claiming that a Moroccan Muslim was responsible for killing six worshippers after evening prayers at a mosque in Quebec City, and White House Spokesman Sean Spicer latched on to that lie to justify the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, the real suspect was identified by Canadian police as a white rabid anti-immigration nationalist.

Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old French Canadian (his picture is above), is the sole suspect in the Sunday shooting rampage. According to his Facebook profile, now deleted, he is a fan of right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen and of our own President Donald Trump.

I bring this up because it is a Canadian riff on a consistent pattern that I have written about repeatedly in this space (like here, and here, and here). The vast majority of terrorism in the United States in the years since 9/11 has been carried out by right-wing political extremists targeting racial, religious, or sexual minorities, law enforcement officers, and other public officials.

In the United States the typical face of terrorism belongs to an angry white man.

Looks like that’s the case north of the border too.

This week in terrorism history: Dec. 4-10

A member of Jahabat Fateh al-Sham with  the group's flag in Idlib province, northern Syria.
A member of Jahabat Fateh al-Sham with the group’s flag in Idlib province, northern Syria.


It was a relatively quiet week on the global terrorism front, so let me start this week’s look back by drawing to your attention a fascinating article posted at The Atlantic this morning profiling Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir, an Egyptian who was killed in Syria three weeks ago in an air strike carried out the United States.

Muhajir, a veteran of the Afghan jihad 1980s, is credited with developing the theological justifications for the extreme violence that would later characterize ISIS and other groups. At the time of his death he had broken with ISIS and thrown in with Jahabat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, fighting against both his one-time allies and the Assad regime in northern Syria.

As the article, penned by reporters Charlie Winter and Abdullah K. al-Saud, puts it:

While there is a striking paucity of open-source information about him, the Egyptian national, a veteran of the Afghan jihad and long-time al-Qaeda associate, had a massive impact upon the development of jihadist thought in the last four decades. Indeed, it’s hard to overstate his importance in the context of modern Islamist terrorism—neither the Islamic State nor al-Qaeda would be where they are today without him.

The profile highlights Muhajir’s role as the “theological brains” behind the ultraviolence that characterized the emergence of AQI, al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor group to the Islamic State:

Ranging from ruminations on the merits of beheading, torturing, or burning prisoners to thoughts on assassination, siege warfare, and the use of biological weapons, Muhajir’s intellectual legacy will remain a crucial component of the literary corpus of ISIS—and, indeed, whatever comes after it—as a way to render practically anything permissible, provided, that is, it can be spun as beneficial to the jihad.

The full article is well worth your time if you are interested in understanding how religiously motivated terrorist groups justify the extreme levels of violence they characteristically exhibit. Here’s the link to the article again. Now on to this week’s list.

  • Dec. 4, 2000 — Israel: Awad Selmi, senior HAMAS leader, is killed during a terrorist operation.
  • Dec. 5, 2013 — Yemen: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) kills 52 and wounds 167 in a car bombing and gun attack on a military hospital in Sanaa.
  • Dec. 6, 2000 — Sri Lanka: Landmine believed planted by the LTTE kills four bus passengers and wounds 21.
  • Dec. 7, 2009 — Pakistan: Explosions in Lahore and Peshawar kill 58 and wound more than 150. No credible claim of responsibility.
  • Dec. 8, 2009 — Iraq: Near-simultaneous vehicle bombs at government buildings kill 127. Al Qaeda is blamed.
  • Dec. 9, 1976 — Northern Ireland: The Irish Republican Army carries out a series of fire-bomb attacks on shops in Derry.
  • Dec. 10, 1992 — Ireland: The Ulster Freedom Fighters, a cover name used by the Ulster Defense Association, carry out seven incendiary bomb attacks on shops in Dublin and in other Irish towns near the border with Northern Ireland.