On Tuesday evening Sulejman Talovic headed to Trolley Square Mall like many other Salt Lake City teens. But instead of a credit card and iPod, he had a shotgun and .38 caliber pistol hidden under his black trenchcoat – plus a backpack full of ammunition.
Within minutes five shoppers were dead and four injured before Talovic was held at gunpoint by off-duty police officer Ken Hammond until more officers arrived, at which point Talovic was fatally shot when he refused to surrender his weapons. Law enforcement officials say the body count could have been much higher if Officer Hammond had not been armed and on the spot to intervene.
Little is known about Talovic's background, except that he was an 18-year-old Bosnian Muslim who recently immigrated to the U.S. with his mother. Apparently he had trouble in school and was moved from one school to the next until expelled from the school system altogether. It’s mostly speculative what sort of resentments he may have harbored toward the U.S. or American citizens as a result of his religion and growing up in the midst of the Bosnian conflict. But he clearly suffered from the same kind of teenage alienation that has driven other young spree killers, perhaps exacerbated by his background and experiences.
It's possible that Talovic represents a growing trend deeply concerning law-enforcement: the “perfect storm” combination of teenage anger and alienation typified by Columbine killers – with the sense of persecution and identification with terrorists felt by some young Muslims living in Western countries. This combination is a literal recipe for the kind of sudden, minimally planned, individual terrorist action which is very hard to predict or prevent.
The anger of Muslim youth has been amply demonstrated by occurrences like riots and violence in France, and smaller-scale incidents in virtually every European nation, such as the murder of film director Theo van Gogh in Holland and the attacks on the London mass transport system in 2005. Law enforcement officials in England, France and other European countries are taking Muslim youth volatility in their countries very seriously.
This problem is obvious in European nations with relatively large numbers of Muslim immigrants, but the threat is also very real in the United States and Canada. In December, Chicago police arrested Derrick Shareef for plotting to carry out a hand grenade attack at a local mall. Fortunately, the person he approached for buying grenades turned out to be an FBI informant, and Shareef was arrested before he could do any harm.
Concern about this type of threat is very high in Canada where a group of young Muslims were arrested last summer for plotting to carry out truck bomb attacks in Toronto. Canada's intelligence service has studied young, alienated Muslims who are receptive to the message of Jihad. They believe that one of the major factors in motivating attacks is 24/7 access to the messages of Jihadist “spiritual leaders” who are promoting terrorism via the Internet. These leaders spread anti-Western propaganda and play on anger over the conflicts in the countries from which young immigrants come, to encourage them to express anger and frustration through violence.
Major terror attacks have traditionally required considerable organization and planning, and involved specific and identifiable leaders who were directly involved and promoted and organized attacks. Although some of those terrorist plots were successful, they were vulnerable to exposure by informants or to discovery by law enforcement. This dynamic seems to be changing, as the combination of direct access to leadership through the internet and a population of alienated Muslim youth in Western nations makes it far easier to launch sudden and highly effective attacks, organized in isolation, and without the vulnerability of a terror network or support structure. These attacks may be smaller in scale, but they are much harder to predict and prevent, making them potentially highly effective.
Many teens in America are already alienated from their parents, their schools and society. Factors like religion and ethnicity can further isolate them from their peers. Some may even embrace radical Islam when it is not part of their family or cultural background, because they identify with the enemies of the society from which they feel alienated. Add to this the availability of advice, leadership and encouragement from online provocateurs and you have a powerful mixture for generating domestic terrorism on a scale and with a frequency which dwarfs any threat that Al Qaeda or other groups can generate from beyond our borders.
Because terror-prone youths work in isolation and are hard to identify and apprehend before they act, merely increasing domestic surveillance and monitoring everyone in the at-risk population is not a terribly effective method for preventing violent incidents. As shown in Salt Lake City this week, the most effective way to discourage this sort of violence or stop it in its tracks is armed citizen response.
Had Officer Hammond not been armed and present, the death toll at Trolley Square Mall certainly would have been much higher. Hammond happened to be an off-duty police officer, but any trained and armed citizen could have stopped Talovic just as effectively. Utah has a law which allows any citizen over the age of 21 who receives formal instruction before carrying a concealed firearm – a legal option valid in 35 states and under consideration in most others.
The ineffectiveness of normal police methods in pursuing potential terrorists has resulted in increasing infringements of the rights of citizens: to the point where the price in the destruction of the values on which our free society is based is higher than we can really afford to pay. The presence of armed and trained citizens is a deterrent to crime and terrorism, and creates the potential for immediate response. This is far more effective than all efforts by law enforcement to find and identify potential terrorists who are not part of large organized groups, and it comes from protecting and preserving citizen rights, rather than restricting them. It's a far more appropriate response to this threat for a society which values freedom.
These lone-wolf terrorists are a more real and immediaate threat to US citizens than Al Qaeda has ever been. But as demonstrated this week in Salt Lake City, real homeland security against such threats lies in giving citizens the ability to defend themselves and others, not in wiretaps and warrantless searches.Powered by Sidelines