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.