Cross-posted at Terror Trends Bulletin
By now, most readers of Terror Trends Bulletin know that a car bomb was discovered in New York’s Times Square last night. It was discovered just as it was fizzling out after failing to detonate.
Just as was the case with the “Fruit of the Boom Underwear Bomber” over the skies of Detroit on Christmas Day, America was saved from a terrible attack only by the incompetence of its enemies. This illustrates the inadequacy of emphasizing security measures as the chief means of defending ourselves against Jihad. He who tries to defend everything defends nothing. Sooner or later, we will be forced to confront our enemies’ threat doctrine and take a much wider and more comprehensive approach to defending ourselves.
Unfortunately, I feel that things will have to get much worse before America confronts the ongoing and longstanding threat from Jihad.
The bomb in Times Square was located inside a Nissan Pathfinder SUV and was made up of two 5-gallon gasoline containers, M-88 firecrackers, three propane tanks and a metal box which contained what appeared to be fertilizer. Press reports make no mention of shrapnel or other explosives. This appears to be a bomb that was designed to create a fireball. But it also was a bomb that seems to have had some missing components.
For instance, the fertilizer was either not of a type that could be made to explode or else it was not soaked in kerosene or diesel fuel to prepare it for ignition. It is difficult to perceive how this device was supposed to work, though we are certain that NYPD is not releasing all details of its make up, so it is impossible to know.
Unfortunately, press reports are repeatedly quoting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who referred to the device as “amateurish.” This is a classic case of a politician with no real knowledge making a statement that was certainly not helpful. The reason why this label is unhelpful is because it tends to downplay the seriousness of this attempt. Moreover, the use of propane (or butane or acetylene) tanks in conjunction with conventional explosives is a common and very lethal methodology for VBIEDs (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices). A large version of this was used in the October 23rd, 1983, bomb which killed 241 US servicemen in Beirut, Lebanon.
Propane tanks have also been used in IEDs in Iraq. Moreover, the use of household goods, such as those used in this device, is a method used by Jihadists in London previously. Except for the M-88 firecrackers, everything mentioned in the NYPD press conference is available at WalMart.
Had this bomb detonated, no one would have been referring to it as “amateurish.” We were very fortunate that something went awry in the detonation process because, given the crowded streets in Times Square at the time, there is every possibility that this bomb could have caused a lot of casualties, including horrific burns on victims in the area.
We should not assume that just because this bomb fizzled and appeared to be assembled incorrectly that it was not the work of Jihadists. Jihadists planted two bombs very similar to this one in the UK in 2007. The bombs were placed in parked cars near areas with high pedestrian traffic and included petrol cans and propane tanks. Just as in Times Square last night, passer-bys noticed smoke and fumes coming from one of the vehicles and called authorities in to take care of the matter. So just because the bomb failed does not mean that it wasn’t planted by a “real terrorist.” All it means is that it was planted by a terrorist who wasn’t up to speed on demolitions.
Keep in mind that this bomb contained three propane tanks. Here is an indication of the fire created by a single propane tank exploding (in this case, the handiwork of some really incredibly moronic individuals):
In his press conference on Sunday afternoon, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly indicated that they may have video footage from surveillance cameras of an individual associated with the Nissan Pathfinder. There are also reports that police were able to collect fingerprints at the scene. Why would a bomber leave fingerprints?
Remember, the guy who planted that bomb figured on it blowing up and burning. He wasn’t worried about fingerprints on the Nissan or any of the component parts. Fortunately, he screwed up and pedestrians in Times Square were spared from incineration.
As for the Nissan Pathfinder, the Connecticut license plates mounted on it were not registered to it, but to a Ford truck. There are conflicting stories about the Ford truck. Press reports indicated that the owner of the Ford claimed that he sent it to a junkyard for disposal long ago. But Commissioner Kelly stated in his press conference that the Ford truck was in for “repairs.” There may be further developments associated with this aspect of the investigation.
At this point there is no way to determine conclusively who planted this bomb. The Pakistan Taliban released a video claiming responsibility in retaliation for the recent killing of Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq, but the Pakistan Taliban have claimed responsibility for incidents in the past that they were clearly not associated with. It should be noted, however, that Jihadist groups are different from the terrorist groups of the 1970s and 1980s, like Baader-Meinhoff, the Provo IRA and the Red Brigades, in that they don’t necessarily feel compelled to lay claim to their work, at least not immediately on the heels of an attack. Their outlook is different in that they are not doing this to “terrorize” us, they are doing it because they are at war with us and this is but one operation in a long, civilizational, global war.
One thing that makes us feel that there may be some credence to the Taliban’s claim of responsibility was the promptness of that claim. Using the news aggregator NewsNow.co.uk, we determined that the first NEWS report of the Taliban claim was by the British Channel 4 at 0341hrs Central Daylight Time. This means that the Taliban would have had to released that video just a few hours after the incident. It seems unlikely that they would have been able to do so in such a short time frame without prior knowledge of the incident. So, even though there is no “evidence” of Taliban involvement, that doesn’t mean that the Taliban weren’t involved in some way.
There are also reports of video surveillance indicating that a possible suspect seen nearby was identified as “white.” Again, this does not mean that this wasn’t a Jihadist operation. The leader of the Jihadi cell in North Carolina that was plotting to infiltrate and attack Marine Corps Base Quantico was blonde-haired and blue-eyed. John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, was white as well.
For his part, Senator Charles Schumer of New York has already declared that this was almost surely the work of a “lone wolf.” Once again, we have a case of an ignorant politician opening his mouth in a vacuum of knowledge. What Schumer based his statement on is unclear, but no one else in New York or Washington DC is saying anything like that about a motive or suspect in this case.
There are many obvious reasons why a Jihadist group might want to target Times Square on a Saturday night, but none more significant than the fact that the area is teaming with people on a spring night. The fact that Viacom’s headquarters is nearby may or may not be a motive (Viacom is the owner of South Park, the cartoon which did a spoof on Mohammed recently). One would think that, had the terrorists been targeting Viacom, they would have done so during normal business hours. The same goes for the big armed forces recruiting center nearby.