December 8, 2005: Meanwhile, back in the trenches of the war on terror, there's plenty to keep everyone busy, but not much visible Islamic terrorism. There's far more violence from non-terrorists, always has been, and it's a constant problem trying to detect which bad behavior is terrorists, and which is just the usual criminals. For example, a construction site in Saskatchewan, Canada, about 150 kilometers north of the US border, was recently robbed of some 350 pounds of explosives, plus detonator cord, primers, detonators, etc. Local police and the Mounties are investigating, but no leads so far. Explosives are often stolen from construction sites throughout North America, along with other equipment. But every time just the explosive materials disappear, you have to think about terrorism.
However, before al Qaeda showed up, there was lots of terrorism. Except that back then (and still now) the terrorists are what we call "common criminals." For extortion scams, nothing sends a more compelling message than a bomb. These days, the gangsters are less enthusiastic about bombing their extortion victims or business rivals. Arson makes the point just as well, and doesn't risk bringing a counter-terrorism task force down on their heads.
Meanwhile, Islamic terrorism continues to slowly spread. In the Caucasus, areas adjacent to Chechnya are generating their own Islamic terrorist groups. In Dagestan (adjacent to Chechnya) police found a well hidden bomb factory. Explosive materials (Aluminum Nitrate) and other bomb components were found. But, once more, police have to consider the history of their neighborhood. The Caucasus has long been a violent place. Except for the Chechens and Georgians, most of the dozens of ethnic groups in the area tend to tolerate imperial overlords (for the last two centuries its been the Russians), and go about their business. That business often involves ethnic and tribal feuds, as well as criminal activities. Smuggling is a staple, and that often means drugs these days. Kidnapping for ransom is another popular enterprise. Theft has always been popular, and was even more so when the Soviet Union existed. It was so much easier to steal from the state, than from an operation owned by someone (which was much better guarded.) Islamic terrorists have to make sure they do something spectacular, and issue press releases, if they want to avoid being tagged as just another bunch of criminals taking care of business.
And then there's the mental illness problem. On December 7th, the first incident of a U.S. Air Marshall killing someone took place when a mentally ill man, on an airplane getting ready for take off, announced he had a bomb, and ran. An Air Marshall shot and killed the man, who would not halt and seemed to be trying to set off a bomb. In hindsight, this should have seemed suspicious, but maybe not. Terrorists have long taken advantage of the mentally ill to carry out suicide bomb attacks. As unreliable as a mentally ill person can be, terrorist groups have developed ways around that. But for counter-terrorism organizations, unbalanced persons pretending to be terrorists are more often encountered than real terrorists. Not just the fake bomb scares or bizarre public pronouncements, but also, as the Air Marshall discovered, what appeared to be a very volatile suicide bomber.
When Islamic terrorism fades as a fad, it will leave an afterglow, that will manifest itself in criminal acts, and deranged rants, that appear to be the real thing, but aren't. It's not enough for the terrorists to go away, for the terrorism to end, the memories must fade as well.