Memories of the worst-ever terrorist attack on US soil, the September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda attack on America, are fading.
And that’s not a good thing.
Twenty-one years after Muslim terrorists hijacked four United Airlines planes filled with passengers, using them as weapons of mass destruction, there are myriad commemorations and memorial ceremonies marking the day of the attack.
Families of the victims are gathering to remember their loved ones at the sites where two of the planes were rammed into the Twin Towers of New York City’s World Trade Center, a third used to attack the Pentagon in Washington DC and a fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field instead of its intended target in Washington DC after a heroic revolt by the passengers redirected the aircraft.
The names of the nearly 3,000 victims are being read in roll call and top officials – including President Joe Biden – are delivering remarks.
People who were present in the city during and in the aftermath of the attack — including this writer — have no problem remembering exactly what took place.
Scraps of burnt documents and a rainfall of ash blackened the skies over neighborhoods like the Borough Park section of Brooklyn for days after the attack, lending a surreal stink to the air.
Those of us who raced to the scene to help firefighters in their desperate attempts to dig through the wreckage of concrete and steel, hoping to find someone — anyone — still alive, will never forget the smoke-filled air and lonely spikes of broken infrastructure that created a nightmarish scene straight from the footage of any B-grade horror flick.
Like others, I was required to hand over my shoes to the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial society) after my stint on “the pile.” To this day, I have been unable to discard the clothes that I wore as I carried buckets of broken concrete and beguiled firefighters into coming off the pile so they could be treated for their high blood pressure, irritated and reddened eyes, diabetes and other medical conditions they ignored in their efforts to find survivors.
There were none.
And yet, the essential message of the attack that once was so clear has since been lost as America’s collective memory of the tragedy fades.
An entire generation has since been born and grown up.
How Israel Secures Its Population
In the State of Israel, where contending with a terrorist threat seems nearly as natural as having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a sunny day, security measures are second nature.
No one questions the presence of a security guard and metal detector at the entrance to a shopping mall and other stores. No one thinks twice about the security guard checking the trunk of one’s vehicle before entering an indoor shopping center parking lot.
The sweet-faced teens in uniform, including pretty, young women with their long hair swinging behind in a ponytail holding hefty assault weapons, seem to be a natural part of the landscape at the entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem.
Those who operate undercover as part of the country’s elite domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, are an accepted support system relied on by Israelis to keep us safe from unseen threats.
Even the smallest Jewish community has a police force and/or security team trained to repel a terror attack including those in Judea, Samaria and on the periphery of pre-1967 Israel and along the nation’s borders.
And Israel’s gun laws are among the tightest in the world. Unless one can prove the need for a weapon, one cannot obtain a gun license. Without a license, one cannot obtain a gun. Period. The idea that anyone in Israel could purchase a weapon online is laughable.
As a result, life in Israel is, for the most part, peaceful and safe despite the enduring goal of Iranian-backed terrorists from Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza to annihilate our people.
Not so in the United States.
‘Active Shooter’ Numbers
In the past five years alone, there have been hundreds of active shooter incidents in the United States, according to the FBI.
There were 20 such attacks in 2016, and 30 in 2017, resulting in 943 casualties (excluding the shooters): 221 people were killed – including 13 law enforcement officers — and 722 others wounded in those two years alone. Twenty of the attacks met the definition of “mass killing.”
There were 27 active shooting incidents in 2018, in which 85 people were killed – including 3 law enforcement and security officers – and 128 others were wounded. Of those attacks, 10 met the criteria cited in the federal definition of “mass killings.”
In 2019, there were 28 active shooting incidents in which 97 people were killed – including two law enforcement officers – and 150 others were wounded. Of those attacks, 12 met the “mass killing” definition.
By the next year, the numbers jumped: in 2020 there were 40 active shooting incidents – a 33 percent increase over the previous year and a 100 percent jump from 2016. In those attacks, 38 people were killed – including one law enforcement officer – and 126 others were wounded. Five of the attacks met criteria for a “mass killing” incident.
Those figures jumped even more in 2021, with 61 active shooting incidents that left 103 people dead – including two law enforcement officers – and 140 others wounded. Twelve of the attacks met criteria for “mass killing.”
Homeland Security Threats Rising
On September 22, 2021, the Congressional Committee on Homeland Security created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks held a hearing on Worldwide Threats to the Homeland: 20 Years After 9/11 to discuss the problem.
The transcript of that hearing may be accessed here.
“We recognize the success we have had in preventing another 9/11-style attack but are sobered by the challenges posed by long-standing and emerging homeland security threats,” Committee chairperson Bennie G. Thompson said in his opening remarks to the committee.
Ranking committee member John Katko noted that in the 2021 fiscal year, there were “1.5 million illegal border encounters” and “the recently departed border chief is on record stating that known or suspected terrorists are crossing the border at “a level we have never seen before.”
FBI director Christopher Wray told the committee that preventing terrorist attacks remains the agency’s top priority, “both now and for the foreseeable future.
“Today the greatest terrorist threat we face here in the United States is from what are in effect lone actors,” he said.
“Because they act alone and move quickly from radicalization to action, often using easily obtainable weapons against soft targets, these attackers don’t leave a lot of dots for investigators to connect or time in which to connect them.
“We continue to see individuals here at home inspired by Jihadist ideologies, espoused by foreign terrorist organizations, like ISIS and al-Qaeda, what we would call ‘‘home-grown violent extremists’’. But we are also countering lone domestic violent extremists, radicalized by personalized grievances, ranging from racial or ethnic bias to anti-authority or anti-Government sentiment to conspiracy theories.
“There is no doubt about it, today’s threat is different from what it was 20 years ago and it will most certainly continue to change. . .Since the spring of 2020, we have more than doubled our domestic terrorism caseload, from about 1,000 to around 2,7000 investigations,” he said.
“But we are also surging against threats by terrorist organizations like ISIS, al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab. . . Make no mistake, the danger is real.
“Just within the past couple of years we thwarted potential terrorist attacks in areas like Las Vegas, Tampa, New York, Cleveland, Kansas City, Miami, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere,” Wray added.
Jihadist Terrorism Figures
In the 18 years between Sept. 11, 2001, and 2018, 479 individuals were charged with jihadist terrorism-related activity in the United States, according to a report by the New America organization.
During that period, 104 people were killed in the United States by individuals motivated by jihadist ideology.
By February 2019, 180 individuals had been arrested for plotting jihadi terrorist attacks in the United States.
Each year since 2015 – when US terrorism cases spiked – the number of those charged for such crimes has progressively dropped. New America credited the government’s enormous investment in strengthening defenses against post-9/11 terrorism — $2.8 trillion between 2002 and 2017 — with the decrease.
Changes Needed to Secure American Lifestyle
Yet the measures being taken to prevent such tragedies are inadequate at best.
Gun control is up to each individual state, and there are no bans on assault weapons. Why would anyone – other than a combat soldier or counter terrorism fighter — need an assault weapon?
Few of America’s shopping malls and schools have security guards at the entrances. One can simply walk right into most public buildings without even having one’s bag checked.
Security measures that are put in place – such as regulations requiring school doors to be locked once classes begin – are sometimes ignored, as was seen in the tragic mass killing that took place recently in Uvalde, Texas.
Small town police departments are inadequately trained and/or equipped to contend with domestic terrorism. Mass transit systems are inadequately protected even in the largest cities.
America’s southern border is wide open, enabling anyone with determination to infiltrate the country, including global terrorists.