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Is Al-Qaeda Still A Threat, And How Can Responders Help?

By: TVR – a 28 year veteran First Responder

A Rasmussen Reports national telephone poll taken just prior to the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks indicated that 61% of American’s polled thought another attack was likely. Compare these results with a similar 2009 survey, which found that that just 16% of Americans believed there would be a significant terrorist attack in the United States.

Remember that the brass ring” to which terrorist organizations aspire is to attack the U.S. homeland. Although it is true that military and intelligence efforts have reduced al-Qaeda’s operational safe havens, and their leadership structure has been seriously damaged, the organization remains as committed as ever to attacking the U.S. homeland. It is dangerous to dismiss al-Qaeda as a spent force. The terrorist network is said to operate in over 60 countries around the world. Their core group is disciplined, relentless, and fanatical. Osama bin Laden may be dead, but experts believe that his organization remains fully capable of, and determined to kill large numbers of Westerners and disrupt the global economy by orchestrating attacks worldwide, possibly using local groups they have recruited to do their dirty work.

In his book “Leaderless Jihad”, Dr. Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer, argued that, “the present threat has evolved from a structured group of al-Qaeda masterminds controlling vast resources and issuing commands to a multitude of informal groups trying to emulate their predecessors by conceiving and executing operations from the bottom up. According to Dr. Sageman, these “homegrown wannabes” form a scattered global network, a “leaderless jihad.” Once they have been recruited, indoctrinated and prepared, their lust for “martyrdom” makes them difficult to deter.

Consider that al-Qaeda or its off shoots will undoubtedly continue to attempt to launch their attacks until they are killed, captured, and decisively defeated. Up to this point our national counterterrorist strategy has failed to incorporate hundreds of thousands of first responders (firefighters, local law enforcement, and emergency medical personnel). They are the first to arrive at catastrophes and have an everyday presence in the communities they are sworn to protect. They traverse these areas daily, and are more likely to notice even subtle changes in the neighborhoods that they patrol. In my opinion these “first responders” should also be viewed as potential “first preventers” of terrorism, utilized as the eyes and ears of the intelligence community.

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