Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Responding to the NY/NJ bomb attacks

The bombs that exploded in Manhattan and those found, but not exploded, in Manhattan and in New Jersey seem now to be the work of one man, who is in police custody.   So far, the evidence the police have released points to this being an individual's work and not directly sponsored by a terrorist organization.  (see update below].  Twenty-some people were injured, but no one died.  All were released after hospital emergency treatment.  Still, this has had a major impact.  Because it reminds us we are vulnerable.

The suspect is 28 year old Ahmad Khan Rahami, a naturalized U.S. citizenborn in Afghanistam and immigrated as a child with his family.   He works in his family's fried chicken restaurant in New Jersey.   A friend told reporters that Ahman was always friendly and generous but that he had changed recently, becoming "more serious."  Nothing has yet been released as to whether he may have been in contact with radical groups on the internet.

I have nothing but praise for the first responders and law enforcement agencies involved.  The explosion happened around 8:30 Saturday evening.   By early Monday morning, investigators had learned the identity of a man seen on video surveillance tapes putting the device in the dumpster in New York.  They had also concluded, because of similarity of materials used, that the bombs in New York and those found in New Jersey were probably the work of the same person. 

The NYPD used an emergency internet alert (like a Megan alert, presumably) to put out a "wanted" mugshot and the name of the suspect around 8:00 am on Monday.  They asked for anyone who knew anything to get in touch.  A bar owner recognized that the picture and the man sleeping in the entry of his bar were the same -- and called the police.   Shortly after 11:00 am, the suspect was captured in Linden, New Jersey, after a gun fight that wounded two officers.   He was taken into police custody and charged with attempted murder.    That is extraordinarily efficient, great work by all involved.

Mayor DeBlasio and his police and fire commissioners are to be applauded for keeping the situation under control and for keeping the city calm.   President Obama, too, by reminding us with his calm manner and words not to give in to the fear that terrorists seek to foment in us, leading us to change the way we live our lives.

How did our presidential candidates respond?   Apparently Donald Trump thinks political advantage trumps leadership.  He issued a warning that "this is only going to get worse. . .  It's a mess, and it's a shame, and we're going to have to be very tough."   He also was quick to speculate that there must be "foreign connections."   And, of course, being who he is, he had to put himself into the spotlight, telling Fox News that "I called it," referring to his immediate response on Saturday night, before there was any evidence of what caused the explosion, that "it was a bomb."

The fact that we all thought it probably was, and that he turned out to be right about that, does not alter the fact that he did not display the kind of leadership we need in a crisis.   Where President Obama exuded strength and calm, Trump fanned the flames of fear and provocative behavior.  It is a well known fact that ISIS uses videos of Trump making inflammatory comments about Muslims as a recruitment tool.  It also tends to alienate our Muslim allies that we need in this fight against ISIS.

And, just as expectedly, he has tried to make political gain with it ever since -- ramping up his call for stricter immigration policies and even raising the question of free speech, toying with the idea of making it illegal to print bomb-making instructions.  " . . . you buy magazines and they tell you how to make the same bombs that you saw. . . .  now people will go crazy, they'll say Trump is against freedom of the press.  I'm totally in favor of freedom of the press. . . . [But ] Those people should be arrested because they are inciting violence, OK. They are making violence possible. They should be arrested immediately. They have websites that tell how to make bombs, how to make all sorts of things that are totally destructive, and you know where they are coming from, and yet we don't want to touch them because of freedom of speech."

[pause to clear the air]

Hillary Clinton had a very different response.   On Saturday night, she issued a simple statement expressing concern and calling for calm and waiting for evidence before drawing conclusions.    On Monday, with that evidence available, she stressed her experience in dealing with terrorists as Secretary of State and of being part of decisions that the president had to make about fighting terrorists on the battlefield.  She denounced Trump's response as "demagogic" and "irresponsible, reckless rhetoric."   She also urged not villainizing the millions of law-abiding, peaceful Muslims living in our country.  "We are going after the bad guys and we are going to get them, but we are not going to go after an entire religion and give ISIS exactly what it is wanting," Clinton said.   It was noted in some news releases that Clinton has "given speeches on defeating terror multiple times throughout the 2016 campaign, including policy-focused addresses in Minneapolis and New York earlier this year."

Yes, but . . . .   Tomorrow (unless something else preempts the news) I plan to post a thought-provoking article that takes a somewhat different point of view:   "Clinton is correct, but Trump understands the public's concern."   That's the political conundrum.


Late update:   It's now known that Ahman Rahami traveled to Pakistan three times in recent years, staying with family there.  It's also said that he has a wife there, who has been cleared to come to the U.S.

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