In the wake of recent al-Qaida-related attacks on U.S. Marines in Kuwait, a French tanker off the coast of Yemen and a horrendous bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali, President Bush told reporters Monday, "It does look like a pattern of attacks that the enemy, albeit on the run, is trying to once again frighten and kill freedom-loving people."
Apparently, President Bush wasn't referring to the murder of the freedom-loving people of the Washington, D.C., suburbs.
For once I have to admit that I am impressed with the media's restraint. When we were in the midst of anthrax mania last year, the media was completely unhinged in its speculation -understandable given the circumstances -that we were under assault by bin Laden's goons. Today, there is almost as much evidence to believe the murders taking place -not far from my home, by the way -are al-Qaida related, but the press has played down that angle almost to the point of total silence.
Now, I believe the terror attacks are probably either al-Qaida orchestrated or inspired. But I admit this is like saying "rain is likely tomorrow." If it doesn't rain it's hardly surprising. So I will not be stunned if it turns out I'm wrong.
That said, here's why I think the D.C. sniper shootings should be added to the lengthening list of al-Qaida assaults. First, the list is growing. In recent weeks there have been attacks not only in Bali and Kuwait and on the French tanker (which took place on the anniversary of the USS Cole attack) but also in the Philippines, Chechnya and Afghanistan. Also, several other terrorist assaults have reportedly been foiled in recent weeks.
Moreover, these attacks haven't been random; al-Qaida has claimed credit for these crimes. Statements in the forms of letters, audiotapes, videotapes and intercepted communications, some allegedly from Ayman al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, have explicitly detailed what amounts to a new fall offensive against the United States and its allies.
If you look at the timeline for these attacks and statements, beginning in late September, the D.C. sniper fits perfectly into the flow. Of course, it could be a coincidence. The New York Yankees got knocked out of the playoffs around the same time, but nobody thinks that was part of the al-Qaida offensive (or do they…?).
But the nature of these attacks makes a coincidence seem unlikely. First, there are reports of two men. While professional snipers tend to work in sniper teams, serial killers tend to work alone. The D.C. sniper is demonstrating many of the skills and techniques taught at al-Qaida's terrorist training camps, including hit-and-run attacks and facility with military weapons. Also, eyewitnesses say the sniper is an "olive-skinned man" -not that anyone wants to racially profile.
Also, there's the fact that the sniper attacks are in and around Washington, D.C., the nation's capital. The coincidence that this is happening at the seat of the U.S. government is relevant.
Then there's the crime itself. In the United States, sadly, serial killers seem to follow patterns dictated by either sexual desire or identity politics. The D.C. snipers aren't abducting little girls or killing black boys; their victims have been of every race, age and gender. This fact, by the way, prompted The Washington Post to run the offensive headline: "5 shooting victims reflect Montgomery's growing diversity."
In many ways, while these sniper attacks are not nearly as horrendous as the Sept. 11 attacks, they are more "terroristic" in that they are keeping people in fear for longer. The murder of a schoolboy has put many parents on edge for weeks. Even the most level-headed people (referring here to myself, of course) do a little dance or scope out the horizon when pumping gas or going shopping. This terror is precisely what bin Laden and others want.
They've spoken openly about punishing innocent Americans the way America has allegedly punished innocent Afghans and Iraqis.
This could all be hot air (it could also be the work of Saddam Hussein trying to make America change its focus back to al-Qaida). But one of the most important things to keep in mind is that al-Qaida is surely watching. For terrorism, this has been cheap and remarkably effective. And the one thing we know about al-Qaida is that it is not afraid to pick up "good" ideas wherever it finds them.