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May 6, 2010 Volume 31, No. 30

Terrorism expert: Times Square bombing a ‘copycat’

terrorism training

Incident emphasizes need for better intelligence and training

After discovering a car bomb in a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder parked in Times Square this weekend, officials are investigating possible motives, including a claim of responsibility issued by a Pakistani Taliban group. On May 3, authorities arrested the car’s owner as he attempted to board a jet to leave the country.

An MU terrorism expert says evidence indicates that this is likely a copycat effort by either domestic terrorists or radical Islamic individuals acting on their own.

“It is not surprising that a SUV packed with explosives threatened Times Square,” says Paul Wallace, professor emeritus of political science. “Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal Murrah Building in Oklahoma City 15 years ago. Fortunately, this time, the explosive effort misfired due to lack of professional knowledge. This suggests that this is a copycat effort by an individual or group that reflects domestic terrorism or one sympathetic to al-Qaida.”

Wallace says that al-Qaida also is a possibility for the attack but more likely as an icon rather than a coordinated effort.

“Al-Qaida now is being described as a decentralized ‘network’ providing inspiration, some training and occasional assistance,” Wallace says “Most often, local groups and individuals throughout the world use al-Qaida as inspiration to take action on their own. The Times Square aborted bombing seems to fall into either the domestic terrorism or radical Islamic action on its own. It does emphasize the need for better intelligence, as well as continued training for first providers, such as police, fire and health personnel.”

Domestic terrorism is fueled by radical U.S. elements, including militia groups such as the Hutaree group that surfaced in early March. Group members planned to kill a policeman and then set off a bomb at the subsequent funeral. The F.B.I. discovered and prevented that effort before any action took place, Wallace says.

“The date planned for the attack  is significant historically,” Wallace says. “April 15 was the date of the Battle of Lexington  in 1775, Ruby Ridge siege involving Randy Weaver  in 1992, David Koresh and the Dravidian cult in Waco, Texas, in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah federal building in 1995.”

Wallace has been a member of MU’s faculty since 1964. He has taught a course about terrorism, Terrorism: Ethnic, Religious and Ideological Politics. He has written numerous articles and chapters on the subject. In 2003, he served as an expert witness at the Air India trial in Vancouver, British Columbia. He also serves on the editorial and advisory board for the annual edition of Violence and Terrorism published by McGraw-Hill/Dushkin.