Originally created 06/16/04

Foiling the bomb plot



Some Bush administration critics are scoffing at the bomb-plot indictment leveled this week against a Somali immigrant. Nuradin Abdi, who operates a small cell-phone business and has been under surveillance for months, has been charged in Columbus, Ohio, in a four-count grand jury indictment, with conspiring to blow up an Ohio shopping mall.

The conspiracy allegedly involved others, including a convicted al-Qaida operative who sought to sabotage the Brooklyn Bridge. The alleged conspiracy began shortly after the 32-year-old Abdi returned in March of 2000 from al-Qaida -type training camps in Ethiopia. He was prepared to wage "jihad," i.e. holy war, against the United States.

His family denies the charges, and critics note the conspiracy dates back four years and that FBI and prosecutors admit there was no imminent threat of attack when Abdi was arrested; in fact, no specific mall had even been targeted. Is this just Attorney General John Ashcroft showing off how "on the ball" he is? The case against the Somalian might be weak - and could be thrown out of court.

Maybe so; time will tell how strong the case is. But we see no harm in Ashcroft and other administration officials using the indictment to remind the nation that al-Qaida and its allied terrorists might shift away from high-profile, tightly guarded targets such as government buildings and major sporting or entertainment events to smaller, more vulnerable targets such as malls, restaurants or apartment buildings.

The reminder is worthwhile. Israel is perhaps the most security-conscious state in the world, but it hasn't stopped jihadists willing to die in suicide bomb attacks from killing and wreaking havoc on vulnerable Israeli targets.

Why couldn't that happen here? Perhaps the miracle is that it hasn't - knock on wood. And if that's so, then much credit has to go to the Bush administration for keeping Americans safe since 9-11. We'll never know how many deadly plots have been foiled, because the government can't give away its intelligence secrets. If that means some people are wrongly indicted, then so be it. Eventually the judicial system will give them justice.

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed that "soft" U.S. targets - malls, hotels, and the like - as well as high-profile targets, will continue to be safe from terrorists. Remember, our law-enforcement personnel have to be right every time. The terrorists, to make their grisly mark, only have to be right once.