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What One (Badly Made) Bomb Can Do

Police check bags at Time Square station. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Police check bags at Time Square station. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

At first glance, Monday’s terrorist attack was truly pathetic. The terrorist, identified as Akayed Ullah, an immigrant from Bangladesh living in Brooklyn, detonated a homemade pipe bomb at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan. Ullah told police he carried out the attack in the name of ISIS.

No one was killed in the attack, although three people suffered minor injuries. The terrorist also injured himself. He has now been arrested and will face criminal charges.

The Islamic State and other terrorist groups gain legitimacy among their followers through their ability to carry out successful terrorist strikes against the West. Today’s attack merely underscored the stupidity and incompetence of the would-be-killer.

Whilst it may be tempting to gloat at just how bad terrorists are at terrorism, we shouldn’t feel too smug about it. The attack succeeded in three main ways.

 

1.It Put ISIS Back in the News

Terrorism is primarily a psychological tactic. The death count is viewed by the terrorist group as a bonus, but ISIS doesn’t genuinely expect to kill all 323 million Americans one by one. They want to push their ideological agenda by making people scared that an attack could take place anywhere and any time.

A big part of that is media driven. The Islamic State’s stated goal is to force a backlash against Muslims through repeated terrorist attacks and thereby forcing Muslims to accept ISIS as the defenders of Islam. So far it isn’t working. Despite a minor rise in anti-Muslim hate crime, America and Western countries in general remain remarkably tolerant places.

Yet, every time ISIS is in the news carrying out an attack, it chips away at societal unity and advances their agenda.

 

2.It Inconvenienced Thousands of New Yorkers

As soon as the bomb went off, police evacuated and closed the Port Authority Bus Terminal on West 42nd street. For several hours, all trains skipped that stop while police held it on lockdown. They also evacuated several nearby subway stations.

This is part of the jihadist strategy of “death by a thousand cuts.” The plan is to wear America down by repeated low-level attacks, until it eventually gives up, exhausted. The mass inconvenience caused by terrorist attacks is part of this. When people are late for work, forced to wait or reroute their journeys or otherwise made to suffer, this too is part of terrorism.

 

3.It Costs the State (A LOT) of Money

Both the FBI and the NYPD are involved in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is investigating the attack. There are a lot of people involved. Investigating something like this is a huge operation. The officers who physically shut down the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the detectives carrying out investigations, extra support teams called in for backup, all of these people have to be paid.

What about the trial? Judges and lawyers are not cheap. This is not even to mention the costs of incarcerating the suspect.

All of that money is coming straight out of your pocket, the taxpayer. With a bomb that costs no more than a few hundred dollars,  a terrorist can drain the coffers of the state by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

Monday’s terrorist was an incompetent loser. But even without killing anyone, his attack still damaged America.

 

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EF
Elliot Friedland
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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