Will There Be A Christmas Terror Offensive?

Counter-terrorism officials in Britain arrested 12 men of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origins under suspicion of plotting a “large scale terror attack on targets in the United Kingdom” today, after several weeks of surveillance.

British authorities say these men are not part of a larger terrorist offensive, but based on information from captured Iraqi insurgents, the botched bombing attempt in Stockholm last week might have been.  These prisoners also warned of holiday season attacks on the United States.

CNN reported last week that an intelligence bulletin was released to state and local officials by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI, warning that “terrorists could target large crowds at holiday gatherings,” although both agencies say they have no specific information about any planned attacks.

It’s already been a lively holiday season, dating back to the Yemen cargo bombing plot around Halloween.  The domestic terror suspect who tried to carry out a jihad bombing attack in Portland, Oregon last month targeted a Christmas tree lighting ceremony.  The Stockholm bomber was on his way to blow up Christmas shoppers when his weapons malfunctioned, and he became their only victim.

The FBI report cited by CNN includes the interesting assessment that “the timing of a terrorist attack depends more on terrorists’ readiness to execute an attack rather than a desire to attack on a specific date.”  Obviously, the terror value of a high-profile attack on Christmas would be tremendous, especially since that holiday is so strongly associated with peace and family.  A wave of such attacks, coordinated throughout Europe and America, would be a jihadist fantasy come true.  It’s a great relief that we’ve been able to avoid one thus far.

Our success at shutting down holiday-season attacks helps to dispel some of the myths about global terrorism.  They’re obviously not unstoppable ghosts who can strike at will, then fade back into the general population.  Considering the degree of their desire to pull off a Yuletide attack, our ability to degrade their readiness must be substantial.  A lot of loners on the fringe must be nervous about cooperating with al-Qaeda contacts that suddenly turn out to be FBI agents, after the fate which befell the Portland and Baltimore bombers who bought their hardware from Fake Bombs Incorporated.

Coordinating a Mumbai-style massacre at soft targets shouldn’t be too complex – it’s just a matter of supplying a small team of suicidal fanatics with weapons and getting them to show up at the local shopping mall.  It’s heartening to think our counter-terror operations may have disrupted the terrorists enough to make such an operation untenable. 

We got lucky when the passengers on the Underwear Bomber’s flight were able to subdue him before he could detonate.  Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano was widely, and correctly, mocked for insisting this was proof “the system worked.”  No, proof of the system working is a holiday season without the kind of large-scale attack al-Qaeda really wants to see.  Here’s hoping we have such a safe and peaceful Christmas ahead of us.