One of the chief difficulties in fighting terrorism is that terrorists have no country. They are everywhere nowhere at the same time and there is no one place on the planet where you can strike back at them. This point is vividly illustrated in the case of David Coleman Headley, the son of a Pakistani diplomat and a Philadelphia socialite, who has been charged with conspiracy to murder and maim in a foreign country and material support of terrorism.
Born in Washington and raised in Pakistan and Philadelphia, Mr. Headley was living in Chicago when he was arrested for helping to plot the murders of two editors of a Danish newspaper in Copenhagen that ran controversial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in 2005. He was arrested with dozens of videotapes of the newspaper office and the surrounding area that he was attempting to deliver to co-conspirators in Pakistan.
While in jail, Mr. Headley began cooperating with authorities on another investigation, the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that left 150 people dead, including six Americans. According to Mr. Headley, he along with Pakistani nationals, planned that attack for several years, conducting extensive surveillance and exploring the harbor for landing spots for the attackers who would be arriving by boat.
As reported by the New York Times, David Kris, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, said, “This case serves as a reminder that the terrorist threat is global in nature and requires constant vigilance at home and abroad.” It is indeed. While Mr. Headley seems to have been inspired by Islamic fundamentalism, terrorists come from many different backgrounds, countries, creeds and religions. In fact, while we usually think of terrorist threats coming from foreigners, domestic terrorism has also been on the rise in the past several years, as evidenced by recent attacks on military bases and the murder of an abortion provider by U.S. citizens.
To fight against terrorism, the vigilance that Mr. Kris calls for must extend to each and every one of us. In the years that Mr. Headley and his cohorts spent videotaping their targets, how many people do you think saw them? Probably dozens…maybe hundreds. How many people perhaps noticed them more than once as they came back again and again videotaping the buildings in Mumbai and Copenhagen and the surrounding neighborhoods? Who knows? In any large city one often sees tourists videotaping anything from their children to passing cars to pigeons. But how often does one see someone videotaping a building for an extended period of time? If even one person had noticed, considered the oddness of that behavior and what it might mean, and reported it to the authorities, the outcome in Mumbai might have been very different.