Why Terrorists Aim For Big Well-Defended Targets


By Joe Campbell
May 6th, 2010

Megan McArdle asks why terrorists don’t ignore high-profile targets and instead engage in lower-level terror campaigns that would be impossible to defend against — a question I’ve heard asked often:

The best answer I’ve heard is that they don’t because it doesn’t actually serve their ends.  Their purpose is only partly to instill public terror in Americans.  They also need to raise money, and recruit more terrorists.  Those people don’t want to hear that you really scared the hell out of Plano, Texas.  They want to hear that you bombed Times Square.  Their target market, in other words, is not just Americans; it’s the folks at home.

And this is also true of domestic terrorism.  You could sow a lot of fear in federal employees by randomly kidnapping them and killing them, one at a time, then leaving a note explaining what you’d done.  It’s not like the federal government could afford 24-hour surveillance on every postal worker and passport clerk in the land.

But that’s not part of the self-image that these sorts of psychopaths cultivate.  They’re trying to touch off a revolution, not scare the bejeesus out of the portfolio managers at the FHA.  And to start a revolution, you need a bona fide act of war.

Thank God for small favors.  If all they really cared about was terrorising us, we’d be terrified, because they’d be mounting the kind of undetectable, untraceable attacks that can kill hundreds, a few at a time.  Instead, they’re still trying to top 9/11 and Oklahoma City.

[Image by MCSimon licensed under Creative Commons.]

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2 Responses to “Why Terrorists Aim For Big Well-Defended Targets”

  1. O'Neil Says:

    I would add that they seem to view NYC as America’s monument to capitalism.

  2. John Rose Says:

    I don’t think capitalism is really a big deal for most of these Islamic extremists. In general, it’s that we are interfering in the Middle East. Specifically, it’s our support for Israel, our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the liberal, secular American culture that we broadcast into their countries through the internet, movies, music, etc. The terrorists themselves don’t even really care about anything other than spreading their own version of radical Islam and establishing Sharia law throughout the world. They see attacking America as a way to garner support among their Arab neighbors who tend to have a deep resentment for the role the U.S. has played in the Middle East.

    The communism vs. capitalism thing wasn’t really a conflict endemic to the Middle East. It was just temporarily imposed on the region when the USSR and USA were duking it out for support. If anything, the conflict is really more democracy vs. dictatorship over who profits from the oil in the various Middle Eastern countries. Unfortunately, even though we are a democracy ourselves, throughout the Cold War we found it expedient in our fight against communism to support anti-communist dictators.

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