Kenya Under Attack

Holy crap:

Sixty-eight dead. At least 175 injured. About 30 hostages still inside, as well as perhaps a dozen gunmen.

Those are the grim numbers, more than a day after Islamist attackers stormed an upscale Nairobi mall on Saturday, spraying bullets and holding shoppers captive.

The tense standoff continued into Sunday night, with sporadic gunfire heard through the day and at least one explosion.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta told reporters Sunday afternoon the Kenyan people had showed resiliency as a nation and would triumph against the attackers.

The tragedy was also personal for Kenyatta; one of his nephews and his fiancee were among the dead.

I’ve been following the story since last night but haven’t found anything to say. This is the work of Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda offshoot, and, according to reports, they sent all Muslims out before beginning the killing. So far, no Americans are among the dead but some were among the wounded.

Update: At least one American, the wife of a diplomat, is dead.

The Ongoing Threat

Thought I’d throw this out there. As you know, we are under a terror alert:

What started as an unprecedented move to close almost two dozen diplomatic posts for a day has broadened to week-long closures for most of them as the United States mulls the threat of a possible attack.

A trio of factors prompted officials to extend most of its embassy and consulate closures until Saturday: an intercepted message among senior al Qaeda operatives, the end of Ramadan, and concerns over several major prison breaks in the region.

Originally, officials decided to close 22 embassies and consulates this past Sunday — a day when they would normally be open for business.

But Sunday afternoon, the State Department extended embassy and consulate closures in 15 of the locations through Saturday, and added four other posts — all in Africa — to the list. This brings the total to 19.

There are two interpretations here. First is that the threat is genuine, or least the perception of a threat is genuine. After the disaster of Benghazi and the recent prison breaks that have released hundred of potential AQ operatives, it would be wise to take real threats seriously.

The second is that this is politics — an attempt to deflect criticism of the NSA scandal and Obama’s War on Terror polices in general. This is the interpretation that most Obama critics are taking.

Me? I think it’s likely that there’s some real information here. The significance and danger of it may be exaggerated, but I am dubious that this would be conjured up out of nothing. That having been said, I don’t like the closing of embassies for more than a week. An enhanced military presence could accomplish the same improvement in security without giving into fear.

Let’s hold breath and hope that nothing happens.

Beheading in the Streets

I’ve been tinkering with a post on yesterday’s cold-blooded murder and attempted beheading of a UK soldier by two Islamic men. But what is there to say? It was senseless, pointless, barbaric and brutal — everything we have to expect from Islamism. And while the video of these men speaking is horrific, I’m glad that people will get to see these men literally soaked in the blood of an infidel while they shout Islamic slogans. Maybe they’ll quit pretending Islamism isn’t savagery.

Three More Arrests

I’m slammed today at work, but here’s a thread to discuss the arrests today in Boston that are apparently related to the marathon attack. Right now the charge is lying to investigators. That sounds less like something they’ll be prosecuted for than it a is a charge to take them into custody while the feds figure out what to really charge them with. Reports are that they helped destroy evidence. But it’s not clear that they knew what they were doing (Tsarnaev called them when he became a suspect and asked them to throw out stuff). I suspect that Dershowitz is right and what the feds are really after is getting these guys to talk about what they may or may not know about a larger terror connection.

Updates as events warrant.

Ken from Popehat is on it:

Very briefly, the affidavit alleges that Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov saw emptied-out fireworks in accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s room, concluded that he was one of the Boston Marathon bombers, and decided to dispose of the container of hollowed-out fireworks, apparently to protect Tsarnaev. Phillipos, the FBI alleges, gave multiple statements and initially lied about what he knew of actions by Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov.

Sounds serious.

The Tsarnaev Follies

The last week has had a number of interest revelations about the two men who bombed Boston and, apparently, intended to bomb New York as well. I’ve been accumulating these articles for a week and waiting for a common thread to emerge. And I think I’ve found it.

The first thing that emerges from the reporting is that Uncle Ruslan had it right the first time he spoke to the press: these guys were losers. The elder Tsarnaev was on welfare for a while and only got off because his wife was apparently working two jobs. He has some vague boxing ambitions but doesn’t seem to have put the effort in that athletic success requires. The younger one was in school but was a genial pothead at best. While it’s possible they had some training — certainly the bombs showed an unusual degree of sophistication — they bumbled around quite a bit. They lingered around Boston, had a single gun to take on the cops and the elder brother died when his younger panicked brother accidentally ran over him trying to flee the police. Indeed, this is common in terrorists:

In describing the “adversary,” the case studies far more commonly use words like incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, inadequate, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational, foolish, and gullible. Many of the cases suggest that there is little exaggeration in the 2010 film, Four Lions, the impressive dark comedy about a band of hapless home-grown British terrorists.

Amazingly, the Boston perpetrators apparently thought they could somehow get away with their deed even though they chose to set their bombs off at the most-photographed spot on the planet at the time. Moreover, although they were not prepared to die with their bombs, they do not seem to have had anything that could be considered a coherent plan of escape. This rather bizarre inability to think about the aftermath of the planned deed is quite typical in the case studies. (Also commonly found: an inability to explain how killing a few random people would advance their cause.)

We don’t see it this way because we usually hear about terrorist success stories: 9/11, Boston, 7/7, etc. We don’t hear much about terrorists blowing themselves up with poorly designed bombs, groups hugs or stumbles over errant sheep. So I think the critical question here is not how these guys became radicalized or how they became bitter or whether their mommy hugged them enough as babies. The question is how they were able to succeed where so many of their idiotic misguided brethren failed. Was it training? Was it luck?

The other thing to emerge is that this didn’t exactly come out of left field. We received multiple warnings from the Russians who had wiretapped his mother and heard some vague jihadist murmurings. The elder brother was, in fact, on a watch list but was later taken off.

So why didn’t we pay more attention to him? Well, there are watch lists and there are watch lists. Philip Bump:

The terror watch list, as it’s known, isn’t really a watch list. For one thing, it isn’t regularly watched. For another, it’s not one list. It’s more of a set of hierarchical, integrated databases which are checked under various circumstances, most notably when individuals want to travel. According to Reuters, after he was interviewed by the FBI in 2011, Tsarnaev was added to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, which is compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center. It’s a list that comprises over half a million names. “Because of its huge size,” Reuters reports, “U.S. investigators do not routinely monitor everyone registered there, said U.S. officials familiar with the database.”

In other words, there’s a sort of pyramid of terror investigation. At the bottom of the pyramid are hundreds of thousands of people who’ve come to the government’s attention for some reason. As the FBI and other agencies look into behavior and patterns, people can move up the pyramid — fewer people evincing more suspicious behavior — winnowing to a point once held by Osama bin Laden. Or, after a determined time, people can drop out of the pyramid entirely if they don’t behave in a way that raises suspicion. That’s the track Tsarnaev was on.

This is a problem we had on 9/11 and a problem we have had since. Our government is collecting astonishing amounts of information and considers the terrorist potential of hundreds of thousands of people. But it doesn’t really seem to have a good way — 12 years on from 9/11 — of figuring out which pieces of information are useful. Afterward, we can go back and say, “Ah, here, here and here. Why didn’t we see it?” But the ability of all that intelligence to predict terrorism seems limited at best.

(There are some other issues that I regard as meaningless, such as the judge advising Dzhokhar of his right not to testify against himself.)

I was contemplating all this last night and it finally came together. These guys were nobodies. One was a bum, the other was on his way to bumhood. They were flagged as potential risks but didn’t do anything to really grab the FBI’s attention. There are questions that still need to be asked: how did they learn to build the bomb and did the FBI miss anything important? Could this have been prevented with a better approach? All that will come out.

However, based on the current information, this seems to reinforce the reality that, in the end our citizens are our best line of defense. Our citizens have succeeded where other have failed. It was citizens who stopped United 93. It was citizens who stopped Richard Reid. It was citizens who stopped the undie bomber. It was citizens who stopped the Times Square Bomber. And it was citizens who snapped the pictures and gave the testimony that nailed these guys. Homeland Security will never design a system that can catch everyone, even if we didn’t care about civil liberties. No matter how intense a police state we create, dangerous people will slip through the cracks. Our last and best line of defense is 300 million people keeping their eyes open.