By Det. Carlos R. Salazar
Broward County Sheriff’s Office
Terrorism is not half a world away. It is alive and well, living and breathing in our backyards. There are those prepared to be rewarded in death for the elimination of people like you and me. They are not fearful of the authority we are empowered with to enforce our laws, nor are they fearful of pain, suffering or perishing in their quest for martyrdom.
Let that sink in.
The trenches of our battle
These enemies we face don’t understand the concept of deterrence. There is no action that can be undertaken by our military, federal government, local law enforcement or even our citizenry to deter, intimidate, dissuade, or persuade this enemy to not want to kill us. This is powerful. This is not conventional. This is the reality we face. This evil extremist mindset must be understood.
Sometimes when those on the front lines of our law enforcement community hear the words ‘terrorism,’ ‘jihadist,’ ‘suicide bomber,’ ‘bin Laden,’ ‘Al Qaeda,’ ‘Hamas,’ ‘Hezbollah,’ ‘Islamic Jihad,’ or ‘Extremism,’ the response is often without the immediacy or concern that such a topic merits. This is not to say that a front line officer would not swiftly address any reasonable suspicion or probable cause that may be encountered during the course of his or her tour of duty on the streets. A review of the record shows arrests of domestic and international terrorists alike.
The more time that passes after a terrorist event such as 9/11, the more distant the reality and magnitude becomes of a similar event occurring. Our society tends to lower its guard over time and terrorists know this about our culture. No better example of this fact exists than the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks.
As is common knowledge, Islamic Extremists detonated a bomb in the parking garage under the WTC in 1993. A handfull of victims perished and many others were injured. Osama bin Laden vowed to return and finish the job; a goal he accomplished in eight short years. We must never forget that terrorists are patient. While post-attack complacency sets in, they plot, plan, and execute their mission. No news is not always good news.
Every day, front line officers bravely and selflessly place their lives on the line to protect complete strangers from the evils of the socially and morally deviant parasites that prey upon our society. The everyday battle against terrorism on our streets has to go beyond reaction and it cannot be left solely in the hands of our Federal Government.
The responsibility and immediacy of this must remain a constant priority at the street level but the reality of an urban officer’s daily tour is consumed with responding to emergency calls such as shootings, assaults, and domestic violence. Downtime to put into action a proactive approach to disrupting terrorist activity is elusive, if not totally unrealistic to most line officers.
Terrorism, both domestically- and internationally-rooted, remains a real threat. Disruption of terrorism activities is achievable by the front line police officer. The emphasis must be in the disruption of terrorist activities, not merely the reactionary response that all officers have been duly trained to perform.
All that is needed is to go above the established intransigent law enforcement paradigms. The focus must be on battling this multi-headed snake with the approach and mindset of understanding the enemies’ ideology, believing that they are here, realizing that they are patient and believing that effectiveness can’t always be measured in tangible terms.
Political polarity aside
The various schools of thought concerning the military intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East is of no consequence for the patrol officer on our streets. Political posturing and partisan politics are best left to our elected officials and the collective consciousness of their respective constituents. Liberal, conservative, moderate or independent must be combined into a simple concept for our line officers: good guys versus bad guys.
The memory of hijacked planes crashing into buildings, and the murder of all those innocent fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, cousins, friends, neighbors… must serve as a constant reminder that this battle against terrorism is real and that our way of life is at risk.
Each and every time that I view the 9/11 attacks — and observe all those innocent Americans jumping out of the towers to their death — I am reminded of my mission statement as a police officer. There is no doubt that the effects of terrorism will at one time or another affect every officer — whether that’s on or off duty. This is where our line officers can find truth, motivation, realization, and acceptance that the battle against terrorism is real and that the battle must also be waged in our own backyards.
Funding and political support are important variables in battling this enemy in our backyard but concern for any other issues outside a police officers’ charge of duties must be left in the hands of those responsible. When the badge is worn, there is no room for opinion or rhetoric. There is only room for serving, protecting and battling this demon called terrorism. This is the message that must resonate in every roll call room around the nation. Our nation’s line officers must be focused on the things that they can change during their tour of duty and focus on doing these tasks well and consistently. There is no room for any other thoughts.
To say that terrorism will one day be defeated or that all terrorists living on our soil will some day be eradicated clouds the true reality (and magnitude) of terrorism. Our children’s children will be fighting this battle. But while terrorism will never be eliminated, it can be disrupted and controlled.
The jihad waged against the United States is a battle against a dangerous religious ideology. The goal of this jihad is our complete and utter extermination. The fatwa issued by Osama bin Laden in 1998 is clear, “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies, civilian and military, is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it...”
Where are the terrorists?
They’ve been on our soil prior to 9/11 and will continue to live among us. They eat where we do, sleep in our neighborhoods, drive on our roadways, fuel up at our gasoline stations, and complain about the weather. They blend into our society — often undetected — until it’s too late. These are the attributes that make this enemy asymmetrical, unpredictable, and dangerously effective.
They may pursue violence and crime as catalysts to best serve their intended ends but there are no blueprints for their operations. They do not follow any policy and procedures manual during their activities. They are restricted only by the limits of their imaginations.
Similar attributes hold true for Islamic Extremists and their various splinter groups and “jihadist lone actors.” Some extremists are well-funded and simply live to plan for their attack, as evidenced in the 9/11 terrorists’ pre-attack activities.
There is no better testament to the above tactics then to analyze the travels of just one of the 9/11 murderers. I prefer to label Mohammed Atta as to what he is, rather than bestowing upon him the relatively benign title of “hijacker.” He was not walking around burning the American flag. Atta lived among us, flew in and out of our country, visited many cities, ate at restaurants, and partied at bars.
Terrorist operate without any rules, while our front lines operate within the parameters of the United States Constitution, our State Constitutions, as well as policy and procedure manuals.
The street level mission
There are many stages that comprise a successful domestic or internationally rooted terrorist attack. The accepted norm for terrorist attacks is high-profile target, media coverage and many casualties. The planning stages of these attacks are optimal for law enforcement intervention. The “what” is very easily established in any law enforcement problem solving model. However, the success always dwells in the in the “how.”
Firstly, a line officer must retract from the traditional law enforcement “results oriented expectations” concerning anti-terrorism efforts. Officers are often operating in strict terms as guided by Federal and State Statute. For the street officer, a crime has been committed or it has not, there is probable cause to arrest or there is not, high-visibility will keep trouble areas quiet and no victim translates to no crime. There are no gray areas in the daily life of a street officer. Law enforcement efforts that do not readily translate to immediate results that can be measured by arrest, lower crime rates, and citizen satisfaction are rarely pursued.
There is nothing wrong with following traditional law enforcement paradigms to battle conventional crime. However, there is nothing conventional or predictable about terrorism. The line officer must think and act outside the proverbial “box” in order to understand the impact they can make in disrupting terrorism at the street level.
The line officer must also accept that there will often be no readily discernable tangible results concerning any successful efforts of fighting terrorism on the streets. In other words, traffic stops where bomb making materials are readily seen and incidents like a full-out assault on a target (i.e. Mumbai) on our streets are anomalies. Focus should always remain at being vigilant and aggressively addressing any outward suspicious activities. The disruption of terrorist activities can be more readily achieved by understanding that success on this front may never be seen or measured.
As an example, Mohammad Ata resided and planned the attacks of 9/11 within the comfort of our local South Florida communities. He and the other 9/11 terrorists trained in hand to hand combat at a local gym. These murderers had dinner in a quaint restaurant days before 9/11. Mohammad Ata was issued a criminal infraction during a traffic stop that led in a warrant being issued for his arrest. Would things have changed the course of 9/11 if Ata would have been arrested during the traffic stop, as opposed to released with a court date? Would further questioning and careful scrutiny during the inventory of his vehicle during the arrest have yielded any viable intelligence? Would the arresting officer have contacted Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a result of any suspicious intelligence obtained from Ata’s vehicle? We will never know because he was not arrested. However, this should provoke discourse among line officers and inspire them to dig deeper and engage individuals in conversation to obtain any intelligence that may trigger a sixth sense emotion of “Something’s not right here.” There will not always be a “smoking gun” when contact is made with terrorists. It is the officer’s charge to dig as deep as the law allows.
It would be impossible, unfair, and impractical to impose a “Monday Morning Quarterback” approach to what type of intervention could have been effective in the Ata matter. However, this is proof positive that many like Ata and the other 9/11 extremists live here on our soil among us and our line officers are coming in contact with these individuals on a daily basis.
The concept and underlying efforts on this front are simple. Line officers have many legal and policy limitations that dictate the scope of their enforcement activities on the streets. Extremists have none. Officers serve many masters, such as the citizenry, supervisors, elected officials and the needs of fellow officers. Extremists do not. However, there is a common asset that is shared between law enforcement and terrorists: imagination.
Line officers must focus on identifying all possible terrorist targets within their respective zones of patrol that may serve the high-profile needs of terrorists. We have all been schooled on the identification of possible terrorist targets such as schools, water supplies, food supplies, power grid stations, transportation infrastructure, government buildings, and the like. There is nothing wrong with focusing on the obvious targets and vigilance at these types of locations must never waiver. However, potential target assessment must be augmented by imagination on behalf of the officer.
Is there a difference with terrorists targeting a soft target such as a day care with forty children or an elementary school with 300? The high-profile element and horrific impact would be the same in both instances. Is there any less of an effect with terrorist targeting the food supply of a large corporate chain of grocery stores over one that is privately owned? Again, the impact sought by the terrorist will be comparable, as long as the psychological victimization impacts a large amount of people.
We value life. We love our children. We thrive on freedom and feeling safe in our daily lives. These are the things that terrorists have and will continue to target. Recall the siege that occurred on the first day of school in Beslan, North Ossetia (former Soviet Union) in 2004. Twelve-hundred children, parents, and teachers were taken hostage and more than 300 were killed.
Terrorists are not playing by our rules. They will continue to adapt to our security measures and find a way to target anything we value. The line officer must focus on combining vigilance with the proactive enforcement of topically benign matters, such as suspicious incidents, alarm calls, disturbance calls, traffic stops and citizen contacts.
During the planning stages of a terrorist attack, terrorists must live, sleep, drive, meet, gather intelligence, communicate, test, and assess target security as well as police response. It is during this planning stage that a terrorist attack can be disrupted by a proactive line officer that understands the patient composition of this asymmetrical and unconventional enemy.
Aggressive policing during routine matters can have a severe impact on disrupting the next terrorist attack. The difference between arresting someone that is loitering near a potential target and issuing a verbal warning could be a determining factor and yield a viable intangible result. This result is called disruption. The officer will never know that he/she has disrupted a terrorist related activity, yet it may transform the perception of a soft target to that of a hard one. This example can be applied to many instances where the line officer must combine his/her sixth sense along with probable cause.
Never waiver and never forget
“Know thy enemy” is a basic tenant of warfare and is not a new concept. It must be dusted off, revitalized, and revisited in order to protect our families and way of life in this asymmetrical war that is underway.
This by no means is the panacea to all that ails us on the domestic and international terrorism front. However, it should serve as vital tool to our line officers in the trenches; just as his firearm and police car do. The understanding of this enemy we face should manifest in aggressive policing of seemingly innocuous incidents where the opportunity to disrupt and possibly prevent terrorist activities dwell.
Line officers will continue to come in contact with terrorists on our soil under “innocent” or suspicious circumstances every day. The mindset must be to dig deeper and to couple probable cause to arrest with an officers trusted sixth sense that “something is just not right here.”
It is during these contacts that terrorism can be effectively disrupted. The only requirement is that the officer believes his efforts are truly making a difference, even though the success attained may never be known.
If you encounter the sentiment that terrorism is world away, remember that it is your family we are all fighting for.
Det. Carlos R Salazar is a criminal investigator with the Broward County Sheriff's Office in Broward County, Florida; currently assigned to the Dania Beach District Criminal Investigations Unit. Det. Salazar is entering his 10th year with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and has served in the capacity of Road Patrol, Narcotics Detective (Neighborhood Response Team) and currently as a Detective within the Criminal Investigation’s Division. He is a member of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) and has received numerous commendations, as well as Deputy of the Month Awards. He has been nominated numerous times for Deputy of the Year and was a recent nominee for Detective of The Year.
He is the primary contributor to the Broward Sheriff’s Office Dania Beach District newsletter where he writes concerning a wide array of law enforcement issues that impact the community.
Det. Salazar pursued his higher education while employed full time with the Sheriff’s Office and holds an Associate in Arts Degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Miami Dade College. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Florida International University (FIU) with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with specialization in Public Administration. He then continued his studies at FIU and achieved his Master of Science in Criminal Justice.
His interests are Counterterrorism, Islamo-Fascism, Domestic Terrorism, Middle East Conflict Implications, Homeland Security, Officer Safety, Constitutional Law / Legal Issues, Interviews / Interrogations, Tactical Issues, Media / Public Perception Issues, and Total Quality Management as applied to serving the community.
If asked what his greatest accomplishment to date has been, Det. Salazar will quickly tell you of his happiness in being a husband and coaching his three boys in football and baseball.