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Armed civilians can
help fight terrorism

By Massad Ayoob

Massad Ayoob

Issue #90 • November/December, 2004

This article was written before terrorists seized a school in Beslan, a town in North Ossetia, one of the small republics that make up the modern Russian Federation. The terrorists took more than 1200 hostages and, by the time the ensuing siege ended, at least 335 of them, mostly children, were dead. As Mr. Ayoob points out, terrorists care not a bit for the lives of innocents, including children. But he also points out, in this article, that one of the most effective counters to terrorism is when the innocents themselves are armed. — Editor


It will happen like this. The story, by the way, is true and has already happened.

"At 7:50 a.m., near the highway's third traffic light and by a row of shops called the White House Plaza, the Toyota minivan was waiting for the light to change when a yellow-painted taxicab overtook the consulate car and stopped at a sharp angle in front of it. Two men, both carrying Chinese-made AK-47 7.62mm assault rifles, calmly emerged from the cab, raised their weapons, and unleashed a point-blank, furious fusillade at the minibus and its passengers. One of the gunmen fired into the front of the vehicle, peppering the windshield with nearly twenty 7.62mm holes. The second man, who eyewitnesses reported as bearing down on the sliding door of the minibus in text-book assault position, unleashed a banana-clip magazine's worth of ammunition straight into the van, killing Mrs. Van Landingham and Mr. Durell."

That incident did not happen in the United States. It took place in Karachi, Pakistan, on Wednesday, March 8, 1995. The account comes from Relentless Pursuit, the 2002 book about the hunt for Al-Qaeda terrorists written by Samuel M. Katz. Notes Katz, "It was the kind of operation the Mujahadeen had carried out so many times in Afghanistan, ambushing Soviet officers in Kabul."

They don't need airplanes to crash into skyscrapers. Many in the world intelligence community have been predicting that the next wave of Al-Qaeda attacks in the USA will take place on a much smaller scale, and in the heartland: the rural areas and small towns so cherished by the readers of Backwoods Home Magazine.

The next major terrorist target in the United States might be in 'the heartland' instead of New York City.
The next major terrorist target in the United States might be in "the heartland" instead of New York City.

Perhaps afflicted with the attention span of a fish, some pundits have implied that it's paranoid to worry about further attacks. They say there is no evidence that terrorists are here.

The clueless should not talk about evidence. Mohammad Atta and the rest of the September 11, 2001 skyjacker team had long dwelt among us in this country as a sleeper cell. It was a carefully crafted operation of significant size. Believing that it cannot happen again is a manifestation of wishful thinking.

The fact is, there is strong reason to believe that it most certainly is going to happen again. The Israeli intelligence-gathering group DEBKA reported on May 26 of 2004: "Several sleeper cells are also known to have infiltrated the United States in ship's containers in 2003 and early this year. Some of these containers were spotted at important US ports with signs of occupation by men with weapons and explosives who were never caught. They may have been decoys to distract attention from landings of large parties of armed terrorists on American shores, whom intelligence sources believed headed undetected for safe houses inland to await orders to strike."

DEBKA noted in the same bulletin: "Our sources add that American and foreign counter-terror and intelligence agencies are also hunting for Midaat Mursi, known as Abu Khabab, prominent member of al Qaeda's operational partner, the Egyptian Jihad Islami, who is considered the organization's top expert on radiological bombs. Mursi heads a number of terrorist rings who may have been instructed to infiltrate the United States through Canada for a dirty bomb attack. They may have made the crossing already."

As to the "dirty bomb" thing, the tidbit has been going around through the intelligence community for years now that Osama bin Laden is in possession of multiple "suitcase nukes" acquired through rogue elements of the former Soviet Union military. These would be more likely to be employed near large population centers.

The face of the enemy

We have seen the patterns of terrorist attack in other countries, with Israel being the paradigm. Suicide bombings, car bombings, and mass murder attempts in public places with firearms, such as the Karachi incident recounted at the beginning of this article.

The deaths of unarmed men, women, and children do not concern the perpetrators. Naive observers feel that this is not going to happen because their reading of the Moslem faith is that such killings are strictly forbidden. That is my understanding also. The problem is, we are not dealing with strict Moslems. We are dealing with fanatics and radicals whose faith has been cruelly misinterpreted by their leaders and twisted against them as well as against us.

Even the humble .22 can save the day if a shot is coolly placed in the right spot. This is the Smith & Wesson .22 Kit Gun, a favorite of backwoods people since before WWII.
Even the humble .22 can save the day if a shot is coolly placed in the right spot. This is the Smith & Wesson .22 Kit Gun, a favorite of backwoods people since before WWII.

In the wake of the brutal murder of American hostage Paul Johnson, Jr. in June of 2004, King Abdullah II of Jordan was quoted by Beth Gardiner of Associated Press from an address he delivered over Jordan Radio. Said the king, "These evil acts are not only aimed against the United States and the West, but also against Islam and humanity."

Researchers David Benjamin and Steven Simon were able to access the deposition of a captured member of Al-Qaeda. In the following passage, he talks about his training and what he was told by the spiritual leader who was in charge of his terrorist cell:

"He said that our time now is similar like in that time, and he say ibn al Tamiyeh, when a tartar come to Arabic war, Arabic countries that time, he say some Muslims, they help him. And he says ibn al Tamiyeh, he make a fatwah. He said anybody around the tartar, he buy something from them and he sell them something, you should kill him. And also, if when you attack the tartar, if anybody around them, anything, or he's not military or that—if you kill him, you don't have to worry about that. If he's a good person, he go to paradise and if he's a bad person, he go to hell."

What this individual is expressing, literally, is an ethos of "kill them all and let God sort them out."

There is, really, only one answer. The threat must be interdicted. The Israelis figured out long ago that there's no point in taking at gunpoint a subject who considers himself to be on a "martyrdom operation," as Osama bin Laden has called his trademark type of merciless attack against the helpless. When a criminal suspect is taken at gunpoint by a police officer, a security professional, or a law-abiding armed citizen, what is happening is essentially a kind of negotiation.

In negotiation, as we all know, a form of bargaining is taking place. We give something we can afford to give, to gain something that we genuinely need. At gunpoint, we are implicitly saying to the criminal, "If you cease what you are doing which endangers us, we will let you live." We can afford to lodge him at society's expense in a penitentiary (or, if we are not police, to let him escape) in return to his obedience to the command to cease hostility. On his side of the deal, he is allowed to live unharmed in return for ceasing his dangerous behavior, which forced us to point deadly weapons at him.

This particular negotiation breaks down, however, when what we offer in return for what we need is something the other party doesn't particularly want. The fanatics of Al-Qaeda and their sympathizers have repeatedly said that where our culture loves life, theirs loves death. The volunteers call themselves martyrs, and expect to sit at the side of their god and be rewarded with a few dozen virgins in the afterlife as a result of their actions. Therefore, they do not fear death, and cannot be bargained with like a criminal who wants to live.

Only one type of "negotiation" is possible. If what we need is the safety of the innocent, and what the terrorists want is death, suddenly the trade seems feasible after all.

This is why the Israelis have learned to shoot first and discuss the matter later when the explosives or the guns come out in the hands of the other side. Not long ago, a woman in a market in Israel saw a man attempting to activate an explosive device strapped to his body. She drew a concealed pistol and shot him dead before he could trigger the suicide bomb, and in so doing she saved countless innocent people from being killed or mutilated. American newspapers referred to her as a "security" person, but the word I get is that she was simply an ordinary lady...with a gun, and the will to use it, and the foresight to have learned to use it properly and effectively.

Many years before, a clutch of terrorists opened fire in a public place in Israel. Guns bloomed everywhere from the concealing garments of honest Israeli citizens. In moments, the terrorists were on the ground bleeding from their gunshot wounds, all dead but one. The wounded survivor said indignantly afterward that no one had told them that their victims might be armed and capable of shooting back.

After the massacre at the Maalot school decades ago, the Israelis developed the policy of having plainclothes volunteer guards in the schools, armed with concealed handguns. They were not hired gun security specialists, but parents and grandparents who had signed up to help protect their children and those of the community. They were trained with their firearms by the civil guard. Since that time, there was no wholesale murder of children in an Israeli school. The one such incident happened on a field trip outside the country, where it would have been known to the murderers that the adult chaperones were not allowed to take the weapons they carried in Israel. Last year, a terrorist gunman opened fire in an Israeli school, and was cut down by civilian volunteer gunfire before he could accumulate a significant death toll.

A little 'snub-nose .38' like this ended the depredations, and the life, of urban terrorist Twymon Myers. This one is the ubiquitous Smith & Wesson Chiefs Special, in production since 1950 and weighing some 19 ounces with five-shot capacity.
A little "snub-nose .38" like this ended the depredations, and the life, of urban terrorist Twymon Myers. This one is the ubiquitous Smith & Wesson Chiefs Special, in production since 1950 and weighing some 19 ounces with five-shot capacity.

The June 2004 issue of the Gottlieb-Tartaro Report carried the following item under the headline Armed Israeli Citizens Help Curb Terrorists: "Israel's police spokesman Gil Kleiman says that citizens who carry their own guns are helping to curb the damage terrorists can inflict by being able to stop a terrorist situation. 'We've seen it time and time again,' said Kleiman. 'Armed civilians who are well trained can save people's lives. If there isn't a policeman, civilians can deal immediately with a terrorist.'" Emphasis is Gottlieb's and Tartaro's.

We need to remember, too, that all terrorism is not political. Two psychopathic teens inflicted a huge toll of death and tragedy at Columbine High School, acting out a sick agenda that was personal rather than political or religious. In Pearl, Mississippi, a young man in a similar state of mind murdered his mother with a knife to gain control of his estranged father's deer rifle, which he then took to school. He shot several students, and was in the act of driving toward a nearby junior high school with the gun and a quantity of ammunition when he was interdicted at gunpoint by a courageous assistant principal who had retrieved a Colt .45 semiautomatic from his pickup truck in the parking lot.

NACOP, the National Association of Chiefs of Police, came up with some figures that are on point to this issue in their recent 16th Annual Survey of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs, which was posted June 15, 2004. Jim Kouri, identified as Vice President and Public Affairs Specialist for NACOP, noted that the survey results differed from the public's perception that most police executives in this country frown upon the idea of citizens fighting back. "When police chiefs and sheriffs are allowed to respond to poll questions anonymously, the politics may be removed from their answers," Kouri explained.

Some extracts from the results of that survey:

"When asked if the United States would be attacked by terrorists within the next year, 88.2 percent said yes. Meanwhile 64 percent of police commanders said they received training and other resources from the federal government to combat terrorism, while only 42 percent said their departments participated in terrorism-response simulations."

Also, "With regard to private citizens owning firearms for sport or self-defense, 94 percent of the respondents supported civilian gun-ownership rights. Ninety-six percent of the police chiefs and sheriffs believe criminals obtain firearms from illegal sources and 91 percent revealed they hadn't arrested anyone for violation of the so-called 'waiting period' laws. When asked if they opposed citizens obtaining concealed-weapons permits, only 34 percent said yes."

We've seen the future

We are a nation of hundreds of million of citizens, equipped with only a few hundred thousand police officers. Clearly, the cops can't be everywhere at once.

Obviously, any citizen should report suspicious behavior. That's not paranoia or fascism; under the circumstances, it's just common sense.

No, citizens won't spot a guy in a kafiyeh setting the timer on a small nuclear device. However, citizens do spot smaller things that can have a bearing. 9/11 suicide squad leader Mohammed Atta allegedly got into a road rage incident en route to the original airport from which he flew to Boston to transfer onto the fateful flight that terminated at the Twin Towers. If a cell phone call to police had summoned authorities in time, the course of history might have been changed.

The 1911 style .45 caliber semiautomatic is the classic American fighting pistol. This one is a Kimber CDP.
The 1911 style .45 caliber semiautomatic is the classic American fighting pistol. This one is a Kimber CDP.

Now, if a man carrying a boxcutter and intending to slash throats, commit mass murder, and die himself that day should find himself embroiled in a shouting match with an angry motorist who appears about to call people who can "come and take him away," he is not likely to just drive off. This is yet another reason for competent, responsible people to consider going armed.

More states than ever now authorize concealed carry of handguns. Vermont, the one state that has traditionally allowed that practice without any requirement for a permit or license, has recently been joined in that by an enlightened state of Alaska. More states than ever have reciprocity in this regard, that is, will accept concealed carry authorization issued by other states. Your best constantly-current source on the national concealed carry gun law situation is the web-site www.packing.org.

Choice of equipment

The citizens of Israel have proven that you don't need exotic counter-terrorist equipment to deal with scumbags who open fire on the innocent. The typical gun used there successfully by armed citizens is the ordinary 9mm semiautomatic pistol, of any of several makes. The key thing is that it be reliable. Be sure to load it with jacketed hollow point ammunition. It is designed to open up inside an offender's body and lodge there, instead of tearing out the other side and homing in on an unseen bystander located behind the attacker and out of the shooter's line of sight. The hollow point is also a more decisive "manstopper." In shooting after shooting in Israel, terrorists have had to be shot again and again and again before they ceased their hostile actions, because the typical full metal jacket ammunition used there just punches a narrow wound profile like an ice-pick and does not deliver as much energy to surrounding tissues as does the American style bullet with the hollow cavity.

.45 caliber is a traditional American choice, and it's no trick to teach even a small person to use one effectively. This powerful round has a good reputation for one-shot stops on violent human aggressors. Again, hollow points should be the choice of ammunition. The .45 kicks harder than the 9mm and so, for some, will warrant more training and practice time to gain competency. The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is partial to the .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol.

Frankly, the good old-fashioned six-shooter will probably do well enough. Back in the 1970s, a task force of NYPD detectives and Federal agents shot it out with one Twymon Myers, a domestic terrorist believed at the time to have been the last surviving member of the Black Liberation Army, whose signature attack was the ambush murder of uniformed police officers. Myers had wounded multiple lawmen in the firefight with his 14-shot Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol, and was trying to get to heavier firepower in his attaché case, and a hail of gunfire from cops armed with everything from 9mm automatics to Magnum revolvers had failed to put him down. Police lore has it that, before Myers could dump his empty pistol and get into his case, a grizzled New York City detective leaned out from cover and carefully squeezed off a single shot from his 1950-style .38 Special revolver. The 158-grain non-hollow point bullet punched through Myers' heart and dropped him like a rock. Inside the case the terrorist had with him were a Colt .357 Magnum revolver and a 9mm German Schmeisser submachine gun, both fully loaded.

Indeed, even a .22 is better than nothing at all. The .22 caliber Beretta pistol issued by Mossad has gotten many an Israeli intelligence agent out of dangerous circumstances.

Self-reliant people prepare for storms even if there haven't been any for a while. There hasn't been a real storm on these shores since 9/11 at this writing, but the storm warnings are clear and urgent.

The Federal government is preparing for the next wave of attacks. So is local law enforcement.

This means that the rest of America needs to prepare for it, too.




Read More by Massad Ayoob

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