Thirteen years after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City, killing thousands and crippling the nation’s economy and sense of safety, the U.S. is pushing forward in the ongoing battle against terrorism, and facing it on many fronts.
Scripps National Desk spoke in an exclusive interview with Kevin Mellott, terrorism expert and CEO of ERASE Enterprises, about the anniversary of Sept. 11 and the imminent threat posed by ISIS.
Should the United States be worried about a repeat attack on Sept. 11? According to Mellott, it’s a possibility.
“The whole concept of terrorism is to surprise people, and to attack innocents and noncombatants,” Mellott said. “Would an attack on September 11 be a surprise? No, it’s an anniversary. But keep in mind, for the desired effect of an attack, a terrorist group needs media coverage. So right up front, that motivation, that media coverage is there.”
When terrorists chose 9/11 to attack the U.S., they may have chosen that date for a specific reason, and if so, might choose that date again.
Mellott substantiates this by stating the period of Sept.10-13 was identified by U.S. intelligence to be a specific date of concern as early as the mid-1990s.
On Sept. 13, 1993, Yasser Arafat, then-Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accord at the White House, in an attempt to set up a framework to lead to the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The accords were developed during the Madrid Conference of 1991. Arafat and Rabin were famously photographed shaking hands in front of Bill Clinton at the White House on Sept. 13. Fanatics in the Middle East were very bent out of shape at the perceived photo op of the U.S. President forcing sworn enemies to shake hands, according to Mellott, who was training Saudi military in the Middle East at the time.
Both men would die in the next 11 years, perhaps as a result of this accord: Rabin was assassinated after a public event in 1995, and Arafat fell ill and died in 2004. Many believe he was poisoned.
Domestic targets for terrorist attacks
If ISIS strikes in the U.S. soon, one target favorable to them would be against the U.S. military, as an ultimate show of what it can do, Mellott said.
“It could also be a shopping mall in Texas, Tennessee, California; a movie theater, sporting event, anything that is a public group that would cause maximum impact psychologically across the U.S.,” Mellott said.
“What was so terribly impactive in New York was the feeling of ‘That could’ve been me in my office building.’”
Targets that other people can relate to have more PR value for the terrorists. And terrorists are aware of how easy it is to enter the country through its south border, Mellott said.
One of the most frightening aspects of the ISIS organization is it has done exactly what it said it would do, so far.
“They’re not afraid of carrying out threats,” Mellott said. “They’ve already given us a warning: If you don’t stop attacking, we’re going to kill. And they kept their word when they beheaded Sotloff.”
ISIS kicked out of Al-Qaeda
It’s common knowledge the fundamentalist group ISIS was formerly Al-Qaeda in Iraq. It renamed and rebranded, as any smart corporation would. What’s less-widely known, according to Mellott, is the reason it was kicked out: Members will kill anybody, including fellow Muslims.
ISIS is willing to look back at the time before Saladin, before the Islamic armies were united and began to fight Christian armies during the Crusades, back to when Arab tribes were fighting each other and killing each other, and they justify it in that way, he said.
“They’ve got a history of killing each other off- they don’t care about killing Sunnis,” Mellott said. “How long is the fight? As long as it needs to be.”
This is where the differences between ISIS and Al-Qaeda become critical for Western countries, Mellott said. Because ISIS will kill anyone, it could use a chemical or biological weapon anywhere, on any day, without warning. With Al-Qaeda, according to Mellott, they would likely try to avoid killing faithful Muslims -- so if it was going to release a weapon in a stadium, it would be on a Muslim holy day, when no good faithful would be present.
For ISIS, because members will kill anyone, they could use a chemical weapon on any day.
But the real threat, according to Mellott, is that of a biological weapon.
“A chemical weapon released at ground zero kills 100 percent at the site. As you move farther away from the location, the impact is diluted. With a biological weapon, the effect is the opposite. You infect one person, who spreads contamination to 50 more people, who each spread contamination to even more people. Since you can’t control it, Al-Qaeda would never use it,” Mellott said. “ISIS would use it, because they don’t care.”
American attitudes vs. Middle Eastern attitudes
Most Americans have a very short version of history, they recall about 48 hours and move on, Mellott said. If the history of the United States is examined, one can see that the country is motivated by moving forward and innovating, and is in a constant mode of “What’s next?”
In the case of terrorist organizations, the United States is dealing with individuals who have a very different mindset.
“Terrorists are trying to promote a political agenda, produce a lifestyle change, change religious beliefs, or are working for monetary gain,” Mellott said.
“Islamic radicals are zealous for jihad, they look backward to the time of the Grand Caliph. They look backward, our current population looks forward. We don’t understand their commitment to the fight, their history they are emulating, when they did beat back other armies, religions and succeeded.”
“If this war takes a thousand years, for them, it’s OK, because they think ‘We will win in a thousand years.’”