Almost 12 years ago, just after 9/11, I wrote a piece that warned how easy it would be for terrorists to attack multiple shopping centers in America, using nothing more sophisticated than standard small arms (and a relatively small number of radicals willing to die for the cause - and there are doubtless plenty of those, right here at home). The recent shooting rampage at a mall in Kenya illustrates just how devastating such an attack could be.
Now imagine the enormous carnage (both physical and financial) that would occur if committed jihadists were to mount a series of coordinated attacks at multiple locations across the nation. In a likely scenario, the terrorists would of course pick targets in major cities, but more importantly, they would also hit places like Colorado Springs, or suburban Atlanta, and perhaps even someplace as remote as Missoula, Montana.
Why? To send the unmistakable message that “there is no place where you are safe from us.” And the strategy is diabolically clever. Note how often, immediately after just about any horrible act of violence, such as a drive-by shooting, many people immediately try to rationalize that they have nothing to worry about because they “live in a nice neighborhood” or “never go to places like that.”
In the wake of any terrorist attack, it is common to hear people, especially in "heartland" states, saying things like “we have nothing to fear here. Terrorists always prefer big cities like New York or D.C.” This is “whistling past the graveyard." For example, Minnesota’s gigantic “Mall of America” is practically a monument to the very kind of capitalist excess that the jihadists despise. Anyone who seriously believes that a facility like that is not on some Al Qaeda operative's yellow legal pad, (under the heading, “potential targets”) is fooling themselves.
And a coordinated attack on multiple such venues would be devastating. Picture the non-stop, wall-to-wall coverage on all of the networks, of perhaps a dozen separate attacks, across the nation. Helicopter shots of police and SWAT teams surrounding the malls. People running in terror. Sobbing victims recounting the horrific slaughter. Shoppers would stay home in droves. The damage to our already shaky economy would be simply beyond description. It would be unprecedented.
But not unforeseeable. If I can imagine such a plan, they can, too.
Those of us who regularly carry firearms know better than most that bad things can, and do, happen. This is precisely why we constantly remind ourselves to be vigilant in our day-to-day activities. Or at least we should.
But how do we prepare for something as unanticipated as a suicide attack on our favorite shopping mall? After all, statistically at least, the odds are staggeringly low that we will ever find ourselves in such a situation. Winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning are each probably more likely.
Yet people do win the lottery. Lightning does kill people. And while rape, armed robbery, and other violent assaults are also statistically unlikely to happen to any of us, they do happen, every day.
Realistically, there’s not much that we as individuals can do to prevent such attacks, unless we happened to notice some AK-toting bad guys getting out of a van just outside the entrance to a shopping mall. Even then, would we overcome our natural tendency to tell ourselves, “it’s probably just a security drill” or would we immediately call the police?
Most of us already practice situational awareness when it comes to potential criminal activity, but we can all strive to be just a bit more vigilant about less obvious threats as we go about our day.