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While the FBI stated it has found no evidence Islamic terrorism was a motive in the Salt Lake City mall shooting, investigators have not ruled it out, a police spokeswoman told WND.
FBI agent Patrick Kiernan declared to reporters Wednesday he had no reason to believe the random, dispassionately executed murder of five people by 18-year-old Bosnian Muslim immigrant Sulejman Talovic Monday night had anything to do with Islamic terrorism, calling it “just unexplainable.”
But Salt Lake Police spokeswoman Robin Snyder told WND the FBI is still working with her department on the case, and investigators continue to explore the terrorism angle.
“We will pursue every single lead,” she said. “There is not one lead we are not willing to pursue. At this point, we don’t have any idea of any motive. Nothing is ruled out.”
Snyder told WND, however, she was not aware family members say Talovic often attended Friday prayers at the Al-Noor mosque, about a block from the site of the shooting, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Talovic stopped coming to the meetings in December, the paper said yesterday, when, under pressure from his father, he got a full-time job to help support the family.
Al Noor mosque in Salt Lake City
Bruce Tefft, a former CIA counter-terrorism official who advises the New York City Police Department, told WND he was “flabbergasted” by the FBI’s statement that it saw no possible connection to terrorism.
Nevertheless, Tefft – a founding member of the CIA’s counter-terrorism center in 1985 – said the FBI’s quick downplaying of terror ties in such cases is all too familiar and believes spokesman Kiernan probably was embarrassed by his statement.
“It’s almost a joke in any counter-terrorism circles that within half a day of most unexplained incidents the FBI comes out and says it isn’t terrorism,” he said. “They’ll come out with a conclusion based on no information.”
Kiernan did not reply to WND’s request for comment.
Harvey Kushner, a counter-terrorism adviser to the federal government, told WND he also sees the FBI’s response as typical.
“It follows a pattern where media, and often even law enforcement itself, would rather dismiss it as an act of a crazed gunman and ignore the person’s background, his religious beliefs,” said Kushner, chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at Long Island University and author of “Holy War on the Home Front: The Secret Islamic Terror Network in the United States.”
Tefft pointed out, however, the FBI’s continued presence in the investigation is an indication the terrorism angle is still being pursued. President Reagan, beginning in 1985, made the FBI the lead agency in all terrorism-related cases, he explained.
Some analysts have posed the possibility that since the objective of terrorism, after all, is to terrorize the public, the U.S. government has attempted to diffuse or take away its effect by publicly dismissing it as a source of violent acts.
Tefft says there is some logic to that, but believes if it were true, it “would show more intelligence in the psychological warfare arena than we’ve shown to date.”
When the FBI uses extreme groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations as sensitivity trainers, “that’s ignorance and political correctness, that’s not a deliberate psychological warfare tactic,” he said.
“I suspect they are just being politically correct to avoid a backlash by Muslims,” said Tefft.
Kushner said that often, when a story such as the Salt Lake shooting is no longer on the front pages of the paper, the FBI will change the analysis of the act and label it terrorism.
One example, he said, was the case of Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, an Egyptian national who killed two people and wounded three others July 4, 2002, at a ticket counter for the Israeli national airline El Al at Los Angeles International Airport. Shortly after the incident, an FBI spokesman said “there’s nothing to indicate terrorism,” and another FBI official said, “It appears he went there with the intention of killing people. Why he did that we are still trying to determine.” Later, the agency ruled it a terrorist attack.
Kushner pointed to a number of cases dating back to the early 1990s of men who became increasingly radicalized under the influence of Islamism and confounded friends and relatives with an act of cold-blooded violence aimed at random victims.
The Salt Lake killer was praised as a good, quiet person by family, and his father, Suljo Talovic, told local KUTV-TV he couldn’t make sense of his son’s violence.
“I think somebody push him. I don’t know. I’m almost crazy with what happened,” he said. “Maybe somebody sell gun or give gun.”
Sulejman Talovic’s aunt, Ajka Omerovic, discounted theories he may have had lingering psychological effects from the war in Bosnia, telling the Salt Lake Tribune: “We all suffered things in war, but, no, we didn’t have anything.”
Recent examples of what Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes has termed “Sudden Jihad Syndrome” include Naveed Afzal Haq of Pasco, Wash., who broke through security at the Jewish Federation Center in Seattle last July and announced to staff members: “I’m a Muslim American; I’m angry at Israel.” The 30-year-old immediately began shooting randomly, killing a woman and wounding five others. An FBI spokesman called it a case of a “lone individual acting out his antagonism. … There’s nothing to indicate that it’s terrorism-related.”
Last March, 22-year-old Iranian student Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar went on a driving rampage on the campus of the University of North Carolina, injuring nine people. As Islam scholar Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch, notes, the Iranian said in a court appearance he was “thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah.” He also wrote letters to newspapers presenting Quranic justification for his attacks, but officials ruled out terrorism.
In October 2005, 21-year-old student Joel Hinrichs blew himself up outside the University of Oklahoma’s football stadium where 84,000 were watching a game. Police insisted it was merely a suicide, but investigators found “Islamic Jihad” material in his apartment, and he reportedly attended a nearby mosque – the same one attended by Zacharias Moussaoui, the only person charged in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In January 2004, after apparently undergoing a religious awakening, a Saudi Arabian student in Houston killed his Jewish friend by slashing his throat. Mohammed Ali Alayed, 23, pleaded guilty to the Aug. 6 attack on Ariel Sellouk, also 23, who almost was decapitated with a knife.
Houston police said no clear motive had been established, but Alayed went to a local mosque after the slaying.
In a high-profile case, Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad, a convert to Islam, went on a deadly shooting spree in the Washington, D.C., area in October 2002.
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