Terrorist bunglers

By WND Staff

I hate hearing that yet another terrorist cell was successful. I watched the video from Kenya on the news, as a father screamed that his two sons were still in the rubble of the resort where they had come to vacation. A father of four myself, I couldn’t begin to imagine the pain as he watched the flames, and knew the truth. I hate knowing that somewhere, men and women celebrated the fact that they had committed murder against persons who only wanted to play in the ocean with their families in a beautiful country, far from the chaos of their home.

But as I thought about those events, I realized that there was a reason for good, civilized people to celebrate, too. An Israeli airliner escaped destruction when terrorists launched two missiles that missed the aircraft altogether. The airliner went home with over 200 lives that might otherwise have been mourned. Still, wonderful as that was, it wasn’t the cause for celebration I had in mind.

The source of my happiness was that somewhere in Kenya, or countries nearby, one or two terrorists were forced to explain to a very dangerous person how they could miss an airliner with not one, but two heat seeking missiles. And then explain why they left evidence at the scene when they bugged out.

A smile crept across my face as I considered it. They were probably trained in secret camps, possibly in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of dollars had been spent to transform them from murderous street thugs into murderous terrorists. Furthermore, it’s hard to tell how much money had been spent to obtain and transport the missiles involved. Money for the equipment, money for bribes, money for shipping. And then, after all of the years of training and cash outlay, they missed.

Now mind you, I was only a flight surgeon when I was in the Air Force. I never handled a missile of any type. I wouldn’t know an air-to-air missile from a surface-to-air missile. But I have to wonder, how does one miss a large, slow, hot airliner with a weapon designed to shoot down super-sonic jets?

An airliner doesn’t have active counter-measures like the flares and chaff found on an F-16. An airliner can’t spin on a dime and execute turns at 9 times the force of gravity like a fighter. Maybe the missiles were defective. Maybe the men or women launching them didn’t read the instructions. Perhaps the wind was wrong (and I’m reaching here). Perhaps they were not properly configured before launch. Possibly the vehicle from which they were launched moved. Or maybe the terrorists in question were just losers.

I have no idea. But the delicious reality is that these failed killers had to go through their list of possibilities with an angry leader. Unless they were smart and left the country immediately. Think about it. These are groups willing to blow an airliner out of the sky, willing to crash aircraft into the World Trade Center, unflinching at carrying out attacks on women and children in Israel and around the world. I suspect that explaining that particular blunder was not pretty. Maybe attaching a bomb to oneself is a safer bet, without the prospect of protracted torture as the reward for failure.

Enough fantasy. It all illustrates an important point. We have created a mystique around terrorists. The same thing happens in any war. In the old days, propagandists tried to ease our fears by making our enemies out to be cruel and stupid. We’re too kind now; too politically correct. So we forget that our enemies are humans, with human frailty. They make dumb mistakes. How many times have we heard about terrorist cell members accidentally blowing themselves up in labs? I wonder if they avoid chemical and biological weapons because of lab accidents with substances nastier than bombs. “What do you mean you didn’t turn on the ventilation? Is it hard to breathe in here, or is it just me?”

Terrorists feel pain and bleed like we do. They fail. They grow weary. They aren’t magical or invisible. And when they die, they’re gone. So whenever we see them drop the ball, we should take a moment to laugh a little, to feel good. We aren’t fighting monsters with special powers. We’re fighting people. And when we think of it that way, the war on terror isn’t so daunting after all.


Edwin Leap, MD, is an emergency physician, Department of Defense instructor in terrorism issues and contributor to the Greenville News and Physician Magazine (a Focus on the Family publication).