Sniper fits profile of terrorist

October 22, 2002|By Irwin J. Mansdorf

RA'ANANA, Israel - Following the news these days isn't very encouraging for those that thought al-Qaida was finished.

Marines attacked in Kuwait, a tanker blasted in Yemen, a nightclub struck in Bali, bombs in the Philippines. Doesn't seem to be much doubt that terror is alive and kicking. Just read the papers, listen to the radio or watch television. For those who thought Osama bin Laden and cohorts were gone, a rude awakening is in place.

So when someone is wreaking havoc and sniping away in the suburbs of America's capital, why is it that no one thinks of this as terror? To be sure, we know we are being targeted, but it seems that it is time to begin using a broader definition for what constitutes "terror."

People in the Washington area are now unwilling characters in a grade B horror flick. The maniac is on the loose and we are all the actors. Like the frightened teen-agers in a Halloween movie, people look over their shoulders when pumping gas, parking their cars or simply standing out in the open. No one is to be trusted, and that's just not the American way.

Anytime, anywhere, any way - those are the three "A's" of terror. And nowhere does this apply more than to what is being played out in and around Washington these days. Wake up in the morning and face life, but never with any certainty that you or those close to you will be home later that evening.

Who is this sniper? Well, this sniper is a terrorist.

Much as we look at the person sitting next to us on the plane and wonder if there is a bomb in his shoe, we now stop at intersections and suspiciously eye the driver next to us. Whether al-Qaida or not, this terrorist has also made Americans feel and act in ways they never thought possible.

Like the spree killers of the past, profilers are telling us that "our" sniper is a person seeking attention, angry at something, and someone who relishes the cat-and-mouse game being played with law enforcement. This sniper seems to be cut from the same mold as Los Angeles' late 1970s "Hillside Strangler," New York's "Son of Sam" and Jeffrey Dahmer.

While the profilers may ultimately be right, what they all seem to be missing is that we now have a new type of terrorist profile to consider. Take the "boys next door" from the Buffalo area who decided to attend a summer camp for urban terror in Afghanistan and learn new ways to bring the fight to America. Perhaps such as learning to shoot people with high-powered rifles. For those who seem to think that terrorists only blow themselves up, ask the hundreds of Israelis who have been shot at by snipers from behind bushes, from passing cars or, like 10-month-old Shalhevet Pas, from a high-powered rifle while in her father's arms in a playground in March 2001.

Today's urban terrorists do not have to be imported from some Taliban-like refuge. They may be like Jose Padilla, the ex-con from Chicago who federal authorities say wanted to detonate a "dirty bomb." Or Richard Reid, the scraggly Brit who was ready to use a shoe bomb to take down a jetliner. They may just be some "kook" with a chip on his shoulder. They all may look, act and talk like "us," but they are no less committed to an ideology of terror than was Mohamed Atta.

You see, there are no rules for terrorists. And while there are profiles, we need to remember the third "A" - that is, "any way." Before Sept. 11, hijackers never flew planes into buildings, but now we know better. Terrorists are male and female, black and white, large and small. What binds terrorists together is allegiance to a distorted philosophy and a willingness to patiently and obediently follow the evil that guides them.

What terrorism preaches is that alleged grievances can indeed be settled with violence. While we may not always be able to identify the terrorist or know whether he is a member of some sleeper cell, we can be sure what the philosophy of terror breeds.

Whether conventional terrorist or not, that's a profile that fits even a sniper in the Washington suburbs.

Irwin J. Mansdorf is a psychologist living in Israel who has dealt extensively with the after-effects of terror in Israel and the United States. He is as a consultant to Project Liberty, which counsels victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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