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Attack raises questions, concerns about U.S. security

By Brian E. Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Nov 7, 2017 - 2:40:13 PM

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In the aftermath of the mayhem caused by the New York attack that left eight people dead and several injured after a driver rammed a truck into pedestrians and bicyclists questions and concerns are being raised about how America is mitigating the threats of extremism on U.S. soil.

Heavily-armed police guard as revelers march during the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, Oct. 31, in New York. New York City's always-surreal Halloween parade marched on even under the shadow of real fear, hours after a truck attack killed several people on a busy city bike path in what authorities called an act of terror. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

“It’s the same narrative that they have been playing with for the last 30 years, in dealing with Muslims and dealing with the Middle East,” said Damon K. Jones, New York Representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America.

Chaos struck along the West Side highway in New York City, just walking distance from the World Trade Center and site of the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001.  A driver, behind the wheel of a rented Home Depot truck plowed into people within a pedestrian walkway and bike lane causing a corridor of blood and destruction Oct. 31. Eight people died, and at least 12 others were injured. Authorities determined it was an act of terrorism.

The driver, Sayfullo Saipov, 29, after being shot and wounded by a New York police officer at the scene, was charged with giving material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization and with violence and destruction of a motor vehicle

“We know he wasn’t a professional and that he really wasn’t connected, from what they say,” said Mr. Jones. The veteran law enforcement professional said there is a lot that isn’t known about the case and the alleged suspect’s involvement that should come out.

The terrorism charge stemmed from materials like two cell phones with hundreds of alleged ISIS images and videos retrieved from the vehicle and the police interview of Mr. Saipov, said Amber Tyree, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigations in federal court papers.   Investigators said he allegedly plotted the attack weeks before and carried it out in allegiance to the Islamic State.

“Saipov was inspired to carry out the truck attack by ISIS videos he had watched on cellular phone,” Ms. Tyree said in the Complaint. The document said he was particularly influenced by a video of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi questioning what Muslims in the U.S. and elsewhere were doing to respond to the killing of Muslims in Iraq. 

The federal prosecutors said Mr. Saipov deliberately drove into the people in an act of terror.

“My concern is what has happened in the past is these types of attacks have led to two things …one is decrease in peoples’ civil rights, and two, increase in military or kinetic policing,” said Paul Kawika Martin, Senior Policy Director with Peace Action, the nation’s largest grassroots peace network.   Mr. Martin told The Final Call that the U.S. has expended $4 trillion in the war on terrorism. He expects it will rise to $6 trillion.

 “Do we feel any safer or has this taken care of issues of violent extremism after all that money’s spent?” asked Mr. Martin. 

These funds don’t necessarily include money spent on militarized weaponry and equipment purchased from or given by the federal government by local law enforcement, he added.

“It doesn’t seem to make us safer … we continue to have attacks.”

 Mr. Saipov has lived in the U.S. since 2010 according to Homeland Security and is a legal permanent resident originally from Uzbekistan, an independent republic of the former Soviet Union. Records show he gained his residency status in the Diversity Visa Program that issues limited number of visas annually to immigrants.

Although Mr. Saipov has never been on any government watch list, President Donald Trump seized the tragedy to raise the political specter of his controversial immigration policy. The policy in part calls on banning individuals from several Muslim countries from entering the U.S. until thoroughly vetted.

In scathing remarks, President Trump said the visa program should be scrapped and replaced with a “merit” system.

“The Trump administration was very quick, not only to mention religion, but also go into the whole issue of immigration—that’s just the xenophobic patterns of the Trump administration,” said Imam Dawud Walid, Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Mr. Walid compared Mr. Trump addressing the attack in New York with how the administration responded to the mass shooting and massacre of 58 people in Las Vegas in early October. “It’s nothing but double standards,” he said.

“Mr. Trump was mute at first,” argued Mr. Walid. “He never once called that an act of terrorism nor was he calling for a rigorous looking into the background of that White man,” he said.

When it comes to an apparent Muslim, there is no such talk of a thorough investigation and psychological analysis. Instead Mr. Trump said Mr. Saipov should be sent to Gitmo and said he should be executed.  Pres. Trump called the Mr. Saipov “this animal” and castigated the American justice system’s handling of terrorism suspects as “a joke” and “a laughingstock.” 

In reaction to President Trump’s assertions in the case, the American Civil Liberties Union rejects them as illegal and infringements on rights.

“President Trump’s reaction to the tragedy in New York represents a trifecta of unconstitutional and wrong-headed policies,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. The president’s call for more ‘extreme vetting’ and ending the diversity visa program “will unfairly target Muslim and African immigrants,” Mr. Romero added.

Another concern in the aftermath of the attack is if the U.S. government will use it as pretext for a military solution which peace activists say has not worked. Experts agree there are long-term solutions that better address the problem of extremism in the world.

Eliminating poverty in the U.S. and worldwide access to education are areas that address the underlying social conditions driving extremism, observers note.

The hostilities against America is at a time the Trump administration is decreasing funds to the Department of State and increasing the Department of Defense budget.

“If you don’t have diplomatic tools to solve some of the world tensions then that ends up fomenting more tensions,” Mr. Martin reasoned.   

Tensions stemming from ongoing meddling and funding proxy wars in the Muslim world that feeds extremism must be addressed.

Critics of U.S. foreign policy said along with proxy wars, there is an increase of American drone attacks which has killed civilians in Muslim lands and is another “breeding point” for extremism.

“My concerns about these attacks that are happening is that people are going to use them to either bring back some of our civil liberties like they did with the Patriot Act after 9/11 or use it as a way to invest more in militarism,” said Mr. Martin.