Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Connecting the Dots?

Perhaps I should be writing this while wearing my tinfoil hat, but there have been a number of suspicious events around the U.S. in recent months. Collectively, these incidents may be nothing more than coincidences, but I've got my doubts. Afterall, it's been four years since 9-11 and the last major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Al-Qaida remains dedicated to the idea of launching new attacks on our homeland, and some recent events suggest that our defenses are being probed (at a minimum), or more ominously, some sort of attack planning may be underway.

Let's begin with that mysterious explosion at the University of Oklahoma on 1 October. The blast, which claimed the life of OU student Joel Henry Hinrichs III, occurred outside the campus football stadium, where Oklahoma was playing Kansas State. Hinrichs's death has been ruled a suicide, but the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force has assumed control of the investigation. There are disturbing reports that Hinrichs attended a local Islamic center, and jihadist literature was found in his off-campus apartment. So far, the FBI isn't saying much, prompting the OU student newspaper, the Daily Oklahoman, to criticize the feds' information blackout, and online "hacks" who suggest Hinrichs may have been part of a wider terror plot.

The Jawa Report, which has been on this story from the start, does an excellent job punching holes in the Oklahoman's flawed arguments.

But the death of Joel Henry Hinrichs III isn't the only suspicious event that's occurred in Oklahoma recently. As this blog--and others--reported in July, Middle Eastern men were observed off the runway at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma (less than 30 miles from the OU campus). The men appeared to be carrying binoculars and a large weapon, possible a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile. When security forces approached the men, they fled the area. Later reports indicated that the FBI had doubts about the report, but as of early September, the Air Force was still investigating the Tinker incident, and the FBI was looking into similar reports from Davis-Monthan AFB near Tucson. Such activity--if confirmed--could represent a dress rehearsal for a shoulder-fired SAM launch against a civilian or military aircraft.

Then, consider these recent incidents in the Atlanta area. Just yesterday, a janitor at Georgia Tech was injured when he picked up a trash bag that exploded. Inside, police found at least three home-made bombs, but only one of them detonated. The incident forced the temporary evacuation of two nearby dormitories on the Tech campus. Atlanta police are describing the event as a terrorist act.

And, if that weren't enough, authorities are also trying to determine how a stolen jet wound up at an Atlanta-area airport. The aircraft, a 10-passenger Cessna Citation 7, was discovered at the Gwinnett County Airport-Briscoe Field on Monday morning, after it was reported stolen from an airfield in St. Augustine, Florida. At last report, there was no indication as to whole stole the business jet and flew it to Gwinnett County, although authorities said there was "nothing sinister" about the jet's disappearence from Florida, and reappearance in the Atlanta suburbs. The FAA has not determined if there's any record of the jet's flight from Florida, to Gwinnett County. Ironically, two of the 9-11 hijackers trained at Biscoe Field in the months leading up to those attacks.

Isolated incidents? Perhaps. Mere coincidences? Maybe. Copycat pranks? Possibly. But there are other ways to look at these recent events in Oklahoma and Georgia. Are they related, and do they represent the beginnings of a cluster, a series of suspicious incidents that could signify early target surveillance or preliminary attack planning? Those are the questions that federal, state and local officials are now trying to answer. And while it's too early for a definitive link between these incidents and Middle Eastern terrorists, that possibility cannot be ruled out. Some of the activity witnessed in Oklahoma and Georgia is consistent with past attacks by Al-Qaida and other groups. That's a big reason the Joint Terrorism Task Force is involved, and federal officials have grown strangely quiet about what happened in Norman and Atlanta.

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