The Al Qaeda suspect who was arrested on charges of plotting to blow up the Holland Tunnel in New York City lives a few blocks away from my house. His black jeep is still parked outside the front door with a "for sale" sign on it. Was he trying to sell the car to afford a few thousand pounds of explosives to blow up the tunnel? We talked to the fruit vendor across from his house. He said Mr. Hammoud was always polite. The politness of evil, indeed. Wouldn't you expect them to be gruff, to complain about the prices, to rant about how the decadent West invented pesticides? What kind of fruit do Al Qaeda members eat? Cherries? Strawberries? Watermelon? Do they buy local or imported?
The terrorist suspect, Hammoud (nom de guerre: Amir Andalousli), was arrested three months ago, in April. It is unclear on what charges he was initially apprehended, and why it was only made public this past week. He teaches economics at the Lebanese International University, and studied at Concordia in Montreal from 1995 to 2002. It took him seven years to get a Bachelor's Degree! At that rate, somebody else might have beaten him to it with the plan to blow up the Holland Tunnel. What else? Oh, he spoke German, English, French and Arabic fluently. He liked fast cars and girls and booze. Who doesn't? Apparently he lived a life of sin upon Osama Bin Ladin's religious orders, to disguise his real intentions. Al Qaeda really know how to make fundamentalism fun. His students say he dissappeared before the end of the semester and they thought he had been arrested on drug charges! He must have really been taking those orders to live in sin seriously.
I had lunch with a Lebanese establishment figure from Washington DC yesterday who believes that these "plots" are all related to the upcoming midterm elections in the US. Whatever your opinion on the matter is, it seems clear that monitoring chat rooms is not the best way to identify serious, imminent threats; nor is the casually expressed desire or intent an indication of commitment and means. Jeezus, people talk about all kinds of things in chat rooms. When I first started using the Internet as a teenager, I used to go into the AOL chatroom "Christian Divorced Over 40-year olds", and say all kinds of inflammatory things.
The issue is not being a member of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is an ideology, a model, that can easily be emulated. The radicalization of certain sectors of the Lebanese Sunni community proceeds without contact with Alqaeda proper. And Lebanese Minister of Interior Fatfat's licensing of radical Sunni groups with murderous ideologies does not, in my humble opinion, help. Even if he then goes chasing after suspected Alqaeda members to please his masters in the White House.