Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists.”
Monday’s botched terrorist attack at Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal was an amateur affair, according to law enforcement officials. The suspected bomber, Akayed Ullah, had a homemade device attached to his body with Velcro and zip ties and when it detonated, it injured him with lacerations and burns, while three bystanders suffered minor injuries.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo observed at a news conference on Monday, “Anyone can go on the internet and download garbage and vileness on how to put together an amateur-level explosive device, and that is the reality we live with.”
Indeed, it is. But we shouldn’t take too much comfort from the fact that Ullah’s alleged attack was the work of an amateur, because according to New America, every one of the 12 successful jihadist terrorist attacks since 9/11 in the United States has also been the work of amateurs who received no formal training from any foreign terrorist group.
Consider the Boston Marathon bombers who on April 15, 2013, killed three and injured more than 200 with explosive devices they modeled in part on the instructions they found in the English-language webzine Inspire, which was published by al Qaeda’s Yemen branch. Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two brothers who carried out the Boston attack, hadn’t received any kind of training from a terrorist organization.
Or take Omar Mateen, who killed 49 at a gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016. As he carried out his attack, Mateen pledged an oath of allegiance to ISIS, but there is no evidence he was trained by the group or even had any contact with it.
And Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov is accused of driving a rented pickup truck into a crowded bicycle path near the World Trade Center in Manhattan, killing eight people on Halloween. A note near the truck said Saipov carried out the attack for ISIS, but like Mateen, Saipov had no training from the group.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the Iraqi government released a statement saying it had “fully liberated” all Iraq’s territory from “ISIS terrorist gangs.”
This is indeed a significant milestone, but Monday’s botched terror attack in Manhattan reminds us that jihadist ideology continues to inspire a small number of disaffected Muslims in the United States. And simply because they are amateurs doesn’t mean they can’t also be deadly.