Luck and Counterterrorism

on March 19 | in Homeland Security, Terrorism

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With the capture of Salah Abdeslam, the last living attacker in ISIS’ horrific attacks in Paris, French and Belgian authorities can now further determine what exactly happened on that terrible night in November. But the police would have never caught up to him had it not been for, well, a lucky break.

As CNN’s Paul Cruickshank noted,

“The trail had gone completely cold until Tuesday when police went to an address in Brussels that they believe was linked to the Paris attacks, but they had no idea that Salah Abdeslam or any other terrorists were inside.

There was a big firefight and two of the terrorists managed to escape. They believe that one of those was probably Salah Abdeslam and then they’ve been working 24/7 since then to try to get him and they have just got him into custody and they have got him alive.”

Taking advantage of good fortune plays a larger role in fighting terrorism than one might first suppose. As I recounted in Find Fix Finish, sheer luck was the reason why authorities in the Philippines were able to crack the infamous “Bojinka” plot—a Ramsi Yousef operation to destroy several US airliners leaving from Asia in midair—during the 1990s:

In the early morning of January 7, 1995, a member of the terrorist group accidentally ignited a chemical fire in the apartment’s kitchenette, forcing the evacuation of the apartment complex.

The police who responded to the scene found bomb-making equipment, bottles of liquid nitroglycerin, and computers with mysterious encrypted files in the apartment. The officers arrested Abdul Hakim Murad— who, incidentally, had received training from various American flight schools— when he returned to the scene.

An apartment fire was also the reason why some really awful attacks never occurred in Turkey in 2005.

In 2005 firefighters in Diyarbakir, Turkey, responding to an apartment fire found chemicals and explosives that eventually led to the capture of the Zarqawi-linked terrorist Luay Sakka, a ringleader in the lethal series of attacks in November in Istanbul that killed twenty-seven people, including the British consul general to Turkey.

Sometimes, the good guys catch a lucky break. When that happens, it’s a good day for civilization.

Photo: Salah Abdeslam.

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