The terrorism charges filed in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday against the Port Authority jihadist underscore that, while the rhetoric from the White House is different, the change of administrations from Obama to Trump has not altered the Justice Department’s approach to terrorism: It is regarded principally as a law-enforcement issue, and its connection to Islamic doctrine goes studiously unnoticed.
The five-count complaint filed by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York charges that Akayed Ullah, by attempting a mass-murder attack, materially supported the Islamic State terror network (ISIS). Ullah was scorched in the blast, and a few people near him suffered relatively minor injuries. Fortunately, he failed to kill and maim, as he told police he had hoped to do, a goal made manifest by his plan to strike at the height of the morning rush in one of the world’s busiest transportation hubs.
The 27-year-old Bangladesh native became a permanent resident alien through a combination of reckless government immigration policies — the visa lottery, by which his uncle got in, and chain migration, which enabled Ullah to follow in 2011. The complaint alleges that he was “inspired” by the Islamic State, law-enforcement parlance for a terrorist who is not a member of the “inspirational” jihadist organization or otherwise directed by it (i.e., no “operational” connection).
In the politically correct fashion that confuses the medium with the message, the government asserts that Ullah’s “radicalization” began three years ago and consisted of “view[ing] pro-ISIS materials online.” In other words, the Internet is the culprit.
Of course, it is actually sharia-supremacist ideology that “radicalizes” young Muslims. Typically, they imbibe it not merely through the Internet but by immersing themselves at extremist mosques and in communities in which the ideology is prevalent. Regardless of how the ideology is conveyed, it is the fervor of religious obligation that it incorporates, not the fact that it is easily found online, that explains its power. To grasp this, it is necessary to face up to the fact that the ideology is drawn from Islamic scripture and supported by centuries of fundamentalist scholarship. It is a frightening construction of Islam, but a well-rooted one, which is why so many devout Muslims fall prey to it.
Alas, it remains verboten in the Justice Department to acknowledge the obvious. The complaint thus tells us that Ullah was taken in by “violent extremist ideology” — as if he could as easily have been “inspired” by Antifa as by ISIS.
As adumbrated in my Monday column, no thought was given to treating Ullah as an alien combatant, which would have allowed him to be detained and interrogated under the laws of war. From the first, he was regarded as a criminal defendant in a judicial proceeding, with all the due-process protections that entails. The complaint explains that, upon being rushed to Bellevue Hospital for treatment of his injuries, he received Miranda warnings. He proceeded to tell investigators, “I did it for the Islamic State.”
Prior to conducting the attack, Ullah posted a statement on Facebook: “Trump you failed to protect your nation.” Agent Joseph Cerciello of the Department of Homeland Security, who swore out the complaint, deadpans, “Based on my training and experience, I understand Ullah to have been referring to the current President of the United States.”
In subsequently searching his Brooklyn apartment, agents found his passport, annotated in handwriting, “O America, die in your rage.”
The device the incompetent terrorist used was a crude pipe bomb, to be detonated by a nine-volt battery rigged up to a Christmas-tree lightbulb. He used plastic zip-ties to attach it to himself. Ullah told police he had begun pulling the components together in the last three weeks and constructed the bomb in his apartment about a week ago. (Reportedly, his brother, with whom he has done electrical work, lives in the same building.) The complaint says Ullah filled the pipe “with explosive material that he created,” and added metal screws because he believed their high-speed ejection in the blast would maximize the carnage.
Ullah, whose atrocity is on video and indefensible, will never again walk free.
By framing the case in the “material support to terrorism” charge (count one), prosecutors seek to highlight the barbaric actions of ISIS — if not its doctrinal underpinnings. Ullah is also charged with using a weapon of mass destruction (count two), bombing a public place (count three), and destroying property by means of fire and an explosive (count four).
For good measure, the government adds a charge (count five) of using a destructive device during a violent crime. The complaint is not the final, formal charge; it is just a means of explaining the probable cause for the arrest and holding the defendant while the grand jury considers the case. We will have to see, then, if count five is included when the case is eventually indicted: Among the violent crimes during which Ullah is said to have used the destructive device is . . . the use of a destructive device charged in count two. Though the statutes cited in counts two and five are different, the defense would no doubt contend that the offense is essentially the same, and thus that to charge it twice would violate double-jeopardy principles.
It will make no difference. The two bombing charges (counts two and three) each carry potential sentences of life imprisonment, and the remaining charges top out between 20 and 30 years’ incarceration. Ullah, whose atrocity is on video and indefensible, will never again walk free.