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New York on Edge — Once Again

Sarah Buzaglo

Terror is terror no matter what you call it

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

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RUMOR CONTROL In the era of social media, in which news is disseminated instantaneously and rumors are taken as facts, it has become almost impossible for law enforcement authorities to control the flow of information (Photos: Flash90, AFP/ImageBank)

Hours after a bomb exploded Saturday night in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, injuring 29, Mayor Bill de Blasio called the blast “intentional,” a word that seemingly distinguishes this from an accidental explosion.

The same day, a New York Times sub-headline describing a knife assault in a Minnesota shopping mall read: “The motivation for an attack that left eight people injured was unclear, but officials said that the suspect mentioned Allah and asked at least one victim if he was Muslim.”

By the time commuters headed for work on Monday morning, authorities were hot on the trail of an Islamic terrorist cell based in the New York–New Jersey area that might have been culpable in the spate of homemade bombs planted in garbage bins, train stations, and the site of a race during the course of three harrowing days.

Turning a blind eye to the facts has become all too common in our political discourse, said Dr. Michael Welner, a leading forensic psychiatrist who has worked on a number of high-profile trials. He contends the early reactions to the Chelsea bombing bear a similarity to the June shooting spree inOrlando, in which an obvious act of terror was transformed into a less-threatening hate crime.

“Terror is defined based on the derivative impact it leaves,” said Welner. “When a criminal act takes place that spreads fear, and causes people to think twice before taking normal everyday actions such as leaving their homes or taking a bus, the act that prompted the fear is a definite act of terror. As such, the Chelsea explosion that rocked New York is indeed an act of terror.”

Keeping Terror Secret

Welner and other international anti-terror experts shared their views at a conference the morning after the Chelsea bombing sponsored by Shurat Hadin, an Israeli NGO that works with Western intelligence agencies, law enforcement branches, and a network of volunteer lawyers to defend world Jewry against lawfare suits and to fight academic and economic boycotts.

The conference was held at the Yale Club, just a mile and a half away from the site of Saturday night’s blast.

That same night, Yaacov Behrman, a Chabad activist from Brooklyn and director of the Jewish Future Alliance, says he rushed to the scene of the attack to see if he could assist any stranded residents.

“I met a woman named Cathy, who is legally blind, and lives in a building directly behind the dumpster where the bomb exploded,” Behrman says. “The entire area was on lockdown. Her husband was still inside in their eighth-floor apartment. The elevator wasn’t working, and no one was allowed to enter or leave the building. But a kind journalist insisted on paying Cathy’s Uber fare so she could get to a friend in Queens, where she spent the night.”

With President Obama and other world leaders expected to arrive in New York Monday for the United Nations annual General Assembly, security was tighter than ever: some 1,000 police officers and National Guard troops were stationed at airports, train stations, and bus stops.

In the meantime, investigators were already poring over security images captured on cameras of a man pulling a duffel bag near the dumpster where the Chelsea bomb exploded and two other men who took the bomb out of a separate plastic bag.

Video of that nature normally is not released to the public, according to Ran Ben-Barak, director general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry and former deputy head of the Mossad; discretion is vital, to ensure that the perpetrators are not tipped off.

“Generally such information is kept secret and released only on a need-to-know basis,” said Ben-Barak, who also spoke at the conference. “Even after the fact, if an incident was prevented by law enforcement authorities, we would rather the public stay uninformed so that they will not be afraid unnecessarily.”

In the era of social media, however, in which news is disseminated instantaneously and rumors are taken as facts, it has become almost impossible for law enforcement authorities to control the flow of information.

Another conference panelist, identified only as “Captain Nativ,” a chief of IDF Intelligence in the Central Command, noted that characterizing perpetrators of terror as lone wolves or “homegrown violent extremists” is dangerously deceptive. That description only masks that such terrorists are part of larger informal network that uses social media to incite, recruit, and glorify jihad. This is far different from the organized terror of the past in which terrorist groups worked out of a headquarters inBeirutorTunisthat could be bombed and infiltrated. The struggle law enforcement faces today is to replace the military strategies of the past with steps that will monitor social media sites, find and stop incitement, remove videos and cartoons that promote incitement, and take legal action against terror promoters.

Michael Smith, formerly a contributing expert to the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus and the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, labeled this “an ironic tragedy.”

“Attacks are occurring day by day, on American soil, against Americans, with the use of American [social media] companies,” Smith said.

Michael Smith: “Attacks are occurring day by day, on American soil, against Americans, with the use of American [social media] companies”

Micah Avni, son of Richard Lakin, who was killed in a Jerusalem bus bombing in October 2015, addressed this issue in an article he wrote for the New York Times titled “The Facebook Intifada.”

Avni and 20,000 other Israelis joined a class-action lawsuit filed by Shurat Hadin in the Supreme Court of the State of New York. The suit seeks an injunction that would require Facebook to remove inflammatory pages and posts and proactively block and monitor users who call for violence against Israelis.

In his article, Avni argues that monitoring and preventing terror incited through the social media requires cooperation between law enforcement and social media companies and a combination of legal efforts and public pressure.

The Knesset is debating a law that would impose fines on social media companies by the minute for any terror-related posting that is not taken down within 48 hours. Speaking at the conference, Avni stated it was time to “turn free speech on its head.”

“We must change our privacy laws to limit hate speech,” he said. “Rather than pick up body parts after a bombing, we must limit freedom of speech to prevent them,” he said. “Getting the social media companies to become proactive, instead of reactive, will be a great step in preventing terror.”

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