By Paul Sperry
After Islamic gunmen attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, the collective reaction from the US media was to speculate whether such terror could happen here, as if a jihadist assault on a mall inside America had never before been tried.
CNN was typical: “Can it happen here? Yes, say security experts, but it hasn’t.”
News flash: it did.
On the evening of Feb. 12, 2007, a young Muslim man walked into the Trolley Square mall in Salt Lake City with a pistol-grip, 12-gauge shotgun and a 38-caliber revolver and opened fire on shoppers, killing five and wounding four others, including a pregnant woman.
Police say he “sought to kill as many people as possible.” He had a backpack full of ammunition, enough firepower to massacre dozens of innocent people. But fortunately, an off-duty cop returned fire and eventually, with the help of other police, put an end to the terrorist’s life and grand plans.
Twice as many people were killed at the Utah mall than the Boston Marathon. Yet the attack garnered few national headlines.
Local media wrote it off as the act of a madman, parroting the quick conclusion of law enforcement.
Officially, the FBI declared the mass shooting was not an act of terrorism.
“We were unable to pin down any particular motive,” said Tim Fuhrman, then-special agent in charge of the bureau’s field office in Salt Lake City. “Unfortunately, his motivations went to the grave with him.”
Sulejman Talovic. The FBI ignored much of the shooter’s background.
The shooter was Sulejmen Talovic, an 18-year-old Bosnian immigrant named after Suleiman the Magnificent, the 16th-century jihadist-turned-sultan.
As early as 2004, police were called to Talovic’s school after it was discovered that he was looking at Tek-9 semiautomatic firearms on the Internet and boasting that his “grandfather was in the jihad.”
It was a reference to the 1990s holy war between Bosnian Muslims and Christian Serbs in which his grandfather was reportedly killed.
Apparently, Talovic had prepared for his own martydom. He told a friend before the attack that “tomorrow is going to be the happiest day of my life, but it will happen only once.”
“One interpretation of this statement is that Talovic was happy that he was going to be a shahid — that he would be committing jihad and go to paradise,” according to a July 2, 2007, electronic communication from the Salt Lake City field office to the counterterrorism division of the FBI.
A Salt Lake City police officer inside the Trolley Square Mall 12 February 2007, the night of the shooting
Before leaving for the mall, which was located just a few minutes from the mosque he attended, he showered and put on a necklace featuring a miniature Koran, a gift from his father.
Prior to his death, some witnesses overheard Talovic shouting “Allahu Akbar!” — or “Allah is greatest!” — a ritual cry of suicide terrorists.
Talovic was “described as religious,” according to the FBI communiqué, marked “Secret.” “He had attend the mosque regularly for Friday prayers.”
That mosque was the Al-Noor Mosque, led by a Somali national. Some investigators suspect Talovic was radicalized there.
These details are buried in the more than 745 pages of investigative reports generated in the case by the FBI, the same agency that officially claims it found no evidence Talovic’s religion was a factor.
“Clearly, he had some religious beliefs,” Fuhrman said, “but just because someone has religious beliefs doesn’t mean anything is a terrorist act.”
No, but it strains credulity that Talovic wasn’t animated by his faith. There was an abundance of clues he was motivated at least in part by jihadist impulses.
Yet the Islamic element was so efficiently scrubbed from the Trolley Square terrorist attack that Salt Lake charities and local Mormons helped raise funds for Talovic’s family to prepare and ship their son’s bullet-ridden body to Bosnia for an Islamic burial.
The willful blindness (to borrow a phrase from former World Trade Center bombing prosecutor Andy McCarthy) to this Islamic factor does not engender confidence that law enforcement can effectively glean and analyze intelligence from the Muslim and immigrant communities to disrupt copycat attacks on malls and other domestic soft targets.
Predictive intelligence analysis is what’s needed. Yet in the aftermath of the Nairobi carnage wrought by al Qaeda’s Somalia branch, Homeland Security has merely contacted shopping malls to encourage them to beef up security against “mass shooters.”
The Mall of America, the biggest shopping mall in the country, may be a prime target for jihadists. It’s less than 20 minutes from Minneapolis, which boasts a large Somali community where al Qaeda has recruited heavily.
Yet the same year Talovic went on his mall rampage, a Somali national with ties to al Qaeda was arrested for plotting to bomb a mall in Columbus, Ohio. Nuradin M. Abdi trained overseas for a military-style assault. He and a small al Qaeda cell planned to bring “death and destruction to Columbus.”
It’s plain that jihadists already have targeted America’s easy-to-enter malls for attack, and are likely plotting an assault even more brutal than Nairobi, which terror experts believe was a “dry run” for a more spectacular event here at home. Question is, what are our willfully blind authorities really doing to stop them?