Since 9-11 Islamic terrorists have been debating grand strategy. Osama bin Laden theorized that the United States would crumble after a series of spectacular attacks.
In a recent book published by al-Qaida theoretician Skeik Abu-Bakar Naji, Naji advocates a new, more diabolical strategy. He suggests the jihad become a long-term, low-intensity war extended anywhere in the world, conducting “countless small operations” that render daily life unbearable — the “infidel” should leave his house every morning, unsure whether he’ll return in the evening.
Naji recommends kidnappings, the holding of hostages, the use of women and children as human shields, exhibition killings, suicide bombings and other gestures that make normal life impossible. Some, like Michael and Chris Dorn, authors of “Innocent Targets: When Terrorism Comes to School,” predict that the ultimate evil acts will be direct attacks on our children — in our schools.
As the new school year begins, are we ready for that? We need to be. Terrorist organizations are about to take on a new level of evil that to most Americans is unthinkable. They may attack our schools directly. Can’t happen? Won’t happen? They wouldn’t dare? Too late; it’s already been done and if any unstable ideologue, foreign or domestic, reads Naji’s terrifying new strategy it will be done again. We need to be ready.
School violence must always have our community’s full attention in whatever form that it manifests itself — bullying, gang violence or rampage shootings like at Virginia Tech.
We need to consider direct attacks on our schools now. The most notable and disturbing case of a direct action on a school took place at School Number One in Beslan, a small Russian city in North Ossetia on Sept. 1, 2004. In a region of the world that has recently grabbed our geopolitical attention, terrorists stormed a middle school and killed at least 334 hostages — 186 of them children. Their aims were political and ideological. The terrorists were from Chechnya — an Islamic state — and though direct ties are tenuous, there remains no doubt that the rebels shared an ideology of terror with al-Qaida. This happened only four years ago in a place that is in the news now. We would be woefully remiss as parents and educators if we were to ignore this emerging threat.
As a community, we need to prepare for and find ways to prevent all aspects of school violence. Even seemingly improbable violence like the Beslan attacks need to be prepared for by our schools, universities and colleges, law enforcement departments and emergency preparedness agencies. This tragedy can be prevented through diligent strategic planning, proper equipment and complete and realistic training. We need to provide our schools and first responders the money they need. I recommend doing it soon because when al-Qaida executes its new terrorist strategy aimed directly at these most innocent of targets, we will be sorry if we are not ready.
Darryl W. Lyon of Bangor is an assistant professor of military science at the University of Maine’s ROTC program. He is a career Army officer and recently commanded B/3-172 Infantry (Mountain) during a combat tour in Iraq.