Monday, June 14, 2004

It's Only a Matter of Time

A Somalia man living in Ohio has been charged with plotting to blow up a local mall. I doubt 4 men could actually level a mall but causing an explosion inside a crowded closed space could kill a large number of people. Our nation's malls are particularly vulnerable to a variety of attacks, not just explosives.

A chemical or bio-weapon attack inside a mall is horrible to contemplate. And it doesn't have to be a plan out of an action movie or science fiction. Many gas weapons can be made from basic industrial supplies, ammonia, chlorine, or phosgene. How difficult is it for terrorists to purchase or steal such common chemicals?

Even something as crude as a machine-gun attack would be psychologically traumatic: imagine one gunman stationed at each mall exit firing into the crowd. Or simultaneous nail-bombs hidden in shopping bags throughout the mall.

Malls are so vulnerable because we feel so safe inside them. Malls are at once intimate and anonymous. We eat, change clothes, change shoes, get our hair cut and nails done, and occasionally doze off while waiting for a spouse, all in the same enclosed space as thousands of total strangers, who we assume are not trying to kill us.

We are relaxed and unsuspecting in a way we aren't when shopping outside. Mall shoppers aren't weary of thieves or violent criminals. Grandmothers don't clutch their purses tight to their chests. We're inside. It's a mall.

Who notices a shopping bag under a bench or left alone by the restroom? Bags and backpacks are everywhere. No one imagines one may contain a weapon. Sooner or later one will.

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