What the Denver Terror Arrests Mean

The arrests of three Afghan men in a U.S. terror plot sparked controversy and speculation about whether Obama will benefit

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Three Afghan immigrants--including a father and son--were arrested in connection to a planned attack on the United States, after a frantic, week-long investigation spanning from Colorado to New York. Under questioning, the son, Najibullah Zazi, admitted to receiving weapons training from al Qaeda. Officials also discovered handwritten notes on how to make bombs and evidence on a laptop suggesting the pair may have been planning to attack New York's Fashion Week. The third man arrested is an imam from Queens who initially helped investigators, but also tipped off the two men that they were under surveillance.

While details are still unfolding, many commentators are surprisingly quiet about what might prove to be the "first Al Qaeda-linked terrorist operation on U.S. soil since Sept. 11th." Some say it could be spun as a political victory for an administration under duress over health care reform, financial regulation, and the war in Afghanistan.

  • Great News for Obama, writes Andrew Belonsky at Gawker. "Even during the endless campaign, Obama's opponents claimed he would be soft on terrorism, an idea that's simmered quite tenaciously on the right...If Obama were more like Cheney or Bush, he would be playing these arrests up as a big win in our fight against terrorism. He would be cheering and making emboldened speeches celebrating his supreme powers as Commander-in-Chief."
  • Worrisome Legal Tactics on Display, writes Brian Levin in the Huffington Post. Levin complains that a little-used statute forbidding lying to investigators has become a critical tool in arresting plotters before they reach the stage of attack--a tactic that worries civil libertarians. "One thing is certain, authorities have powerful tools to get people off the streets in the array of statutes that they have at their disposal. They also have an extraordinarily difficult job of balancing their obligations. On the one hand they must uphold civil liberties, while also protecting us from the very real threat of a small, but determined number of anonymous extremists bent on doing the nation harm through a mass terror attack."
  • Officials Still Don't Know What's Going On, writes Josh Meyer in the Los Angeles Times. Investigators don't yet know the extent of Zazi's connections to a wider conspiracy. "More arrests are expected, officials said, but they don't know exactly what they are looking for. The FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies have mobilized more aggressively than at any time since September 2001, one senior counter-terrorism official said, in part because 'we don't know what we don't know.'"
  • Zazi Shouldn't Have Talked to Feds , says Jeralyn at Talk Left. "Bottom line: I think it was a disastrous decision for Najibullah to voluntarily talk to the feds. He had no idea what information they had. Had he kept his mouth shut, there would be no false statement charge. If he's convicted of the false statement charge, he will be deported after he serves any sentence. (His father is a U.S. citizen.) If his goal in talking was to clear his name, that certainly failed. If it was to get a sweetheart deal, that seems to have backfired too."
  • Media Taking Plotters' Side, laments Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con. "Good grief! We're just learning that this Denver guy has confessed to being an al-Qaeda affiliate, and that authorities have confiscated material evidence of a massive plot to kill and maim Americans ... and a) the New York Times, by its placement on its website of this story, is more worried about how this investigation is upsetting Muslims in Colorado, and b) some (but not all!) Muslims in Colorado are more concerned about how this frightening event is going to affect them than about how the terror plot, had it gone off, would have affected their country and their countrymen."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.