Another Failed ISIS Attack

A would-be suicide bomber in New York again displays the incompetence of so many of the Islamic State’s sympathizers.

Andrew Kelly / Reuters

The alleged bomber of the New York subway was inspired by the 2016 ISIS attack on the Berlin Christmas market, in which a Tunisian man drove a truck into a crowd and killed 12 people, according to a New York Times report. Akayed Ullah of Brooklyn saw Christmas posters in the underground corridor connecting the Port Authority Bus Terminal to the Times Square subway lines, and these set him off (or rather, inspired him to set himself off, with a pipe-bomb velcroed to his torso). The bomb—which used a broken Christmas-tree bulb as a detonator—killed no one, and footage of the aftermath suggests that its main effect was to char his midsection.

It would be foolish, I think, to make too much of the inter-religious aspects of ISIS’s target selection. ISIS hates Christians less than it hates most non-ISIS Muslims, and the things it hates about Christmas are hardly the aspects of the holiday that find expression in advertisements in the Port Authority, which are more likely to be selling Rockettes tickets than to be stressing the corporeality of a triune God. Yes, ISIS hates Christmas. But they hate everything else Americans do, too.

Once again, what deserves note is the incompetence of the attack. ISIS has issued simple instructions for mass murder, and most of those who have heeded its call have been too stupid to follow even the idiot-proof terror tactics it suggested. These are people who, if they bought a shelf from IKEA, would somehow sever both thumbs in the process of failing to assemble it. Most ISIS overseas attackers are like this. The small minority of competent ones account for nearly all the total deaths.

Akayed Ullah (his surname means “God,” so it seems blasphemous to call him by it, even on second reference) has, according to those same reports, been in the United States for seven years—enough time, if he were any good at anything, to get a steady job, make money, and if he became bewitched by the message of ISIS, travel to Syria to fight and die for ISIS there. That, evidently, he failed to do any of these things probably reflects on his general competence at life, and his ability to do something as simple as kill a few people without turning his own belly into an overcooked steak. The fighters who are left in America tend to be the morons. The smart ones got out of America while they still could.

By chance I spent today, during the New York subway evacuation, in a far more probable and dangerous seasonal target: a German outdoor Christmas market. In Nuremberg, as in other European cities, gatherings like these are partially blocked off by police or sanitation trucks, to foil the ISIS strategy of vehicular mass murder. Cities implemented these measures after 86 people were crushed by an ISIS-sworn truck driver in Nice on Bastille Day 2016; a different attacker struck a Christmas Market in Berlin last December. Nuremberg has the added safety of celebrating its Christmas market in the middle of its labyrinthine Old City, in an area hard for big-rigs to reach anyway.

Perhaps to expect an attack here would be to make the common error of expecting terrorists to strike the same way twice. As the Knight of La Mancha said, “Don’t look for last year’s birds in this year’s nests.” But many more ISIS sympathizers are in Europe than in the United States, and many more have returned from Syria. The danger here therefore dwarfs that of the United States, and the motivation is unchanged. For now, the Christmas tradition looks just as it did before ISIS, with ISIS-proscribed pleasures like pork sausage and mulled wine, both freely enjoyed in mixed company. The war on Christmas continues, but so does Christmas itself, on both sides of the Atlantic.