Against Terrorism, Offense Can be Best Defense

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We may never know what Ahmed Ressam planned to do with the explosives in his car, but that's better than finding out the hard way. U.S. law enforcement officials said Thursday that sophisticated military grade explosives had been found in medicine containers being carried by the Algerian national who was nabbed trying to cross into Washington State from Canada with a trunkload full of DIY bomb-making material. And Federal prosecutors announced they'd found a link between Ressam and Lucia Garofalo, the Canadian woman arrested last week trying to cross into Vermont with an Algerian companion. Information supplied by a "reliable government" said both were members of a Canada-based cell of an Algerian terrorist organization, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).

Heightened fears of terrorist strikes at the New Year have prompted a worldwide preemptive clampdown on suspected terrorists. A joint NYPD-FBI anti-terrorism task force arrested four men in Brooklyn Thursday on charges contained in a sealed indictment. One of the men has been linked with Ressam by phone records. U.S. officials have also supplied information to help governments abroad round up hundreds of suspected terrorists. Unless specific evidence emerges as a basis for trial, most are expected to be released early in the New Year. France used similar sweeping preemptive arrests in 1998 to successfully forestall GIA plans to mount terrorist attacks during the soccer World Cup.

There are, of course, other potential perpetrators. Police are still looking for other Ressam accomplices who may be at large in the U.S. or Canada; and they have no leads as yet in the large thefts of explosives over the past week in Flagstaff, Arizona and Fresno, California. But rather than simply taking precautions and waiting for the bad guys to make their move, the authorities are taking the offensive. And that forces at least some of the terrorists to play defense.