A radical Islamic terrorist attack doesn’t necessarily need several participants or a direct connection to a terrorist organization. It doesn’t need to be spectacular or done by someone motivated by nothing other than theology. It just needs to be an act of violence aimed at instilling fear in order to advance the cause of radical Islam, and it is because of this failure to understand what qualifies as a “terrorist attack” that the country does not see how many such acts have actually occurred. The increasingly ridiculous argument over whether Major Hasan’s Fort Hood shooting can be considered a terrorist attack underscores this point.
The failure to properly assess several incidents involving Muslims engaging in hit and runs of random civilians serves as a precursor to the debate we are seeing over Hasan today. These may not be big incidents, but they are a symptom of the plague and a foreshadowing of the type of creativity that those wishing us harm will utilize in planning their attacks.
The latest possible act of hit-and-run jihad occurred just this month. A 27-year-old man named Munir Muthana was apprehended in Rochester, New York, after he began running random people over, sending six to the hospital. Two squad cars were also hit as they tried to stop him. He has ties to Yemen and when he was arrested, he admitted to having six beers the previous hour and cursed at the police, saying “Ben Franklin was stupid. He should have made it so you [expletives] can’t swerve the law. The Muslims will fix this country.” If this was just a one-time occurrence, it wouldn’t be an event worthy of this column space unless further evidence of an extremist motivation surfaced. But it is not just a one-time occurrence.
The first major incident occurred on March 3, 2006, when Mohammed Reza Taheri-Azar injured nine people by hitting them with his car at the University of North Carolina. Following the attack, the authorities found he had written several letters explaining his actions. They show that the attack was not a sudden outburst but a thoroughly thought-out plan. “I was aiming to follow in the footsteps of one of my role models, Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers,” one reads. “After extensive contemplation and reflection, I have made the decision to exercise the right of violent retaliation that Allah has given me to the fullest extent to which I am capable at present,” another states.
On August 30 of the same year, Omeed Aziz Popal went on a similar rampage, killing one and injuring 18 with his SUV in San Francisco. His lawyer said he suffered from mental illness and media reports emphasized that he may have been under stress from becoming recently wedded to a woman in Afghanistan in an arranged marriage. One report citing sources in the investigation said that he seemed coherent and they ruled out mental illness as causing his actions, but he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The fact that Popal targeted people outside the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and was reported by two witnesses as saying “I’m a terrorist; I don’t care” upon his arrest did not affect the media’s coverage, and the story quickly faded.
On January 31, 2007, Ismail Yassin Mohamed engaged in a similar attack in Minneapolis, supposedly because he forgot to take his depression medication. He smashed into a taxicab, ran into a business, and stole a school van, which he then crashed into more cars. He was subdued by residents as he then tried to steal another vehicle. Throughout the attack, he yelled, “Die, die, die, kill, kill, kill,” and said that “Allah made me do it.”
These last two cases have less evidence to prove they were motivated by radical Islam, but Robert Spencer raises a good point: “Look, maybe the explanations offered for Omeed Popal and Ismail Mohamed are perfectly accurate, but it is a mounting series of curious coincidences that these Muslims have become unhinged in exactly the same way and expressed their madness in exactly the same way.”
Warning about hit-and-run jihad may sound like a laughable stretch of the imagination, but it’s not so out there to Israelis. In September 2008, a radical Muslim injured 23 soldiers with his SUV before being killed. This was followed by another attempted hit-and-run attack with two cars and one bulldozer. These two attacks came after two other attacks in Jerusalem that year, one using a bulldozer and the other using a tractor, which killed three Israelis and wounded dozens. And in March of this year, a terrorist rammed his vehicle into a school bus and police car in Jerusalem before being shot and killed.
Two more incidents bear mentioning. A disappointed Iraqi father living in Arizona committed an “honor killing” by running over his daughter this year for living an insufficiently Islamic lifestyle. And in Tennessee in February 2007, a Somali-born taxicab driver ran over two students following a religious argument. These may simply be the actions of infuriated individuals and not necessarily part of a premeditated jihad, but like Spencer said, it is peculiar that “these Muslims have become unhinged in exactly the same way and expressed their madness in exactly the same way.” Those who disagree can point to an equally disgusting hit-and-run attack by a non-Muslim on two Muslim women in August, but these other incidents have similarities that indicate a pattern.
The point of this article isn’t to make you worry next time you walk by a mosque that a Muslim will declare jihad and try to run you over. The point is that a reevaluation of what should be considered a “terrorist attack” is necessary, but with it comes the frightening realization that the smaller, less organized, but more frequent attacks seen in Israel are occurring in the U.S.