First the New York Times took notice of Buffalo’s great architecture.
Then Forbes magazine ranked the city as the nation’s most affordable.
And now Buffalo Niagara has garnered some worldwide media attention – in Inspire, the magazine of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Inspire, which is not nearly as elegantly written as the New York Times or Forbes, tells us in its most recent issue that America’s anti-terror strategy is “failing and fruitless” – and then goes on to say, in essence, that the Buffalo Niagara region isn’t prepared for an attack.
All of which prompted howls of outrage Thursday from local public officials, who said the article is evidence that the federal government must pour more anti-terror resources into the region.
“We have every right to be concerned,” Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said at a news conference in Buffalo. “When you’re identified, specifically, by an al-Qaida-inspired publication that is disseminated throughout the world to people who want to do harm to us, they’re paying attention. The bureaucrats in Washington, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, need to pay attention on behalf of the people of this community.”
The magazine’s threat against Buffalo can be found in its Spring 2014 issue, in an article called “24/7 Terrorism” that’s essentially a dull-as-dust account of a September 2013 House subcommittee hearing – with a pro-al-Qaida spin put on it.
“All the participants agreed that the U.S. strategy in countering jihad is failing and fruitless,” the article said of the hearing, which was conducted by the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. “The following points presented by the contributors demonstrate how so.”
From there, the story goes on to list various quotes, without attribution, that note weaknesses in the American fight against terrorism.
And one of the quotes reads: “The Department of Homeland Security does not recognize the Buffalo Niagara region as a high-risk area. Hence, local law enforcement in the Buffalo Niagara region is left without the resources that could possibly be needed if an attack from this dangerous organization were to occur.”
The article mentions that Higgins attended that hearing. And while that quote is unattributed, Higgins said he believes it was something he said during the session, taken out of context and twisted into a threat to the region.
“Any reference that distinguishes one region from another in this way is a direct threat,” said the Buffalo Democrat, a member of the Homeland Security Committee and its counterterrorism subcommittee.
Terrorism experts regard Inspire magazine as a threat in and of itself. The magazine is “clearly intended for the aspiring jihadist in the U.S. or U.K. who may be the next Fort Hood murderer or Times Square bomber,” Bruce Riedel, a terrorism and intelligence expert at the Brookings Institution think tank, told Fox News in 2010.
Inspire’s first issue, in 2010, included an essay by Anwar al-Awlaki, the leader of the Yemen-based terror group who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in September 2011.
And its new issue includes an article calling for car bombings in New York City.
“As for the field target for the car bomb, you have places flooded with individuals e.g. sports events in which tens of thousands attend, election campaigns, festivals and other gathering(s),” the article says. “The important thing is that you target people and not buildings.”
While the threat against Buffalo is not nearly so direct, Higgins said the article mentioning the region serves as proof that the Department of Homeland Security made a grievous error several years ago when it removed the Buffalo Niagara region from the list of communities eligible for the Urban Area Security Initiative grant program.
The department awarded the grants this week to 39 communities, up from 25 in 2013, but the Buffalo Niagara region was once again excluded.
Between fiscal 2003 and 2011, Buffalo-area police and fire agencies received more than $53 million under the grant program, using the money to improve communications and to buy equipment that would be used in case of a terrorist attack. Higgins said that improvements funded by the money also improved the region’s response to the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, the 2009 Gowanda floods and the 2006 October snowstorm.
But that was before the Department of Homeland Security trimmed the number of communities receiving the money by more than half, saying that the money ought to be concentrated in the most likely terror targets.
In light of the region’s mention in the al-Qaida magazine, “Homeland Security has an obligation to take decisive action” and return the anti-terror funding to Western New York, Higgins said. “Anything less represents gross negligence.”
In response to questions, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman referred to the guidelines of the anti-terror grant program as spelled out on the agency’s website, which say that the grant winners “were determined through an analysis of relative risk of terrorism.” In addition, the department considered “the anticipated effectiveness of proposed projects.”
Higgins said he learned about the Inspire magazine article Wednesday from Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour, who heard about it earlier in the day from an investigator assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“I was absolutely shocked,” Voutour said. “Very uncomfortable feeling that a magazine written by terrorists, for terrorists, recognized the Buffalo Niagara region, yet the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t recognize it.”
Higgins said he hasn’t received a good answer from the department about why cities such as Cleveland, Jersey City, Charlotte and Salt Lake City were funded this year and Buffalo Niagara was not.
“We have an al-Qaida-inspired organization, through their publication, identifying the vulnerability of the Buffalo Niagara region,” Higgins said. “I would look for immediate restoration of funds. It’s a big budget, $3.9 billion, and there’s money there,” he said of the Department of Homeland Security.
Higgins cited the international border, the Great Lakes, Niagara Power Project and Niagara Falls among the “high-target areas” that he said justified further funding. And Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz noted that the article was discovered just as people from across the country were gathering in Buffalo for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“It is sad when you think about the potential targets that do exist across this country, that the powers that be supposedly have decided that this is an area that does not need to be covered,” he said. “All you have to do is look and see all the people in town today for the NCAA and realize this is a potential terrorist threat, just as having one of the natural wonders of the world in Niagara Falls is a daily terrorist threat.”
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