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Series of bombings over the weekend reinforces the need to remain vigilant

As strange as it sounds, there is much to be thankful for in and around New York City today. Two bombs were placed in Manhattan and several more across the Hudson River in New Jersey. No one died, and on Monday, a suspect was arrested.

One bomb detonated in a dumpster on 23rd Street in New York, injuring at least 29 people, some significantly, but killing no one. Two other bombs exploded, one of them in Elizabeth, N.J., while police were attempting to disarm it and the other near the route of a Marine Corps charity race in Seaside Heights, N.J. No one was injured in either of those blasts.

It’s nearly miraculous that this episode of terrorism in the nation’s largest city took no lives, but the cause for gratitude doesn’t end there. Law enforcement officers moved swiftly to investigate this latest attack on innocents and, on Monday, arrested a suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, after a shootout.

Rahami, who was wounded in the exchange of gunfire, had been seen in video surveillance near the site of the 23rd Street explosion and the site where a similar bomb was placed on 27th Street, also in a dumpster. Two police officers were injured. Investigators have also questioned other persons of interest, but as of Monday, only Rahami was charged in the crime.

Nevertheless, authorities said the attack remains under investigation. Among the issues to be determined, police said, was the motivation behind the bombing and who else, if anyone, was involved.

However that plays out, these acts of terrorism offer a grim reminder that mass murder can be executed by any person. And while Islamic extremists are a primary concern – Rahami is reported to be a naturalized American citizen born in Afghanistan – they are not alone, as documented by Timothy McVeigh of Pendleton, who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people; or Dylan Roof, who is charged with the murder of nine African-American worshippers at a church in Charleston, S.C.; or Micah Xavier Johnson, who murdered five Dallas police officers in an ambush. Plainly, vigilance is required by all and directed at suspicious conduct more than race or ethnicity.

Indeed, vigilance may have prevented a greater toll when a woman called police about a suspicious object that turned out to be the second Manhattan bomb. Local and federal investigators worked around the clock since Saturday night’s explosion in Manhattan.

Rahami was spotted in the doorway of a bar in Linden, N.J. When a police officer woke Rahami and ordered him to show his hands, the suspect fired at the officer, hitting his protective vest. Rahami then started shooting at passing vehicles before he was shot and captured. At least one other officer was injured.

The attack has already become embroiled in this year’s presidential election and will almost certainly add to the nation’s apprehension about Islamic extremists bent on mass, indiscriminate murder. It’s an issue, to be sure, but the nation’s response cannot be similarly indiscriminate.

As a story in Sunday’s editions of The News reported, the number of hate crimes against Muslim-Americans has soared to its highest level since the 2001 terror attacks. That’s a terrible reflection on this country and a horrifying abuse of innocent people. At least as bad, it’s a recruiting tool for groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida and potentially a disincentive for Muslim-Americans to report suspicious activity to police.

Such reporting is a critical part of the vigilance that has helped keep the country relatively safe over the past 15 years. It has played out here in Western New York, where federal authorities have praised the cooperation of people such as Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, founding president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York.

This is a stressful moment in a difficult period in the nation’s history. The challenges – and they are difficult ones – need to be approached in a way that is not only effective, but that will offer an example to future generations of Americans on how to confront a terrible threat in a way that holds true to our best values.

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