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Editorial: Bombing reinforces the feeling that an attack can happen anywhere

And, again, innocent people die as ISIS lashes out in a wild and vain effort to accomplish … what? Is it hoping to intimidate the West into backing off its role in defeating the terror organization in Syria and Iraq? If anything, murderous attacks on young people will only steel Westerners to the urgency of the task. Or is it as straightforward as the story of the scorpion that killed the helpful frog because that’s what scorpions do?

Regardless, there are signals in the terrible attack that killed at least 22 people Monday outside a concert hall in Manchester, England, that all Americans, including those in Western New York, should heed. Those signals emanate from the place of the attack: outside the concert hall and in a city that might not have ranked high on most people’s list of suspected terror targets.

Manchester is a city of about 2.5 million – not tiny, but a far cry from the big populations in influence centers such as London, Paris or New York. Who has anything against Manchester?

Of course, that’s not the point. The goal of terrorism is shock and fear in service of an often indistinct end. And as the obvious targets become increasingly hardened, the bombers and shooters are likely to seek softer spots where the killing is easier. That’s a wake-up call to places like Buffalo.

Monday’s attack occurred just as fans were leaving a concert by Ariana Grande. The youngest of the dead was an 8-year-old girl. At least 12 children under the age of 16 were among the dozens of wounded. The suicide bomber set off his explosives outside the venue. It’s not the first time a terrorist has acted outside a typical target in a possible bid to evade security defenses.

In Brussels last year, for example, terrorists set off nail bombs at the airport’s check-in lines – that is, before passengers are subject to security procedures. A man who took his 12-year-old daughter to Monday’s concert in Manchester said that while there were no metal detectors or body checks at the arena’s entrance, bags were inspected and items such as water bottles had to be discarded.

It is unknown at this point why Manchester was chosen for an attack, though it’s hard to escape the idea that ease of access could count prominently among the motivations. That’s why Western New Yorkers and other Americans outside major population centers need to take seriously both the need for additional security and the gaps that inevitably remain.

Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there has been official government concern about Buffalo’s attractiveness to terrorists. It’s a border city, connected to Canada by bridges. It’s home to two major league sports teams, and its national profile is rising as it recovers from decades of economic decline. These are reasons not to panic, but to be aware. They are reasons for Washington and Albany to continue funding anti-terror strategies in Western New York and in any number of American cities that might not otherwise rank as obvious targets.

It’s a sad thought, but such attacks appear to be a fact of life for the foreseeable future as the civilized world continues the wrenching task of adjusting to the bloodlust of terrorists. That work is a difficult balancing act that must factor in the need for security as well as the nature of what it means to live in a democratic, open society. Americans can’t give up the qualities that make the country great in the effort to protect against periodic random attacks.

That split has been at the foundation of many internal disputes over the past several years. Revelations of monitoring by the National Security Agency caused controversy as Americans recoiled from the idea of government “snooping” at the same time as they sought security from attacks. It’s an argument that is likely to continue, and which Monday’s bloody attack is likely to influence as Americans try to find the line that separates appropriate response from frightened overreaction.

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