An uptick in international lone-wolf terror attacks has North Carolina lawmakers worried that the next deadly strike could occur on U.S. soil.
People are on edge, said Rep. Alma Adams, D-Charlotte. And they should be because Americans need to become accustomed to lone-wolf terrorist attacks like the one that happened in Nice, France, on Thursday during a celebration of the country’s independence day, said Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte. The celebration attracted thousands of people, creating a vulnerable environment that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old native of Tunisia, exploited when he ran over and killed 84 people and injured 202 more with a large truck.
Over the past several months, members of the state’s congressional delegation have backed measures to increase security within the United States by passing counterterrorism bills. Those bills span from combating terrorism recruitment to developing a national strategy that would constrain the domestic and international travel of terrorists. Pittenger has been at the forefront of the counterterrorism fight as chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and as vice chairman of the Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing.
“I want the American people to have that sober reality that these people are committed to our destruction and they are sophisticated, capable people and they have a variety of ways that they seek to fulfill their objectives,” he said during a Friday interview.
“There are things that we need to be doing in this country to prevent these kinds of attacks, whether it’s dealing with Syrian refugees, whether it’s dealing with folks from other countries that can come here without a visa, or whether it’s our open southern border,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-Concord. “I think we have a lot of exposure to terrorists still here in the country.”
Hudson had wanted to suspend admitting Syrian and Iraqi refugees, but the measure failed in the Senate earlier this year.
The country is still reeling from two major attacks on U.S. soil within the past eight months. The mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 people in December 2015 was launched by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple whose terror attack drew the praise of the Islamic State. In June, the largest mass shooting in history, launched by Islamic State supporter Omar Mateen, 29, left 49 people dead at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
Odds that another major attack will occur within the country have greatly increased due to battlefield success that the U.S. military and its allies are experiencing as they take territory back from the Islamic State and destroy its oil assets in Iraq and Syria, Hudson said.
“They’re losing their grip on their caliphate, which is one of the reasons they’re lashing out at targets abroad – to try to scare other countries into stopping their support,” said David Schanzer, Duke University professor and director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.
Without additional security measures, the United States will remain as vulnerable to terror attacks as France, Adams said.
“This recent attack in France is also an indication, at least to me, that while this particular situation, incident did not happen in the United States, it could happen,” she said. “Something like this could happen. So people are on edge, are very concerned about their safety still and about the possibility of these kinds of attacks occurring in our country as well.”
Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048 @MolotovFlicker