What the Austin attack signifies

Thursday's suicide attack on a US tax agency building in Austin, Texas, stirred our memories of not only the 9/11 terror strikes but also the crashing of an LTTE plane into the Inland Revenue building in Colombo exactly one year ago.

A terrorist involvement has been ruled out in the attack in Austin but it has exposed America's growing vulnerability to micro terrorism. When the LTTE unveiled its crude air capability and carried out a few successful sorties before being wiped out last year, we pointed out in these columns the danger of others of Prabhakaran's ilk elsewhere, especially in the developed world, emulating such small scale yet devastating suicide raids.

The perpetrator of Thursday's kamikaze attack was a software engineer who had an axe to grind with the taxmen. Before embarking on his suicidal mission, he had posted a message on the Internet claiming, 'violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer'. He may not have had any terrorist links but he sounded just like Prabhakaran or bin Laden. Before him, a man called Charles Ray Polk had been arrested for planning to bomb the same income tax facility in 1995.

The deadly virus of suicidal violence seems to have jumped from terrorists to disgruntled citizens. This is an extremely dangerous trend. Tight security measures at airports, missile shields and fleets of fighter jets at the ready may be considered effective in countering the threat of fuel laden big planes being used as weapons of mass destruction. But, a lone pilot from Austin has shown that there is no defence against micro terror. Regrettably, while the LTTE's rudimentary air wing was wreaking havoc in Colombo, western governments were laughing up their sleeve.

The Pentagon dispatched two F-16 fighter jets to patrol the skies over the building in flames in Austin only to realise that it was an overreaction. Of what use are supersonic planes in tackling a tiny Piper Cherokee or a Zlin capable of flying extremely low and through rows of skyscrapers.

Washington may have heaved a sigh of relief on learning that Thursday's attack had nothing to do with organised terrorism. But, terrorists learn fast. They have to be lucky only once, as the IRA once claimed. It is hoped that they will not take a leaf from the book of the crazy engineer from Austin.

The Pentagon's overreaction has betrayed America's security paranoia behind a fa├žade of confidence. It sees enemies everywhere and knows that it has to be lucky all the time as its terrorists are far from crushed in spite of a protracted costly war on terror overseas. This kind of fear psychosis has made the US step up offensives against the Taliban in Afghanistan regardless of the collateral damage as evident from a recent NATO rocket attack, which killed over a dozen civilians.

Strangely, the Obama administration, which has turned out to be more hawkish than its predecessor contrary to public expectations, does not seem to appreciate Sri Lanka's outstanding contribution to the global war on terror which needs to be fought exactly the way the world battled smallpox leaving no pockets of infection anywhere. The US made the mistake of neglecting Afghanistan after getting rid of Russians with the help of a mixed bag of terrorists it sponsored and it has had to pay a very high price for that blunder.

Instead of launching witch hunts against countries like Sri Lanka, which has effectively neutralised terrorism and demonstrated that the civilised world is capable of removing the scourge of terror by conventional means, the US ought to give up double standards and take serious note of its vulnerability which an unbalanced man from Texas exposed so starkly on Thursday.

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