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Who Could Commit Such an Act of Terrorism? - 2001-09-11

Terrorists have attacked the New York Trade Center and the Pentagon at great cost in lives with the situation still in doubt.

General John Singlaub was looking out his window at home when he saw the explosion at the Pentagon. "I think the first attacks on the World Trade Center might be considered symbolic attacks, but the attack on the Pentagon is an attack on the government of the United States," he said. "It is an act of war, from my perspective. We have to find out as rapidly as possible who the perpetrators might be, and if it is a group or a nation, they have to pay the price. This cannot be tolerated or it will be greatly encouraged."

Milt Bearden, a longtime top CIA officer in Muslim countries, says such a disaster requires a searching examination of U.S. policy. "This is such a large event, so well coordinated, so determined that it changes, I think, the entire character of international terrorism or our view of it," he said. "I think people are going to say, 'This is so big this time. It has taken so many lives. What is this all about? Why is it that people seem willing to go to these extremes, to die and kill so many people to strike at the United States?'"

Mr. Bearden speculates the attack may be tied to Osama bin Laden or people around him. If it is not, we must ask fundamental questions about our response to terrorism. "We have had a fascination with Osama bin Laden. We have dealt with him so much over the last three or four years that we think that is the terrorist threat in the world," he said. But "somebody will have to ask the question: have we been putting all of our focus on this guy holed up in a cave in Afghanistan, while all of these other grievances have reached a point where people can wander around the United States hijacking planes in Boston and forcing them to fly into buildings in New York and into the Pentagon?"

There is no escaping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, says Mr. Bearden, and the U.S. attitude toward it. General Singlaub says the United States, like it or not, has been thrust into a kind of world war. "We are being blamed by the Muslim extremists for all the problems of the world," he said, "and they wanted to show us that we are vulnerable. Now we know we are."

Moderate Muslim groups in the United States have condemned the attacks.

General Singlaub says the United States must become more realistic in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The goal should be to stop the fighting - period.