Suicide bombers will target America, a terrorism expert with the Columbus Police Department warned an audience at the Jewish Community Center July 10.
"They’re coming. It’s a matter of time," said Lt. Fred C. Bowditch of the Homeland Security Section of the Columbus Police Department.
Of the 20 major terrorists stopped in the United States, three lived in Columbus. In addition, a recent attempt to behead the prime minister of Canada involved firearms traced to Columbus, Bowditch said.
Nuradin Abdi, an immigrant to Columbus from Somalia, was arrested in 2003 and charged with plotting to blow up a central Ohio mall. Lyman Faris, a Columbus truck driver, pleaded guilty in 2003 of attempting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. Christopher Paul was arrested on April 11, 2007 after being indicted for providing materials to terrorists.
Bowditch said he hopes Paul opts for a plea bargain, so the public will not learn the horrors he planned.
Evidence connects the three to a terrorist cell operating in Columbus.
Columbus is home to many immigrants from Muslim countries including the second largest Somali population in the United States after Minneapolis. Only one out of 100 Muslims is an extremist; however, the estimated population of Columbus’s Somalis is more than 30,000, Bowditch said.
Bowditch said Columbus police do not racially profile suspects. The biggest threat to America would be "a white male who doesn’t have an Arab-look."
Columbus Police’s Homeland Security Section is comprised of officers, firefighters and an analyst. One staff member is fluent in Arab. Bowditch said the FBI does not have an Arab-speaking agent.
During home Ohio State football games, Bowditch’s group scans the crowd with the help of reservists from Rickenbacker Airport who specialize in detecting weapons of mass destruction. The scanners they use have the sensitivity to detect radiation emanating from people receiving cancer treatment.
Bowditch, along with Homeland Security officers from other cities, went to Israel last fall to learn from counterterrorism units there. The social justice committee of the Columbus Jewish Foundation sponsored his trip.
As a result of constant terror threats, Israelis endure several checkpoints just to visit a mall. Bowditch encountered three guards searching the visitors to a coffee shop.
If someone tries to bypass a security point, they are shot and no follow-up investigation is performed. Everyone is checked for explosives regardless of age, gender or race.
Cameras are mounted on the streets of Jerusalem and monitored constantly.
Columbus City Council would not authorize traffic cameras unless the face of the driver would be obscured. As the threat of terrorism grows, individuals may lose their constitutionally protected civil rights, Bowditch said.
Individuals can help Homeland Security by alerting police of suspicious people who may act nervous or look sweaty, or they may circle an area several times.
In Israel, even young children are taught to spot potential terrorists. Bowditch said a small boy stopped a suicide bomber because he noticed the man was wearing a coat on a hot day.
Although only 1% of the tips lead to actual terrorist activity, the community involvement "is worth it," Bowditch said. "We have some major cases right now."
On August 3 at 11:15 a.m., Bowditch will reprise his presentation at the Jewish Community Center, at 1125 College Ave. in east Columbus.