What’s does an alleged terrorist have to do to get some attention in this city?
Abu Hamza al-Masri is set to stand trial for a terror-related kidnapping in Yemen, for spreading pro-jihadist teachings and for attempting to set up terrorist training camps within the U.S.
Apparently, that’s not enough to cause much of an uproar in New York — as al-Masri’s extradition to the city from the U.K. Saturday incited very little outrage. The quiet reception of al-Masri stands in stark contrast to the outcry caused by plans announced in 2009 to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York federal court.
“It really seems to show that this whole panic and screaming about not having terrorists tried in New York or anywhere else in this country is really red herring,” Brigitte Nacos, a political science professor who specializes in terrorism and mass media at Columbia University, tells the Voice. “This guy is certainly not less dangerous than anyone else New York had to deal with.”
Nacos cited the trials of Omar Abdel-Rahman and Ramzi Yousef, which both took place in New York, as examples. Rahman — an Egyptian-born terrorist who is linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a foiled plot to bomb numerous New York City Landmarks — was sentenced to several life sentences in prison by a New York federal court judge in 1996. Yousef — the mastermind of the 1993 WTC bombing and nephew of Mohammed — was convicted to multiple life sentences in the city as well.
“The Egyptian Sheik Rahman was much better known than Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and when he was tried, there were a lot of threats and nothing happened, and he’s serving multiple life sentences,” Nacos says. “There’s certainly people who are very upset that [al-Masri] is now here and he’s going to stand trial. The threat now is as great if not greater, but you don’t hear anything. So, I’m puzzled.”
The Obama administration and the city received so much back-lash for the proposed Mohammed trial that Attorney General Eric Holder ultimately announced Mohammed would be tried by a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay.
With security concerns and emotions high, New York was preparing to spend $200 million in NYPD overtime to ensure the city’s safety. For Masri, and the four other suspected terrorists extradited with him, that tab appears to be at zero.
“[Mohammed] was seen as the prime mover behind September 11th, certainly the master planner, so it was a whole different emotional level here,” NYPD Commissioner Kelly told WNYC.
With al-Masri’s plea hearing set for later today, Kelly doesn’t anticipate a need for any enhanced security measures.
Nacos says one factor which might help explain the relatively quiet reaction to this trial could be the attention, or lack thereof, that it’s been given by the media.
“It shows pretty clearly who sets the media agenda,” she says. “I’m not suggesting somebody should go up and scream again. But, I think if I worked for, [say], the New York Times or the Daily News. I would take this case and now examine this because what was so dangerous then should be [dangerous] now.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 9, 2012