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Published: Wednesday, 1/26/2011

Terror within

American mobsters may have assumed they had a free ride after Sept. 11, 2001. East Coast crime families probably breathed easier after the Justice Department turned its attention to foreign nationals whose names appeared on terror-watch lists.

The specter of international terrorism provided the FBI and other law enforcement agencies with bigger fish to fry than wiseguys with nicknames such as "Jack the Whack" and "Vinnie Carwash." But as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asserts, there's nothing wrong with occasionally hauling in small fry to keep the nation's more traditional crime figures on their toes.

Last week, 800 agents and officers from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and local police in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Florida arrested 110 suspected mob members. It was one of the biggest organized-crime busts in recent years.

The suspects are accused of offenses ranging from extortion and loan-sharking to murder and racketeering. Despite nicknames reminiscent of characters on The Sopranos, these men, if they are found guilty, will rank among the worst offenders American society has produced.

Law enforcement officials know that even a mob roundup of this size won't put crime families out of commission permanently. But it will disrupt business as usual until the next generation of crooks can assume power.

Mobsters aren't stupid. They know that terrorism is the Justice Department's priority. Still, a haul such as last week's offers a reminder that domestic criminals can't expect to fly under the radar.

Their crimes may be conventional. But they, too, can expect a reckoning.

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