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Published: Saturday, 6/9/2007

Two Americas

THE FBI announced last weekend that three Muslim men had been arrested for plotting to blow up fuel tanks and pipelines at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The New York Times story about the plot ran on page 30 of the national edition. The front page was reserved for a sympathetic story about Omar Ahmed Khadr, a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist being held at Guantanamo Bay.

We learned early in that story that Mr. Khadr was only 15 when he was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002; that he is "nearly blind in one eye" from the firefight in which he killed one American soldier and maimed another, and that he "doesn't trust Americans." Only much deeper in the story does reporter William Glaberson mention that young Mr. Khadr's father was a senior deputy to Osama bin Laden.

Had the JFK plot succeeded, thousands of Americans could have been killed, and the economic damage could have made the $27.2 billion in direct costs resulting from the 9/11 attacks seem like pocket change.

Reporters Cara Buckley and William Rashbaum didn't get around to mentioning this until the 28th paragraph in their story. But in the fifth paragraph, they tell us JFK "was never in imminent danger because the attack was only in a preliminary phase."

The originator of the plot was Russell Defreitas, 63, a naturalized American citizen born in Guyana who had worked at JFK. Two other conspirators were arrested in Trinidad. A fourth named conspirator is at large. Seven other plotters are mentioned in the indictment.

"One law enforcement official played down Mr. Defreitas' ability to carry out an attack, calling him 'a sad sack' and 'not a grade A terrorist,'•" Ms. Buckley and Mr. Rashbaum wrote. The Times reporters did not mention that federal officials suspect Adnan el-Shukrijumah, al-Qaeda's nuclear expert, may have been involved in the plot.

The Times reporters also played down the threat posed by six Muslim men arrested May 8 for planning to massacre soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey. The original Times story didn't get around to mentioning that the plotters were Muslims until the sixth paragraph. Subsequent stories questioned whether there was a religious motivation for the planned attack and speculated that the Fort Dix Six may have been victims of entrapment.

On May 22, the Pew Research Center released a poll which indicated that 26 percent of Muslims in the United States under age 30 believe suicide bombings are justified under some circumstances. (Two percent of young Muslims told Pew they're often justified.)

"It is a hair-raising number," said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. But the New York Times story on the poll didn't mention this until the seventh paragraph. Brian Knowlton's lead sentence began: "A new poll of American Muslims reveals a group that is better assimilated, more content and less politically polarized than counterpart Muslim populations in Western Europe."

Some of the less assimilated and more polarized seem to be gathering at Islamberg, a Muslim commune in the Catskills, the New York Post reported Monday.

Neighbors have reported gunfire and military-style physical training at the commune, which is thought to be associated with Jamaat al-Fuqra. An al-Fuqra member was jailed in a 1996 plot to bomb bridges and tunnels in New York City. Others are suspects in assassinations and fire bombings in the United States. One neighbor reported seeing commune members dressed in port authority uniforms, the Post said.

On ABC's This Week program last Sunday, Rep. Jack Murtha (D., Johnstown) said the JFK airport plotters were provoked by the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Murtha has difficulty with time lines. Sep. 11, 2001, happened before March 19, 2003, when the Iraq war began. So did the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

Radical Islamists have been trying to kill Americans since long before the Iraq war began. There is no reason to suppose they will stop trying to kill Americans when the war in Iraq ends. But in the Democratic presidential debate in Manchester, N.H., Sunday night, all the candidates argued, in effect, that our troubles will be over once the troops have been brought home.

There are two Americas, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is fond of saying. And he's right.

One recognizes the threat posed by radical Islam. The other is blind to it.



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