The apparent terrorist attack on pedestrians at Ohio State University Monday is triggering a wide range of political and cultural reaction, but a leading terrorism expert says the most important responses need to be much tougher screening for refugees and helping people spot radical threats before they strike.
On Monday morning, Somali refugee Abdul Azak Ali Artan allegedly drove a car into a crowd of people before getting out and trying to stab as many people as possible. Artan was quickly shot and killed by campus police officer Alan Horuljko.
In the aftermath, the Obama administration has been careful not to describe the attack as radical Islamic terrorism, despite ISIS claiming credit for the attack and officials suggesting Artan’s social media postings indicate he was inspired by ISIS. At least one of the victims says he is withholding judgment on Artan’s motives.
President-Elect Donald Trump was much less diplomatic, saying Artan never should have been in the country in the first place.
Terrorism expert Dr. Harvey Kushner says Artan should have raised red flags as he tried to enter the U.S.
“This individual should have raised some red flags, given when he came here. At the time when he came here and the time when ISIS was beginning to be in full bloom and was recruiting heavily on the internet. And the area of the world which he came from should have raised some questions of more extreme vetting,” said Kushner.
Kushner, who is also head of the Terrorism and Homeland Security Institute at Long Island University. He says Artan’s actions were a textbook ISIS attack, given the terrorists’ public push for stabbing attacks. He says we have to do a better job of screening who comes into this country.
“Our authorities need to be able to get data on individuals who want to come in here. There has to be a very deep interviewing process and there has to be some kind of follow-up while they’re here. I’m not saying to pause completely from all areas of the world but some areas are certainly more problematic,” said Kushner.
“People from certain regions of the world that we know are problematic, which we know bring political baggage with them could cause a problem in the future. This attack represents such an incident,” said Kushner.
He says trying to limit refugees from terror-prone nations is made far more difficult now that so many are dispersed throughout Europe and could attempt to come to the U.S. from nations that don’t raise red flags.
“What’s happened throughout Europe and the European Union and movement between countries there,” said Kushner. “We really need to step back and take a look at the process that we have currently in terms of gathering data about individuals and making sure these individuals don’t pose a serious threat.”
While students who claim to know Artan say they never suspected he was radicalized, Kushner says it is far more likely that this rage was building for some time rather then Artan suddenly snapping.
“I don’t think this necessarily happens overnight, that there’s some sort of epiphany that the person should go out and do this. I think this was building up. Most likely it was disguised in his behavior prior to this. I don’t think there was a straw that broke the camel’s back. There was a build-up here and I think we need to be more astute about recognizing these signs,” said Kushner.
Kushner admits spotting a threat is not easy.
“It’s not recognizable to the general public or the people close by, because they’re not trained as psychologists or psychiatrists or people involved in looking at looking at individuals from certain regions of the world,” said Kushner.
He says one of the possible triggers for radicalization is the intense clash of cultures for some people who come to the U.S.
“I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but I will say it. When you’re bringing people from certain regions of the world who have cultures and backgrounds that are somewhat different that what you have here in the states. This, unfortunately, lays the groundwork for something like this to spring up,” said Kushner.