Now, Religion in the News: a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from The Decatur Georgia Daily, November 26 2004, with the headline, “Hauling Terror. At least seven of the 19 hijackers who implemented the September 11 terrorist attacks had US commercial driver’s licenses with endorsements permitting them to operate tank trucks filled with hazardous materials. Officials fear that what was apparently Plan B on September 11th could become Plan A in a future attack. The tie to the September 11th hijackers, together with tank truck thefts in the United States and an increasing number of overseas terrorist attacks using tank trucks, has counter terrorism officials scrambling.
The Alabama Trucking Association said more restrictions are needed, even if they inconvenience its members. ‘A tanker filled with flammable liquid and a detonator could bring down a bridge, large buildings, what have you,’ said Ford Boswell, communication specialist for the trade group. ‘Yes, it worries us.’ Federal legislation requires background checks for HazMat drivers and, beginning January 31, will also require fingerprinting of all HazMat qualified truckers. ‘The regulations are going to be a pain in the rear for HazMat carriers,’ Boswell said, ‘but the danger is real.’
The first major terrorist attack using a fuel truck was in 1996, when militants detonated their bomb-equipped tank truck near an apartment complex housing US Air Force personnel in Saudi Arabia. The blast killed 19 and injured 372.
Information of terrorist interest in attacks using tank trucks has come from several sources. Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Cuba facility admitted to such plans, which they said were to be directed at schools, residential areas, and synagogues. Captured Al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, thought to be one of the masterminds of the September 11th attacks, told US investigators his group planned to use fuel trucks to ignite New York City gas stations.
Another Islamic terrorist captured in the United States told an informant he had planned to block a busy tunnel in New York City with a fuel truck, open the fuel valves, and ignite the fuel. British soldiers recently discovered a plan to drive a rigged fuel tanker into a busy train depot near Heathrow Airport in England. A month later, Israeli soldiers foiled a plan to drive a fuel truck containing explosives into a Tel Aviv skyscraper.”
Tom: This is scary, all right, but there are some things being done. One such thing is a program called Highway Watch, which involves intelligence-gathering efforts of tens of thousands of workers with highway-related jobs. Another thing, the US Department of Transportation recently conducted tests of numerous security-related devices which are installed on tank trucks around the country. So they’re doing certain things, but I wonder about those who apply for these kinds of jobs. I mean, if they’re just normal American citizens, Baptist, Methodist, or whatever, atheists even, but if you are a Muslim, can they restrict that?
Dave: Tom, it’s my understanding that some companies have as many as half Muslim drivers… These materials…
Tom: Right here in this country.
Dave: In the US. You have about 50 thousand of these trucks daily out there on the highways. Now, we’ve got Highway Watch. Well, that’s fine, give it a try, but what good is it going to do you to watch a tanker truck being driven into a gas station and blown up, or being driven into a high-rise, or whatever? Now, I understand that they have certain routes that they must take, and they are watched from satellite, and they know where every one of these trucks is.
Tom: Except for the ones that were stolen, and we have that on record right now.
Dave: Right, yeah. Tom, are you trying to worry us?
Tom: No, but this is a reality, Dave, that we have to face.
Dave: But supposing the GPS watch, the satellite watch up there, suddenly sees this truck is deviating! I mean, how many blocks does it have to go? They’ve got this planned to reach its target. How quickly could you have an airplane, a fighter up there to blow this thing up before it got to its target? It’s probably already in an industrial or residential area. How quickly could you get the police, no matter how close by they might be, highway patrol?
So, Tom, on the one hand, the United States has a policy: we do not discriminate on the basis of race or religion. On the other hand, you’ve got Muslims! And we know what Islam is, and we explained it in Judgment Day. They’re not just a few fanatics, this is Islam, and Muslims living in this country, no matter how peaceful they may seem, pressure can come upon them to cause them to do things that they might otherwise not do. And this is what happened in England, you know: the recent problems there - these were British citizens; some of them were natives, had grown up in England.
Tom: And they went off to these spiritual retreats where they were revived in their Islam and that’s a great concern, because within Islam are the very motivations to do the very things that we’re concerned about.
Dave: Now, Tom, you know that in one - just one campaign, Iran signed up more than 40 thousand suicide bombers volunteering to go into Iraq against the American troops. Now, we could have these in malls across the country. It is very dangerous. I don’t understand why we haven’t had another major incident like the Twin Towers, but something has to be done, Tom, and first of all we need to educate people as to what Islam really is.
Tom: Yeah, and I think in the name of safety and in the name of prudence, people say, “We can’t give up our rights because, you know, then we’re going to be moving to a totalitarian regime,” and so on. But you know, in times of war, in times of real danger, and times like these, we have to make certain adjustments and try and be as fair with people as we can. But, Dave, you’re not going to reject a Baptist from taking a job because of his religion. We don’t find in his religion things that are going to be dangerous. But certainly you have to come to grips with the fact that you do in Islam, and I think we have to make those adjustments.