Even before the terror attacks last week in Brussels, Belgium, that killed 31 people and injured 270, or the latest suicide bomb blast in Pakistan on Sunday — with 67 reported dead as of press time — state lawmakers have been working to pass strict new laws that would ratchet-up penalties for terror-related crimes.
Most recently, the New York state Senate passed a package of anti-terror bills that would significantly increase penalties for terrorist recruitment; soliciting or providing support for acts of terrorism, based on dollar value; cybercrimes for those who use technology to advance terrorist activity and for those who make terroristic threats against police officers. All four bills are now being considered by the state’s Assembly.
Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs, who also voted to approve the anti-terror bills, said that stricter laws are needed to address new realities.
“We’re living in a new world,” Addabbo Jr. said. “New York is a leading terror target and these upgraded laws were needed even before the Brussels attacks, and now they’re even more necessary. Whether it’s legislation or funding — anything that we can do to help the situation is a step in the right direction.”
NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis noted that there have been about 20 different terror plots targeting city transit and infrastructure, of varying degrees of complexity, since Sept. 11, 2001, that have been foiled by the NYPD and its federal partners.
Davis added that enhanced anti-terror legislation would further bolster the city’s anti-terror resources which include more than 1,000 officers assigned to counterterrorism operations including recently added canines that are capable of detecting “vapor wakes,” or chemical vapors present in many types of explosives.
“These new canines can potentially track someone walking through a location that may be wearing a suicide vest or belt,” Davis said, adding that initial information from Belgium indicates that the bombers were wearing similar vests or belts walking through transit hubs.
Commenting on the legislation, Joe Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant, and now adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, called the anti-terror bills important tools for law enforcement to pursue those “engaged in terror-related activity.”
“The statute about threats against police officers is there mainly because ISIS or the Islamic State has ordered its followers to attack and kill police officers, such as the incident several months ago in Philadelphia when a man shot a police officer in his car and claimed he did it on behalf of ISIS,” Giacalone said.
He added, “We get lulled to sleep every few years until something major happens. … Attacks are happening more frequently and closer together. We have to keep our guard up. Now is not the time to think that the ‘War on Terrorism’ is over.”
Also commenting on the upgraded anti-terror laws, David Firester, a counterterrorism expert and analyst with Jihad Intel, part of a Philadelphia-based think tank that provides intelligence to law enforcement on Islamic terrorist organizations, said that it’s difficult to know if the new laws would deter would-be terrorists.
But, he said that it’s important to let would-be jihadists know that malevolent intentions can have serious consequences.
“The Islamic State and al Qaeda have specifically called for the targeting of both civilians and the police,” Firester said. “It is wise to adopt legislation that meets the threats emanating from our enemies abroad. A major component of their strategy is to penetrate our society and generate terror from within our borders.”