“A North Texas man was sentenced today to 240 months in federal prison for conspiring to provide material support to ... a Pakistani-based foreign terrorist organization.”
In the confines of North Texas, it can be easy to assume that we are far outside the reach of foreign terrorist organizations and that no one who lives here would consider supporting such groups. But in recent weeks three stories have slid by that deserve more public attention than they’ve gotten.
The first involves Michael Kyle Sewell, who was arrested in February, pleaded guilty in May and, as noted above, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiring to provide support to a foreign terrorist organization. Sewell is only 18 years old, so not only will he serve more time in prison than he’s been alive, he is also a person who has no living memory of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America even as he is now caught up in a legal system that was retooled following those attacks to be better equipped to stymie terrorist activity.
The other two stories occurred outside of Texas, but show that the Lone Star State isn’t far removed from the world that involved alleged terrorist plots. One involved an American Airlines mechanic based in another state who is accused for sharing disturbing ISIS videos and of sabotaging a plane in July. He was arrested by the FBI, but it’s too early to know where his case will end up. The other involves a U.S. Army soldier stationed in Kansas who was charged by federal authorities this week for allegedly sharing bomb-making instructions online and expressing a willingness to support an attack inside the United States.
The soldier, 24-year-old Jarrett William Smith of South Carolina, engaged in discussions online that apparently led investigators to conclude he posed a threat. He reportedly chatted with an undercover agent about targeting presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, Texas.
Our point is that even while the United States has waged foreign wars that have kept terrorist organizations on the defensive and even while our government has been successful in thwarting plots here at home, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we live in an era when the threat of terrorism is real and the response to it has to remain substantive and evolve to meet new threats. In this case, the FBI and other officials have identified possible threats.
As these cases make their way through the courts, they should also make their way into public discussions. Unless we see how our authorities are dealing with threats, we won’t be equipped to police federal officials in how they wield their power, nor will we be cognizant and supportive of necessary measures that are needed to prevent the next attack.