Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

With 9/11 More Distant, Alertness Wavers ; Initial Indifference to a New Hijacking Alert Prompts Government Reminders about Ongoing Terror Risks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

With 9/11 More Distant, Alertness Wavers ; Initial Indifference to a New Hijacking Alert Prompts Government Reminders about Ongoing Terror Risks

Article excerpt

Since Sept. 11, seasoned traveler Jim Stockhausen remains "much more aware that safety is a concern" every time he boards a plane. He was stranded in Germany for a week after the attacks, and it "hit home that my freedom of movement" was affected.

But as a corporate executive who flies several times a week, he's noticed an unsettling change in the people around him.

"People feel more secure. They're much more comfortable in their daily lives," he says, grasping his ticket at the Bradley International Airport outside Hartford. "But I'm not sure I'm there yet, because I fly every week."

Concern about terrorism in America has reached a new post-Sept. 11 low, despite the war in Iraq and the regular warnings from the Department of Homeland Security. Indeed, many people at Bradley International Airport last week hadn't even heard of the most recent alert about a new hijacking plot. That's just one indication that many Americans have slipped back into regular routines of going to the grocery store, the mall, and the airport without giving Osama bin Laden a second thought.

Contrast that with right after Sept. 11, when almost 50 percent of Americans listed terrorism as their top concern in a Gallop poll. Last month, less than 8 percent did.

Pollsters believe that's partly due to the time factor: It's been almost two years since Sept. 11, and there have been no more attacks on American soil.

Indeed, it's now worries about the economy and job security that have replaced terrorism as the most significant concern for almost 50 percent of Americans.

But this return to so-called "normality" has set off alarms in the community of terrorism experts, the very people who were preoccupied with Mr. bin Laden years before most Americans ever heard of him. It also prompted the administration in recent days to remind the country that it's still engaged in a war with a band of committed terrorists.

"Throughout US history, in the immediate aftermath of an attack, there's always been tremendous concern, tremendous anxiety, and then it's diminished," says Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corp. in Washington. "The problem is that for the terrorists in this case, this is an epic struggle that can take years. They're patient and they're watching everything we do. They're simply waiting for us to lower our guard so they can strike again."

Mr. Hoffman and other terrorism experts insist they don't want to instill fear, but a pragmatic vigilance - the kind of alertness that Mr. Stockhausen exhibits, which can act as a deterrent.

Such alertness may be especially important in light of the most recent hijacking warnings. In an urgent memo sent to airlines and airport security personnel last week, the Department of Homeland Security warned that hijackers may try to commandeer planes using "common items carried by travelers, such as cameras, modified as weapons. …

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