State and Local Law Enforcement: Contributions to Terrorism Prevention

By McCormack, William | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, March 2009 | Go to article overview

State and Local Law Enforcement: Contributions to Terrorism Prevention


McCormack, William, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


On April 12, 1988, New Jersey State Trooper Robert Cieplensky entered the Vince Lombardi service area of the New Jersey Turnpike. He noticed a man later identified as Yu Kikumura twice begin to walk from his car to the service area, only to return to his vehicle abruptly after making eye contact with him. After Kikumura exhibited more suspicious behavior, he began to drive away. Trooper Cieplensky ordered Kikumura to stop and then observed fresh burn marks on Kikumura's neck, bandages on his neck and hands, and a black bag in the car that contained seven empty gunpowder canisters. After noticing other questionable items in the vehicle, he arrested Kikumura. Unbeknownst to Trooper Cieplensky, he had just uncovered three lethal, homemade firebombs prepared for a major terrorist bombing on U.S. soil. (1)

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Subsequent evidence at Kikumura's trial proved that he was a member of the Japanese Red Army, a violent terrorist organization that trained in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon and had connections to Libyan terrorist aims. As noted by the U.S. district court judge in the case, "But for the alert and professional conduct of Trooper Cieplensky, Kikumura would have succeeded in murdering and maiming countless numbers of people for no other reason than they are Americans." (2)

Since 9/11, the U.S. government's efforts to prevent terrorist acts have substantially increased and included many aspects of government policy, such as military, immigration, economic, intelligence, and law enforcement. Terrorism prevention has been a long-standing mandate of the FBI. Moreover, the approximately 800,000 state and local law enforcement officers like Trooper Cieplensky are on the front lines of this mission. They are the eyes and ears of the community and nation and play an essential role in preventing heinous acts of terrorism. (3)

Community Eyes and Ears

On July 29, 1997, Abdelrahman Mossabah, who was living in Brooklyn, New York, informed officers of the New York City Police Department that his roommates, Lafi Khalil and Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, had bombs in their apartment and planned to detonate them soon. According to Mossabah, Abu Mezer was angry about the situation in Jerusalem and Palestine and planned to detonate the bombs in a crowded subway or bus terminal.

On July 31, 1997, officers entered Abu Mezer and Khalil's apartment, shooting and wounding both of them after one dove to grab an officer's gun. Officers also believed that the suspects were lunging to detonate the bombs in the apartment.

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Subsequent interviews with Abu Mezer indicated that he had made five bombs to kill as many Jews as possible because of his opposition to U.S. support for Israel. Abu Mezer also admitted that he was with Hamas and planned to bomb a subway at 8 a.m. on July 31, 1997. He advised that when he realized the police were in his apartment that morning, he wanted to blow himself up. (4) This case clearly illustrates a community's law enforcement presence as an important link in thwarting a large-scale terrorist attack. Quick police action in an extremely dangerous situation likely saved lives and prevented an imminent bombing. (5)

Rural Locations

Some local or state officers may believe that most international terrorism cases are like the Khalil case, affecting only big cities, such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. However, many international and domestic terrorists have contact with officers in rural areas all over the country. For example, on September 29, 2001, Deputy Sheriff Mark Mercer of the Skamania County, Washington, Sheriff's Office was dispatched to a gravel pit in a rural area after a neighbor heard rapid gunfire. Deputy Mercer was alone as he approached the gravel pit and observed a group of men shooting firearms. He approached the group, talked to them, and wrote a police incident report that included the identities of the individuals. …

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