Al Qaeda Targets Small Towns?
[N]ew intelligence indicated that bin Laden himself had approved the most recent plan for major attacks, along with Ayman al-Zawahiri, his deputy.
U.S. officials and terrorism experts said that while some of the potential targets might seem unusual, there was a method to al-Qaida's plot.
For example, the officials said, al-Qaida seems particularly interested in Tappahannock, Va., a tiny town of 2,016 people with no military base or major infrastructure. Such an attack would be intended to generate widespread fear that no one was safe, even in small rural towns, they said.
Since 9/11 I've often speculated about the efficacy of attacking a rural community in Vermont or other states*. I've always rejected the notion, maybe because I live in a small place and hope that will protect me, but I also wonder how much terror such an attack would really cause. The death toll and economic damage would be horrific, though it wouldn't be as significant as another attack on an urban center, so would that really terrorize Americans as much? I'm not so sure.
While the underlying principle of terrorism might be to demonstrate that anybody can be struck down at any time, anywhere, I think they would have to focus on places where they'd have the highest degree of success and impact. Crashing a plane into the tallest building in Burlington certainly isn't as devastating in any sense as destroying the WTC, no matter how you look at it, and I think more difficult to carry out--low return for higher work factor.
On the other hand, Tappahannock might not have a lot infrastructure or importance per se
, but it is near places that do, in addition to being rural. A small town in VA, a couple hours from DC, might make an ideal target given its proximity to the seat of government, large airports, etc.
Alternately, all this "chatter" could just be bullshit. Certainly a cheap way to instill fear and make us waste resources without any risk to al Qaeda. Here's hoping...
* [Update: When I went to St. Louis for the first time back in '99, visiting some of Stef's relatives, we went to the Arch. While I was taking pics, I saw a TWA plane getting ready to land--looked like it was flying under the Arch--and I wondered what would happen if a terrorist crashed a plane into such a landmark. After I learned that the Arch was designed to withstand earthquakes and super high winds, I rejected the idea. Shows how prescient I am.]