Targets of terrorism

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(Host) For commentator Bill Seamans, the recent hostage situation in Russia brought back memories of a similar event he witnessed in Israel – and served as a reminder that it could happen here.

(Seamans) You may not want to hear this because you may be in a state of denial. You still may not really believe that terrorists could turn Main Street into Mean Street for you and your family – unless you are the mother, father, spouse or other relative of a serviceperson killed or maimed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But let me remind you that President Bush’s homeland security chief Tom Ridge has repeatedly warned us that another terrorist attack is only a question of when – even suggesting that it will happen before our November 2 election day. Your family and mine are the targets. That’s what is called reality.

We the people must learn that the threat of terrorism is not limited to Al Qaeda. It was the action of Chechen rebels, not Al Qaeda, that led to the firefight in which 338 Russian hostages died, half of them school children, in the town of Beslan. It was a barbarous act of terror aimed at sapping the will of a state that opposes their demands. Suddenly Russian President Vladimir Putin is on the defensive politically. Will the Russian people support him?

The Beslan tragedy took me back to May 15, 1974 – it was a day when I witnessed one of the most difficult stories of my career overseas – the Palestinian attack on the high school in the town of Maalot in northern Israel. Three terrorists infiltrated from Lebanon and held more than 60 high school students hostage demanding that the Israelis release Palestinian prisoners. The Israeli Cabinet decided not to give in and Prime Minister Golda Meir gave commandos the order to attack. The terrorists and 23 students were killed and the others grievously wounded. It was the cost of not giving in.

Breslan and Maalot are forewarnings of the ultimate decisions we may have to face here at home. Does President Bush really mean it when he says he will not give in to terrorism? Would we – or wouldn’t we – give in to a hostage situation threatening the lives or our schoolchildren?

We learn from Beslan and Maalot – that while we martial our defensive resources to protect so-called hard targets like bridges, tunnels, nuclear plants, government buildings and so forth – the terrorist may attack a soft target like a school full of children.

It means that President Bush has more to worry about than the campaign to prepare the American public to face terrorist demands when hostage lives are at stake. Giving in means that the terrorist wins the incentive to make more demands that could destroy our determination to stand fast.

One of the Israeli everyday scenes that I remember is that of parents standing guard at their childrens’ school entrances armed with Uzzi submachine guns. Will we ever have to do the same?

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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