Iraq, Iraq ... hey, look, terrorists in Miami!

Raids net arrests, but does the fanfare correspond to the evidence?

Published June 23, 2006 1:21PM (EDT)

It must have been very exciting, the G-men infiltrating groups and blowtorching locks and rounding up all the bad guys, and Thursday night's news of antiterrorism raids in Miami was probably way more entertaining than any Senate debate on Iraq.

We were traveling, so we missed it.

We're sure all sorts of important things happened in the middle, but we've got the bookends here in front of us: The "breaking news" alert informing us about a "series of raids ... targeting a suspected terror cell based in Miami," and then the Associated Press report from this morning that suggests it may have been something less than all that.

From the AP:

There are "no apparent ties to al-Qaida or other foreign terrorist organizations ... no imminent threat to Miami or any other area ... never found evidence of a credible terrorism threat against Sears Tower that has gone beyond criminal discussions."

Neighbors said the men caught in Thursday night's raid exercised at night and slept in a warehouse and sometimes had young children with them and invited a couple of locals to join their karate class. Benjamin Williams, 17, said the men would "cover their faces. Sometimes they would wear things on their heads, like turbans."

We say, lock 'em up and call a press conference. You can never be too careful, especially when the media might otherwise be talking about either the Republicans' strategy to stay the course in Iraq or the state of emergency declared in Baghdad after insurgents set up roadblocks and started firing at U.S. and Iraqi troops.

Maybe there was something happening in that warehouse in Miami. The indictment against the men talks of a conspiracy with al-Qaida to "levy war against the United States" by carrying out attacks in Chicago, Miami and elsewhere. (And with that, we've just covered our ass.) But it's a little early in this case -- and a little late in the war on terrorism -- to simply assume that the men arrested Thursday were actually plotting to attack anything, let alone that they had the capacity to carry it out. If we've learned anything over the past five years, it's that the fanfare surrounding a would-be terrorist attack can be inversely proportional to the amount of evidence the government actually has about it. See Padilla, Jose. Or Iraq, war against.

Maybe it's different this time. Maybe these guys had both the mindset and the means necessary to pull off a major attack in the United States. But we don't know that now, and we won't know it for a while. Because all the press conferences scheduled for this morning notwithstanding, the Bush administration never comments on an ongoing criminal investigation, right?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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