The recent shooting in Oslo, Norway, which took dozens of lives and utterly shocked the foundations of Norwegian society, should serve as a stark reminder that the intrigues of deranged individuals possessive of extreme ideologies continues to prove a threat to the world community.

Many within the domestic law enforcement and national security community have long sounded the clarion call that such an event as occurred in Oslo—a coordinated and multifarious attack against soft and hard targets alike—remain the preeminent danger facing the American homeland.

Much attention is paid to the threat of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks against the United States, often within the context of how next al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-associated movements would likely attempt to carry out their newest attacks against the United States. While these methods of attack certainly warrant significant attention and deterrence, far less sophistication is required when the ultimate goal of a terrorist is to inflict both physical and psychological damage to a society.

In reflecting on the tragic events of Oslo, it is important to address whether or not such an attack within the United States can be averted and, if one should arise, to what extent our domestic law enforcement infrastructure can mitigate its damaging effects. The following serve as points of reflection and offer a number of compelling questions:

  • Mass shootings are certainly not unfamiliar to American society. The shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, by Major Nidal Malik Hasan in 2009 killed 13 people and injured dozens more. Had Hasan opted for a largely civilian population as his target or engaged in his maniacal attempts at jihad in a less fortified domain, would casualties have been significantly higher?
  • Are most law enforcement agencies prepared to counter an attack such as the Oslo bombing/shooting? The United States enjoys some of the most highly trained, competent, and professional policing in the world. But can any domestic law enforcement agency, primarily tasked with addressing a host of policing scenarios largely unlike that which played out in Oslo, truly be prepared to interdict such an event in the time and manner necessary to significantly inhibit an assailant’s ability to inflict extraordinary damage?

There is no question that the American homeland remains firmly within the scope of al-Qaeda, its associated movements, and others who ascribe to its twisted narrative of death and jihad. A “lone wolf” terrorist, a small cell of like-minded radicals, or a sophisticated and multidimensional conspiracy can each inflict its own level of damage against its target. The Oslo massacre serves as a reminder that tremendously damaging terrorist acts need not always be grand in scope.

Soft targets such as malls, schools, or other areas with high pedestrian traffic and relatively little security will continue to remain a highly vulnerable sector within the American homeland. Vigilance and awareness on the part of both the public as well as all levels of our nation’s domestic security apparatus remains our greatest fortification against the onset of such terrible calamities here in the United States.