Living inside the Beltway in suburban Virginia, where filling up the gas tank has come to be seen as an act of courage, the news today that a witness to the latest shooting apparently made up the whole story about an AK-74 rifle (the kind youd practice with in a Middle Eastern terrorist training camp) and a cream-colored van has added to the state of confusion and bewilderment.
The related news story of Friday afternoon got: The U.S. is questioning Al Queda prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay to find out what they may know about the DC-area sniper. That, coupled with the unusual news yesterday that the Pentagon is assisting in the search for the sniper, lends credence to the suspicion that this may indeed be a terrorist act.
My guess is that it is going to turn out to be some nut, like most serial killers. Serial killers are notoriously difficult to catch, and most are caught not from high tech detective work, but rather from a lucky break. And I comfort myself at the gas station by keeping in mind that the odds of being struck by this creepo are about the same as winning the lottery, and less than the odds of being hurt or killed driving in my car to the gas station. I dont know anyone whos ever won the lottery; I have had two very slight acquaintances who were murdered, but known several people killed in car crashes.
Yet the DC sniper doesnt seem like most serial killers. There is no such thing as a "typical" serial killer, but most of them seem to space out their killings over regular intervals, and most act alone. Most seek out an identifiable class of victims (Dahmer went for homosexual men; Wayne Williams after black children in poor Atlanta neighborhoods; John Wayne Gacy, childen; the Green River Killer, prostitutes, and so forth). The sniper, if he or she is indeed a single individual, is less predictable.
Then, too, one should keep in mind that immediately after President Bush named the "axis of evil" in January, Speaker Rafsanjani of Iran said that Iran would respond "in the heartland of America." Many have been the predictions that Palestinian-style suicide bombings would eventually come to American streets, but it is difficult to obtain or smuggle C-4 explosive in the U.S. Just as the Sept. 11 hijackers used our own planes as weapons against us, it would be far easier to use guns and ammo readily available here to instigate terror. Random sniped is in obvious ways more effective than bombing.
So even if the DC sniper turns out to be merely the latest in a string of home-grown nut cases, this episode should serve as a wake-up call for what might be possible in the future. Surely the terrorist sleeper cells we suspect are present in our midst can watch CNN too.