Lawmakers: Kansas Terrorism Arrest Reminds Need To Protect Heartland

By John Celock

Friday’s arrest of a Kansas man for an alleged plot to detonate a car bomb at Fort Riley in Kansas is leading state lawmakers to stress the need to remain vigilant in protecting the nation’s heartland.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday announced the arrest of John Booker Jr., a 20-year-old Topeka resident, in a plot to detonate a car bomb at Fort Riley in the name of ISIS. Booker was arrested in Manhattan as he was making final preparations to target U.S. military personnel at the base. The Associated Press reported that DOJ said that Booker has been working on the plot since last month and had spoken about becoming a “martyr” in the name of ISIS.

The bomb plot, almost 20 years to the day that an American citizen detonated a car bomb in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City, is a reminder of the need to provide protection to communities throughout the country, according to lawmakers.

“It is a legitimate threat,” state Sen. Greg Smith (R-Overland Park), the vice chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Kansas Security, told The Celock Report. “The idea that a terrorist organization can strike in the middle of the United States speaks volumes that they can hit anywhere.”

Smith said that during anti-terrorism training he received during his law enforcement career, one thing that was stressed was that an attack in an unexpected spot, such as the American heartland would “generate fear.” He said for these reasons it is needed for law enforcement to continue to focus on the entire country to protect against the terrorist threat.

Smith though said that Kansas homeland security efforts have been working hard to prevent a threat in the state. He specifically praised the work of the state’s homeland security agencies, including the Kansas National Guard.

“We are head an shoulders above many states to counter this type of thing,” Smith said.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force worked with the Kansas Highway Patrol and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in responding to the alleged plot by Booker. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) issued a statement Friday praising the work of law enforcement in thwarting the alleged attack. Lawmakers told The Celock Report that they appreciate the work of state law enforcement in preventing an attack.

“The work of the Joint Terrorism Task Force prevented a potentially devastating attack on our military and our state,” House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) told The Celock Report. “The task force, including the FBI, the KBI and the Kansas Highway Patrol worked together to bring a terrorist to justice today and we are proud of their work on this case.”

Joint Committee on Kansas Security Chairman Rep. Mario Goico (R-Wichita) told The Celock Report that while many focus on the major population centers of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago in preventing attacks, Friday’s case shows a renewed need to focus on every state.

“We need to be prepared everywhere,” Goico said. “We need to increase our defenses. We need to be careful of an attack anywhere.”

Goico, the chairman of the state House Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee, said that he and other lawmakers are focused on the preparation aspect in order to address homeland security. He said that tools need to be provided to prevent an attack. He said that he believes that the increased prevention can prevent another attack on American soil.

House Democratic Agenda Chairman Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) told The Celock Report that he sees Friday’s arrest as an example of the training that has been put into place, along with other measures to prevent terrorism.

“Thank God we have people who are well trained and vigilant in protecting Kansans in threats to our community,” Whipple said. “I am glad they were on top of it and saved lives.”

Claeys said that with increased reports of ISIS looking to recruit members from the United States and Friday’s news, the need to address homeland security in every state is a top focus for lawmakers.

“Terrorism is a very real threat in the middle of our country and we need to remain vigilant as Islamic extremists look to recruit young people in our own backyard,” Claeys said.