In the afternoon of Nov. 13, when news of the horrific Paris attacks began to reach the U.S. and the fear and chaos there began to sink in, many Americans asked one important question: Could a similar attack by jihadists linked to Islamic State occur in a major American city? The answer is yes.
To understand why, it is vital to deconstruct the Paris attack and the factors that enabled it and then see if they can be mapped onto an American urban environment. During my tenure as director of intelligence analysis at the New York Police Department, this is what we did after any major attack around the world to stay ahead of ever-evolving terrorist threats.
While more operational details of the Paris attack will be uncovered, four necessary ingredients have already emerged: First, European citizens willing to kill themselves and their countrymen. Second, material for the attack, including assault weapons and hydrogen peroxide for suicide bombs. Third, the technical and paramilitary skills to make improvised explosive devices and operate assault weapons. And fourth, a “permissive environment” in which the national and local security and intelligence agencies were not able to detect the plot in advance.