‘Americans had little experience of terror’ (News Letter)

‘Americans had little experience of terror’
Laura Murphy (News Letter)
7 May 2011

[Laura Murphy interviewed me about the death of Osama bin Laden]

Relief, and the belief that “every right-thinking person” should share this emotion, was what was experienced by US-born Allan Leonard, when he learnt of the death of terror chief Osama bin laden this week.

“There’s no question (about that),” says the 43-year-old.

“The man was an international threat.”

Originally from Toledo, in Ohio, Allan lived in various parts of his native country, including Boston and New York, before moving to the province in 1994. He is now married and settled in Balygowan.

“I had planned to come here for several years after I graduated from Boston University,” he says.

“My Bachelor’s degree was International Relations and I was interested in Irish history and politics, and like many Americans, I have Irish ancestry.

“It was the classic story — I came here and met a local girl from Belfast (her name is Beverley), married and settled down, bought a house, and I’ve been working ever since.”

Ironically, on the day of the 9/11 atrocities, Allan was “busy finishing a project at the Linen Hall Library called Troubled Images.”

Just a couple of days later, he had to fly to England in order to sign off the final master disk for a multimedia CD-Rom which was part of the project — “this was in the days before high speed broadband,” he laughs.

“My plane ticket was already purchased, so on the day of 9/11, I’m watching all of this take place.

“People asked was I nervous and I said ‘absolutely not’, this would be the safest day in all of history to fly because it was just such a rude awakening in terms of airport security.”

Allan likens the impact of 9/11 to that of the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, “in a sense that America had been directly attacked by a foreign power.

“Also, the audacity and the shock … it was almost unreal. Friends and I were sending text messages asking ‘is this really happening?’ It just felt like a nightmare.”

But he says that despite the horror, it didn’t evoke in him a feeling that he needed to “rush out and join the US army”, and he believes this was in part due to the fact that he had been living in Northern Ireland — a country well acquainted with terrorism — for some time before the strike in America.

“I have learnt how society operates in a conflict. I know how it affects people’s psyche and their outlook and how they deal with things.

“Americans have very little experience in dealing with direct terrorism.”

In was back in the late 1990s when Osama bin Laden first came to Allan’s attention.

“He was doing all these atrocious acts, and I just thought ‘this person must be stopped’.

“He was a threat to international security, he was just way too dangerous. I knew that something was always going to have to happen.”

Allan adds that he knew that once his fellow American countrymen “set their minds to taking action, it gets done.”

And he says that whilst he believes that “Al-Qaeda still remains a threat”, he hopes that with the organisation’s “charismatic head cut off”, and future operations will be “not so effective and less co-ordinated.”

He adds: “Al-Qaeda atrocities will continue but I cannot see how they will manage to pull off a spectacle like 9/11 because that was, in a way, an incredible mastermind of co-ordination. What we need to be hopeful of is that they will never carry the same kind of impetus.”

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