On July 31, 1997 the NYPD averted a terrorist attack by Islamic extremists that could have killed hundreds of people. Never heard of it? Neither had I.
Enter Seven Shots: An NYPD Raid on a Terrorist Call and Its Aftermath, a non-fiction account of this event written by longtime On Violence reader “Jaylo” (actual name Jennifer Hunt). Jaylo blogs about police, TV, the NYPD and the military, in addition to other subjects at http://www.seven-shots.com/blog/.
Instead of my summary, I’ll let Hunt’s introduction take it away. “A six-man Emergency Service Unit (ESU) team raided the apartment of two Middle Eastern terrorists who were in possession of bombs that they planned to detonate in the New York subway that morning,” Hunt writes at the opening of Seven Shots. “In less than seven hours, one Muslim informant, six New York Police Department (NYPD) Emergency Service officers, two Bomb Squad detectives, supporting units, teams and commanders narrowly averted the nation’s first suicide bombing.” Hunt tells this story, and continues on to the contentious aftermath of the raid as the police officers deal with fame, awards, anger and NYPD politics.
Seven Shots opens with a very academic twenty page history of Hunt’s background with the NYPD, and then a thirty page introduction detailing NYPD cultural norms and history. Hunt is a sociologist and college professor, so this makes sense. That said, as I wrote in my notes, “for an academic book, it is crazy novelistic”, especially during the first 100 pages or so. This is a big compliment. Some of the character descriptions, like police officer Keith Ryan’s bird racing hobby, are just fascinating.
The academic slant makes for an ironclad approach though. Hunt includes a nine page explanation of her method which--if you’ve read my series on memoirs--you’ll know I appreciated. She explains who she interviewed and how; every book should.
Some takeaways from Seven Shots:
Terrorism has always been with us. This may seem obvious. I mean, since the 1800’s, some group or another, from nihilists and anarchists to Muslim or right-wing extremists have used terrorism as a means of intimidating larger society. But the conventional--and accepted--narrative is that something changed on 9/11. But Seven Shots is basically a long, convincing anecdote proving the opposite.
I wonder what would have happened if 9/11 had been averted. Who doesn’t? But Seven Shots forces the realization. The threat of international terrorism lurked around America and abroad throughout the 90’s, but America didn’t change the way it lived. It took a successful attack to change the way we live.
Seven Shots could be considered one long argument for human intelligence. The NYPD stopped the attacks because Mohammad Chindluri alerted them to the attack. This is a classic example of “good ol’ fashioned police work”--read Human Intelligence--saving the day. Watch or read “Top Secret America”, and realize that we waste billions on fancy tech, when all we need is good detectives/human intelligence.
Anti-Muslim bigotry and racism actively endangers Americans. Watch this video from last week. Think about the Muslim community center protests from last August. Think about people who mistakenly describe Islam as not a religion but a political system. These anti-Muslim actions endanger American lives, by discouraging Islamic informants (Read my above point). Racism isn’t just offensive; it is actually dangerous.
Anti-Muslim bigotry also includes falsely detaining people based on race or religion. Which happens in Seven Shots. On page 87, Hunt describes how the police detained five Pakistani people from the apartment building where the raid took place.
Is the NYPD the most crazy political organization in the world? After reading Seven Shots, I’d say yes. The department needs severe fixing. This problem, though, seems to exist in the Army as well.
This story is really cinematic. And it’s odd it hasn’t been made into a movie yet, or incorporated into a larger film.
(Full disclosure: On Violence received a copy of “Seven Shots” from The University of Chicago Press. We thank them for the book and the opportunity to review it.)