Something didn’t smell right about the city’s triumphant announcement that a sting operation had led to the arrest of four men who had placed dummy bombs outside two Bronx synagogues. How far would these “sad sacks” have really gone, asks Zachary Roth at Talking Points Memo, without the aid and encouragement of the undercover law-enforcement agents?

Frankly, it’s also hard not to feel some compassion for what looks like a group of struggling, credulous, under-educated men, existing on the fringes of society, who lacked the intelligence or willpower to avoid getting taken in by a government informant anxious to mitigate his own situation, and by their own vague understanding of radical Islam and the hole it might fill in their lives.

More from Roth:

Is sending a government mole out to scrounge up a few dimwitted ex-cons who can be talked–and perhaps bribed–into getting involved in a fictitious bomb plot really the best way to use our limited terror-fighting resources?

Finally,

There’s little doubt the bumbling would-be bombers went far enough with the plot to demonstrate that they had the intention to commit terror, and for that they’ll pay the price. But the whole tale comes off perhaps more as a sad glimpse into the lives of a loose group of aimless and obscurely embittered Americans than as a dire illustration of the threat of home-grown terrorism.

For anyone with eyes to see, what this episode really illustrates—and hardly for the first time—is how worryingly simple it is to pull off a terror attack in an open society. No complicated weapons wielded by well-adjusted brainiacs are required; a gun or explosive device and a public place will suffice for most any “dimwit.” Law-enforcement agencies have few alternatives to seeking out those inclined to commit such acts and thwarting them.

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