Globe Editorial

While unsettling, local arrests show steady response to terror

May 15, 2010

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THURSDAY’S RAIDS in Watertown, Brookline, and around the country were understandably unsettling — a reminder of the ever-present threat of terrorism. But they are as much a reason for comfort as concern: The Justice Department is moving with all due speed to unravel the networks behind the attempted bombing of New York’s Times Square, and is exercising appropriate caution in refusing to prejudge the guilt of the two men who were taken into custody in the Boston area.

Attorney General Eric Holder was measured in his characterization of Pir Khan and Aftab Khan, the Pakistani men arrested in Watertown, where they worked as a taxi driver and gas station attendant, respectively. A third man was arrested in Maine. Holder said the three were believed to have contributed money to the Times Square bombing suspect, Faisal Shahzad, but added that the FBI is still trying to determine whether the men knew they were providing money to a terrorist.

The Pakistani community, like some other South Asian immigrant groups, engages in an informal system of financial transactions designed to allow people in America to provide funds to relatives and friends in Pakistan without engaging in complicated bank transfers. These informal exchanges are difficult to monitor, complicating the task of terrorism investigators. But the lack of formal transactions also raises the reasonable possibility that donors were unaware of how their money was being used.

The arrests stunned several communities — from Watertown to Brookline, where two gas stations owned by a well-respected Lebanese immigrant were raided by the FBI — and stoked fears in the area’s South Asian community. The reactions are reasonable, from fears of terrorism to fears of a wider conspiracy to fears of unjustified arrests. But nothing about these raids should shake the confidence of the people of Boston and New England. As Governor Patrick and local FBI officials have maintained, there is no evidence of a threat to the immediate area. Likewise, the care taken by Holder and the FBI should mitigate any concerns of local immigrant groups fearing overreach by authorities.

In general, law enforcement agencies have performed well in the Shahzad case, and people here, in New York, and everywhere across the country are safer because of it.

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