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PD Editorial: A weakened ISIS remains a threat

The Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate is effectively gone. Its territory is quickly dwindling and its army is in shambles after being driven from its last Syrian stronghold in October by U.S.-backed forces.

Yet the man responsible for Tuesday’s attack in New York City, the deadliest terror attack in the nation’s largest city since 9/11, left a note proclaiming his allegiance to the Islamic State and its extremist ideology.

“The Islamic State,” Sayfullo Saipov wrote, “will endure forever.”

Saipov is, to a certain extent, probably right.

ISIS took the world by surprise three years ago, rampaging across must of western Iraq and eastern Syria with brutal efficiency and establishing a government that condoned crucifixions and beheadings, rape and slavery.

It’s unlikely that ISIS will reclaim lost territory and re-?establish its caliphate.

However, even in its weakened state, it can foment terrorism in the West.

Investigators say Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant who used a rented truck to mow down cyclists and pedestrians in a neighborhood not far from the World Trade Center, relied on instructions from an ISIS magazine to plan his attack.

ISIS claimed credit for a similar attack in Nice, France last year and for mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino in 2015 and in Orlando, Florida last year. The terrorist group also has been linked to attacks in Brussels, Edmonton, London, Stockholm and elsewhere.

It would be naïve to think Tuesday’s attack will be the last.

So how do the United States and other likely targets protect themselves?

The answer isn’t wholesale elimination of immigration programs, such as the 27-year-old diversity visa program targeted after Tuesday’s attack by President Donald Trump, who evidently forgot the White House’s post-Las Vegas insistence that tragedies shouldn’t be politicized. Neither is the answer a whack-a-mole travel ban, extended to additional countries after each unpredictable incident.

And it isn’t “extreme vetting” either, which isn’t to say that immigrants and visa applicants shouldn’t be carefully screened, as they already are.

Saipov was radicalized after he arrived in the United States seven years ago, according to authorities, so additional vetting - extreme or otherwise -- may not have done any good.

Indeed, adopting policies that fuel fundamentalist claims of anti-Muslim bias in America could very well backfire, making it easier for ISIS to recruit the next Saipov.

What is required is a thorough investigation of Tuesday’s attack, its perpetrator and his motives and methods. Saipov, unlike many attackers, survived and is reported to be answering questions for investigators. That may yield useful information that could help prevent a future attack or be used to detect and deter others before they are radicalized.

Meanwhile, the criminal charges against Saipov should proceed in civilian courts, which, contrary to the president’s claims, are not a “joke” or a “laughingstock.” Federal prosecutors have won scores of terrorism convictions since 9/11, while the Guantanamo military tribunals have produced only a handful.

New Yorkers returned quickly to their routines after Tuesday’s attack, displaying the strength of our free society that ISIS and its followers haven’t been able to undermine. They will keep trying, but they won’t succeed if we don’t abandon our principles.

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