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Bill Nelson: “Lone wolf” attacks now America’s terrorism challenge

The biggest counterterrorism challenge of our time is the “lone wolf” who becomes radicalized, Sen. Bill Nelson said Friday.

Nelson spoke about the San Bernardino mass shooting with Jacksonville reporters and also talked about legislation he’s introduced to increase security at the nation’s airports.

“The problem is not Syrian refugees,” he said. “It takes up to two years to vet them. We’re only going to take something like 5,000 of them. There is a problem with the visa waiver program. We’ve found that of those Paris attackers, there were about four that were on our no-fly list, but there was one that was a Belgian citizen that could have come without getting a visa, and we were not alerted.

“But the bigger problem is what we saw in California. What we call the lone wolf. In this case it was two lone wolves. The investigation is still underway, but it looks like the wife was radicalized by ISIS. This is the kind of attack that we have to worry about. The people that we do not have on our radar, because they do not have a criminal record, we don’t see them communicating with ISIS, and we have no reason to suspect them, and yet they become radicalized.”

Investigators think that as the San Bernardino, California, massacre was happening, female shooter Tashfeen Malik posted a pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook, three U.S. officials familiar with the investigation told CNN.

Nelson, meanwhile, says he’s introducing a bill that would increase security at airports nationwide by making the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) conduct more thorough screenings of airport employees. According to Nelson, such measures might have prevented the type of gunrunning scheme seen at the Atlanta airport last year.

“Three hundred airports do not give the level of security screening to their airport employees that they do to passengers. Two airports in the country do: Miami and Orlando. A year ago, a criminal gang in Atlanta used an airport employee who brought guns in with him. He just flashed his badge and went up into the terminal and exchanged the guns with a passenger who had an empty backpack. This scheme went on for a couple of months. This was a hole in the security system.”

Nelson, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, also expressed jubilation that Thursday night the Senate overwhelmingly passed a five-year highway bill, voting 83 to 16 to approve $305 billion for repairs to the nation’s roads and bridges. It’s the first long-term U.S. highway bill in a decade and includes millions for Florida highways, such as I-10, I-95, and I-75.

In Jacksonville, that means repair money will finally flow to a downtown eyesore, the deteriorating stretch of road at Liberty Street and Coastline Drive on the Northbank Riverwalk, which has been blocked off to traffic since collapsing in February.

Written By

In addition to her work writing for Florida Politics, Melissa Ross also hosts and produces WJCT’s First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR/PBS station’s flagship local call-in public affairs radio program. The show has won four national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). First Coast Connect was also recognized in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and Melissa has also been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality. As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. During her years in broadcast television, Melissa picked up three additional Emmys for news and feature reporting. Melissa came to WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She can be reached at

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