Joel Henry Hinrichs III.
We're continuing our investigation, but as every day goes by it just seems less and less likely. ... This looked like an individual act. … We may never know. We have no evidence of a plan to do that, but we also couldn't tell you definitively he didn't try to do it and was rebuffed. We just simply don't know.
But given what Hinrichs did, the explosives he used, the much greater amount of explosives he tried to purchase, and other features of this case, surely the key question is not whether he was getting directions from a cave in Afghanistan or whether this was an "individual act," but what his intentions were. Was he just taking his own life or intending to kill others?
There are plenty of cases of apparent free-lance jihadism, of self-starting Islamists who on their own initiative decided to take up violence. American cases include Rashid Baz and Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet. Hinrichs could fit that pattern, but it seems unlikely that we will find out if he does, what with law enforcement uniquely focused on his ties to terrorist groups.
To restate the problem: the authorities should first ask if Hinrichs intended to engage in terrorism, not whether he had ties to terrorists. (October 12, 2005)
Feb. 28, 2006 update: The police force in Norman, Oklahoma, has finally gone public with an account of Hinrichs' death. Police Sgt. George Mauldin, who was a mere 102 yards away from the explosion when it occurred, presented the report to Norman's mayor and city council. Mauldin admitted that on seeing Hinrichs' driver license, which shows him with a long beard, thinking "This looks like an Islamic terrorist." In the end, however, suspicions that Hinrichs had an Islamic connection turned out to be false. But Mauldin did not provide any other explanation; nor did his information lead this analyst to see the blast that ended Hinrichs' life as anything but terrorist in intent.
Mar. 2, 2006 update: The Northeast Intelligence Network reports that some law enforcement personnel are incensed at the cover-up of Hinrichs' intentions. According to NIN, one law enforcement official is "disgusted that the truth is being withheld from the public." Doug Hagmann, director of NIN, quotes a "confidential but well-vetted source":
This was a premeditated act of terrorism that involved more than Hinrichs and was supposed to kill and hurt a lot of people. He had help from Middle Eastern students and 'outsiders,' and gained a lot of instruction from bomb-making plans written in Arabic. They found the Arabic bomb-making plans on his computer.
July 16, 2006 update: Almost a year later, the FBI has ruled Hinrichs not a terrorist. "We have no evidence he had a social or political agenda that he was trying to bring attention to," Salvador Hernandez, the FBI's special agent in charge in Oklahoma. "We don't consider this terrorism the way we define it. There would have to be a cause." Hernandez refused to speculate whether Hinrichs intentionally set off the bomb or if he intended to harm others. "None of us can know what was going on in his head."