Former CIA officer compares Trump’s rioters to Al Qaeda and fears they too will come back with a vengeance

In an op-ed published at the Washington Examiner, former CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos writes that news reports about Secret Service agents calling their families on January 6 to say goodbye reminded him of the time he was staying at a U.S. facility in the Middle East that was attacked by al Qaeda.

"As a car bomb hit the back gate and automatic weapons fire, as well as grenades, rained down on us, my wife placed a call to her sister back home and said her goodbyes," Polymeropoulos writes. "We thought we were all going to die that day. Our children watched from their school a mile away and cried and hugged their friends, thinking their parents would never return home. So I get it. I understand the fear that those Secret Service agents apparently experienced. You don’t make those calls to loved ones if there is a way out."

More than 850 people have been arrested in connection with the attack on Congress, which left at least five people dead and 140 police officers injured.

Polymeropoulos says that January 6 is only different because the Capitol and its occupants didn't come under attack by a foreign terrorist group, they were attacked by their own fellow Americans.

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"A spontaneous riot? A gathering that got out of hand? Please. These talking points are insulting to those who survived that day. I ran counterterrorism operations for the CIA for several decades. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this was a pre-planned domestic terrorist event," he writes, adding that it was not "just a protest that got out of hand."

Polymeropoulos writes that if the January 6 committee fails to hold those responsible for the Capitol riot to account, the forces behind the riot could launch an even more serious attack. "Look at al Qaeda after the initial attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Years later, it returned with a vengeance," he says.

"...what if we whitewash January 6 and the Department of Justice only prosecutes the foot soldiers but not the ring leaders of the coup attempt? ... if we fail now, Russia, Iran, and China will point to a whitewash and say, 'See, they lecture us on democracy and the rule of law, yet they don’t practice what they preach.' We will undermine our status as the world's exceptional nation."

The 76-year-old Trump, who has repeatedly hinted that he may run for the White House again in 2024, was impeached for a historic second time by the House after the Capitol riot -- he was charged with inciting an insurrection -- but was acquitted by the Senate, where only a handful of Republicans voted to convict him.

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The January 6 committee is to submit a report to Congress this fall with its findings.

The committee may issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department, leaving it up to Attorney General Merrick Garland to decide whether Trump or others should be prosecuted for the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Garland told reporters last week that the January 6 probe is the "most important" investigation the Justice Department has ever conducted and stressed that "no one is above the law in this country."

With additional reporting by AFP