Failed terror attack plots leave NY residents wary

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“New York is always a target,” said Joseph King, professor of terrorism at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s a world capital. On top of that, it’s a Western capital. … When people think of the United States, they think of New York more than they think of Washington.”

New York: Another failed terrorist plot. Another mass sigh of relief.
The Times Square car bombing attempt last weekend was just the latest in a long list of schemes that for nearly two decades have placed New York City squarely at the center of a sinister target. A breed of hardened wariness has taken hold for many New Yorkers – the price they must pay to live in the nation’s largest city.

“I’ve never felt as though I was out of a bull’s-eye,” said Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter whose son, also a firefighter, died in the Sept. 11 attacks. “The event did not end on 9/11. The event has continued right on. … These people are going to come back. May 1 incident  just reinforces that.”

There have been at least nine planned terrorist attacks in the city since Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorists involved hoped variously to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, to blow up financial institutions, to smuggle explosive materials into the city, to detonate explosives on the subway, to release cyanide into the subway system, to ignite an airport jet fuel pipeline and to collapse commuter train tunnels at ground zero.

And, in 1993, there was the first attack on the World Trade Center, where Islamic extremists exploded a rented van loaded with fertilizer in a parking garage, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others.

More often than not, though, the schemes have failed. On Saturday, the smoking SUV was noticed without the explosives inside doing any damage. But for New Yorkers, the question always remains: What about next time?

“One might fall through the cracks. And that’s the greatest fear,” Long Island resident Jack Brijmohan said on May 3, standing on the corner where the smoking car bomb was parked a few days earlier. “There’s always unguarded moments.”

The New York Police Department hopes there aren’t many of those. It’s setting up 3,000 closed-circuit security cameras covering lower Manhattan, and a similar effort is under way in the Times Square area. The department embeds officers with foreign law enforcement agencies and sends them to the scenes of international terrorist attacks in an effort to share information and better understand and guard against similar violence.

Since Sept. 11, the NYPD has partnered with the FBI and other agencies to share intelligence through the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Officers randomly search bags on the subways, and teams of officers appear unannounced at high-profile businesses to stand guard.

Still, there’s no way to be certain of catching every would-be attacker in a city that attracts so many visitors and so much attention.

“New York is always a target,” said Joseph King, professor of terrorism at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s a world capital. On top of that, it’s a Western capital. … When people think of the United States, they think of New York more than they think of Washington.”

From 1970 to 2007, New York was targeted in more terrorist attacks than Washin-gton, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles combined. Of the 1,347 attacks during that time in the U.S., 21 percent happened in New York City and 70 percent of those used bombs or explosives, according to a report by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.

The University of Maryland-based group defines a terrorist attack as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.”

The Times Square suspect, whom authorities said they captured Monday as he tried to leave on a flight to Dubai, reportedly told officials he acted alone.

For the investigators who work to discover such terror plans before they’re executed, one of the most worrisome prospects is just such a lone attacker – someone working without using the communication methods that frequently allow authorities to catch plotters. That sort of person is extremely difficult to catch, said King, who used to be a U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent.

“You are looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said. “You’re looking for someone with no connections.”

To make it worse, the sort of bomb used in the SUV found Saturday is not particularly difficult to build, King said, adding that it really wasn’t that different from an earlier version of a car bomb that exploded on Wall Street some 90 years ago. That bomb, in a horse-drawn wagon, left shra-pnel marks that can still be seen in the Financial District.

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