Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The 14 Foiled Terror Plots Against New York City Since 9/11

Below is the list of 14 terrorist plots that have either been foiled or failed "on Ray Kelly's watch" at the New York City Police Department. Many were stopped as a result of cooperation with the U.S. government agencies that the cops sometimes call "the three-letter guys": the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA among them. Sometimes only one, or none, of those other agencies was involved. In the Pimentel case, the FBI dropped out. And several plots were thwarted because of close U.S. cooperation with foreign, especially British, intelligence services. (The NYPD also maintains its own liaisons with British, French and other intelligence operations.) One plot, the Faisal Shahzad attempt to blow up a car in Times Square, failed partly because it has gotten a lot harder to buy bomb making materials in the United States without setting off alarms. Shahzad planned meticulously, and was well trained in Pakistan, but he worried more about the alarms than the effectiveness of the explosives, and they fizzled. Luck played a big role saving New York from that attack.
       Except in the Brooklyn Bridge case, it is hard to say with any precision how much the massive and unpredictable deployments of police around the city actually serve to deter terrorist activities. And there are no detailed matrices for judging the activities of the Intelligence Division of the NYPD, which generally is exempted from the otherwise pervasive CompStat system for police accountability.  The Intelligence Division, under former CIA director of clandestine services David Cohen, focuses on gathering information and penetrating suspect groups rather than on arrests and prosecutions. It aims to disrupt potential plots in their early stages through what amounts to intimidation and by sowing distrust among possible conspirators. (See SECURING THE CITY, especially "The Warehouse: From Sharing to Trading," pp 140-151, and "Clusters: Homegrown Terrorism and National Resources," pp 228-238, which includes a report on congressional testimony by Lawrence H. Sanchez, pp 236-238.) In a strange and revealing remark, Larry Sanchez, another of the CIA veterans in the NYPD Intelligence Division for much of the last decade,  told a Senate committee in 2007: "Part of our mission is to protect New York City citizens from becoming terrorists," in effect disrupting plots before the plotters themselves were sure what they were doing.
      Because there are no spread-sheets of arrests and convictions to present as evidence that extensive terrorist activities have been discovered, deterred and disrupted, the NYPD points to the most fundamental bottom line: no plots have succeeded. And it points to this list of those publicly known attempts to New York that have been thwarted, whether by the police, the feds, good teamwork, bad teamwork, or the incompetence of the terrorists themselves:

1.     BROOKLYN BRIDGE - Iyman Faris, a U.S.-based, al Qaeda operative, planned to cut the bridge’s support cables but was deterred by the NYPD’s 24-hour coverage of the bridge. Faris sent al Qaeda leaders a coded message that, “the weather is too hot,” a reference to police presence. He was arrested in 2003, pleaded guilty and sentenced to federal prison. [SEE SECURING THE CITY, pp 82 - 96, "The Second Wave: Not the Best-Laid Plans"]

2.     SUBWAY CYANIDE - A plot to disperse cyanide gas in the subway system was called off at the last minute by Iyman Zawahiri for what he said was “something bigger.” [SECURING THE CITY, p 93]

3.     NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE; CITIGROUP HEADQUARTERS - Al Qaeda plot to use vehicles to bomb the New York Stock Exchange, Citibank, and other financial institutions. NYPD tactical teams were deployed to high-threat locations, and vehicle inspections were increased in response. Dhiren Barot/Issa al-Hindi, an associate of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, pleaded guilty in 2006. [SECURING THE CITY, 181-182, 192-194, 203-204, 210, 262-263]

4.     GARMENT DISTRICT PLOT - The NYPD and FBI arrested Uzair Paracha in New York based on intelligence developed overseas.  Paracha is reported to have discussed with top al Qaeda leaders the prospect of smuggling weapons and explosives – possibly even a nuclear device—into Manhattan’s Garment District through his father’s import-export business. [SECURING THE CITY, 90, 95, 154-155, 158]

5.     HERALD SQUARE SUBWAY STATION - An NYPD undercover officer helped disrupt a 2004 plot to bomb the Herald Square subway station by lone-wolf admirers of Al Qaeda.  Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay were exposed as conspiring to blow up the 34th Street subway station, including surveilling the subway station, choosing the location for their bombs, and diagramming entrances and exits. SECURING THE CITY, 187-199]

6.     PATH TRAIN and WTC RETAINING WALL - A multi-agency investigation disrupted a plot to attack NYC’s underground transit link with New Jersey in 2006. Law enforcement monitoring international chat rooms discovered suspects’ plan to destroy a PATH train tunnel and the retaining wall at Ground Zero, to flood the New York Financial District. The main operative was taken into custody in Lebanon and admitted to plotting the attack. [SECURING THE CITY, p 233]

7.     JFK AIRPORT/BUCKEYE PIPELINE - Al Qaeda sympathizers plotted to bomb the fuel tanks and pipeline at John F. Kennedy Airport, through which jet fuel is transported from New Jersey through Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens. Four suspects were arrested in New York and Trinidad in 2007; three were later sentenced to life in prison. [SECURING THE CITY, p 235]

8.     TRANSATLANTIC PLOT – A British-based plot to destroy seven commercial aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean or fly one or more of them into East Coast targets including New York City results in multiple arrests in London. 

9.     LONG ISLAND RAILROAD - A plot to bomb a Manhattan-bound LIRR commuter train was discussed at the highest levels of al Qaeda operational leadership. See Bryant Neal Vinas of Long Island.

10.  BRONX SYNAGOGUES – Disrupted in May 2009, the Riverdale plot targeted two Jewish centers—a synagogue and a Jewish community center—in the Bronx, and Stewart Air Base in Newburgh, NY. The NYPD and FBI arrested four men who were convicted in 2010. [See The New TNT, a column for Newsweek Online (now on The Daily Beast), 28 September 2009.]

11.  NYC SUBWAY; TRANSIT HUBS - In September 2009, Najibullah Zazi and others planned a series of coordinated suicide bombings of NYC subway transit hubs at rush hour. [See The New TNT, a column for Newsweek Online (now on The Daily Beast), 28 September 2009, and details in Newsweek article, "Ray Kelly's Wars," 11 June 2012]

12.  TIMES SQUARE - Faisal Shahzad attempted on May 1, 2010 to detonate a bomb inside an SUV parked in Times Square on a busy Saturday night. [see Newsweek, 53 Hours in the Life of a Near Disaster, and the Shadowland Journal, "Shahzad: The Rube Goldberg of Terrorism."

13.  MANHATTAN SYNAGOGUE - The NYPD disrupted a plot by two Queens men, Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh, to bomb a synagogue in Manhattan in May 2011.

14.  JOSE PIMENTEL  - Muslim convert Jose Pimentel was arrested in November 2011 in Manhattan as he constructed a pipe bomb he intended to use against police and government property. He had followed instructions in an article from Al Qaeda's English-language magazine "Inspire” on “How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."


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