While we're still learning the details, officials say the naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin botched his operation repeatedly. Among other things, the attempted car bomb had the wrong fertilizer and was wired incorrectly, and the propane tanks were never opened. Shahzad also reportedly left a box of fireworks and two bags of fertilizer in his garage; they matched the components of the failed car bomb, enabling authorities to nab their suspect that much more easily.
Steady progress on several fronts has kept us almost entirely safe from terrorist attacks since 9/11, says Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation.
No. 9: In 1999, would-be millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam was overcome with anxiety when he attempted to enter the U.S. from Canada. When he was approached by a Customs inspector, he panicked and tried to flee the scene. While the inspector had no idea that Ressam's car contained explosives, she quickly figured it out and the Algerian was arrested.
No. 8: In 2008, a British convert to Islam known as Nicky Reilly attempted to attack a restaurant with a homemade nail bomb. Reilly's attack failed when the bomb detonated in his hands while he was in the toilet.
No. 7: Also in 2008, a previously unknown group calling itself the "Afghan Revolutionary Front" threatened to bomb a Parisian department store if the French military did not leave Afghanistan. One problem: The five sticks of dynamite they planted lacked a detonator.
No. 6: In 1992, Ahmed Ajaj attempted to enter the U.S. on a poorly altered Swedish passport. Authorities barred him entry when they discovered that his suitcase was full of bomb-making instructions, terrorist training manuals and videos. (Unfortunately, authorities granted entry to his colleague, Ramzi Yousef, who was one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers.)
No. 5: In 1995, Philippine authorities uncovered the so-called "Bojinka" plot by al-Qaida operatives Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The two planned to blow up 12 airliners en route from Asia to the U.S. The plot was disrupted after their bomb-making material sparked a chemical fire in their apartment. Yousef was arrested in Pakistan after a 23-day manhunt. (It took authorities seven years to nab Mohammed.)
No. 4: In 2001, Richard Reid, a self-professed member of al-Qaida from the U.K., tried to light the fuse on his shoe-bomb on a flight from Paris to Miami. Reid was initially unable to light his match, and further failed to light the fuse on his shoe. The explosive did not detonate because Reid's foot perspiration rendered the fuse too damp to ignite.
No. 3: Just last year, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to explode his bomb-laden underpants on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. The Nigerian national covered himself with a blanket and tried to detonate his unmentionables when passengers heard popping noises from his crude device and saw that Abdulmutallab's pants were on fire. Passengers restrained the man and prevented his garments from posing any further danger.
No. 2: In 1993, Mohammed Salameh helped the FBI bring down the cell that bombed the World Trade Center. Salameh played right into the hands of the Feds when he tried to get back his $400 down payment for the Ryder rental truck that he and his colleagues exploded just the day before.
And finally, No. 1 ...
Last year, a Taliban suicide bomber accidentally blew himself up in southern Afghanistan when his bomb vest exploded prematurely. But the blunder doesn't end there. The bomber made the U.S. military's job a little bit easier, too, taking with him six other terrorists who'd come to wish him farewell.
In short, America has been blessed with a number of less-than-brilliant enemies, for which we can be thankful. But it's important to note that these attacks failed because of the terrorists' own ineptitude. They were not thwarted by our top-notch intelligence.
Our law enforcement and intelligence agencies have done a great deal to keep us safe in recent years. However, the failed Times Square bombing reveals that there are still gaps in our defenses.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism intelligence analyst at the U.S. Treasury, is vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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