Skip to main content

Terror in N.Y.? Whaddya gonna do

By Errol Louis, Special to CNN
updated 3:49 PM EDT, Fri April 26, 2013
News of a possible plot by the Boston suspects on Times Square appears unlikely to faze New Yorkers, even this Lady Liberty.
News of a possible plot by the Boston suspects on Times Square appears unlikely to faze New Yorkers, even this Lady Liberty.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Errol Louis: Police say Boston bombing suspects planning to strike in Times Square
  • He says news didn't faze New Yorkers used to constant vigilance, police presence
  • He says plots since 1993 have made city build mighty, far-flung security infrastructure

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York City all-news channel.

(CNN) -- Police reports that the suspects in the deadly Boston bombings were planning to extend the killing spree to New York barely qualifies as news in our city. New Yorkers have lived through too much, too often, to get jumpy at the prospect of a failed attack by a pair of isolated maniacs.

That might seem strange to outsiders, but New York has come to accept its status as the world's No.1 terrorist target -- and defiantly refused to cower or collapse.

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

This is the place, remember, that recently marked the 20-year anniversary of the awful day when Kuwaiti-born Ramzi Yousef drove a rented truck into a parking lot beneath the World Trade Center and exploded a bomb. Six people were murdered, and more than 1,000 injured.

With the hindsight of history, we now know the 1993 bombing was, in the words of the FBI, "something of a deadly dress rehearsal" for the terrible attack of 9/11 that destroyed the twin towers. But it was also a wake-up call to federal investigators, who uncovered a vast, frightening plot to wreak havoc in the city.

In 1995, a jury convicted 10 men -- led by blind, Egyptian-born Omar Abdel Rahman -- of conspiring to bomb the United Nations, two major tunnels and a bridge, along with a federal office building. Had the plot succeeded, it could have killed countless thousands of innocent people.

Ever since then, New York and federal authorities have been on a high alert that has never relaxed. New York is where the first Joint Terrorism Task Force was created in the 1980s; it combines personnel from different federal, state and local law enforcement agencies under the same roof to minimize conflicts and confusion in the effort.

Year after year, New Yorkers have grown accustomed to press conferences featuring the FBI, customs officials, New York police and other agencies revealing startling plots to bomb bridges, subways, airports, banks, synagogues and other targets.

Police: Brothers may have planned N.Y. trip
Commissioner: Suspects had 6 more bombs
Doubts that bombing suspects acted alone

In 2009, a tip to the task force broke up a ring that was planning to bomb the subways. In 2010, Faisal Shahzad was arrested less than three days after trying to explode a car bomb in the middle of Times Square. In 2011, a man named Jose Pimentel was arrested on terrorism charges in a plot to bomb various sites around the city (his trial is pending), and in 2012 a Bangladeshi-born student named Quazi Nafis tried to detonate a bomb in front of the New York Federal Reserve Bank (he pleaded guilty and now faces a life sentence).

But even with one scary plot after another, New York has set record high numbers for tourism and residents. One of the most thriving neighborhoods, in fact, is the area near the World Trade Center, where a new, taller tower is nearly complete.

One reason for the confidence of New Yorkers is the extraordinary visibility and ingenuity of the New York Police Department. For example, officers are permanently stationed at the entrances of the city's major bridges and tunnels, and police frogmen dive into city rivers every day, checking the bases of the bridges for bombs.

Police regularly stage anti-terrorism drills in which dozens of officers from all over the city are directed to converge quickly on a central spot, a practice run to minimize confusion if they need to swarm into an area during a real attack.

And the New York police have officers stationed in 11 cities around the world, tasked with tracking international anti-terrorism efforts and going to the scene of terrorist attacks. Their job, in the words of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, is to ask "the New York question": What can we learn that will shed light on possible dangers in the city? The international team also directly relays information back to the New York Police Department intelligence division.

So when Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a press conference to announce that the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were planning to travel to Times Square to cause further mayhem, New Yorkers pretty much shrugged it off. To an extraordinary extent -- and with good reason -- the city considers itself on permanent alert, with a high level of vigilance that is our best protection.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Errol Louis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 3:28 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT