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 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT