Because of smoke and "pop, pop, pop" noises coming from the Nissan Pathfinder parked in the heart of Times Square, alert street vendors knew to flag down a police officer, averting catastrophe.
While the celebration that has ensued is understandable, the incident this past weekend is actually a sobering reminder of just how vulnerable we are.
The combination of aggressive law enforcement and plain luck have prevented any major, successful attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, but we cannot expect our good fortune simply to continue indefinitely.
Even though the Pakistani Taliban has claimed credit for the car bomb, there is not substantial enough evidence to confirm their boast. It should be of greater concern, however, if the suspected bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was a “lone wolf” with little or no outside support or training, given how close the car bomb came to wreaking havoc on perhaps the most instantly recognizable neighborhood in America, if not the world.
Consider that Times Square is a true hard target, with highly trained police officers on every corner. Not only that, but it’s in the center of a city protected by the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism unit, which is easily the best in a local police force, and arguably even more effective than the FBI’s.
Yet, had the bomb been made correctly and detonated as presumably intended, a “significant fireball” could have claimed dozens or even hundreds of lives on the busiest night of the week in Times Square.
As heroic as the street vendors and the responding police officers were, luck was still the single biggest factor in averting disaster.
Luck has been essential in several close calls. The Christmas Day underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was able to get his explosives past security, but it was our luck that he could not ignite his bomb. Similarly, shoe-bomber Richard Reid evaded security, only to fail in detonating his explosives on the flight.
In October 2005, University of Oklahoma student and Islamic convert Joel Hinrichs III detonated himself less than 200 yards from the football stadium during a Sooners football game. Over 80,000 people were inside. It stands to reason that Hinrichs, who reportedly attended the same mosque as the would-be 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, had something much grander in mind than mere suicide.
Since Sept. 11, there have been more than 800 terror-related arrests in the United States, according to New York University's Center on Law and Security. The onslaught is constant.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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