WASHINGTON -- The deadly bombing in Boston and the wave of terror plots in the United States since 9/11 lead inexorably to three conclusions: The terrorist threat is growing; al-Qaida has not been decimated, as President Obama told us in his 2012 campaign; and there are gaps in our security system that need to be repaired.
Two young terrorists proved last week how much death and mayhem they can cause, even with police on every street corner, in one of our major cities. They showed they could pierce our defenses with stunning ease, murdering three people and wounding more than 200 within seconds with small, low-grade, simple explosives left on a sidewalk.
The sad irony in the unfolding investigation is that the Russians warned us about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two Chechen brothers who were granted U.S. asylum here in 2002. But the FBI found no evidence to justify Moscow's suspicions he had terrorist connections and the case was closed.
This was one of the first successful terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11. Yet in all the stories written about last week's Boston Marathon tragedy, little attention has been paid to the alarming number of plots that have preceded it.
Near the end of October 2012, a Heritage Foundation study said a foiled attempt to use a bomb-laden vehicle to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank in New York was the 53rd terrorist attempt since 9/11.
The number of attempted plots is accelerating at an alarming rate, proving that a growing army of combatants are in our midst, planning further attacks with the help of al-Qaida jihadists here and abroad.
"At least 53 publicly known Islamist-inspired terrorist plots against the U.S. have been thwarted since 9/11. Of these, 13 have involved New York City as a target, second only to domestic military targets, showing that terrorists continue to seek to strike at the heart of the U.S.," writes Jessica Zuckerman, a national security analyst at the Heritage think tank.
The terrorist who wanted to blow up the Fed's bank was a Bangladeshi citizen, 21-year-old Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, who came here on a student visa with the single-minded goal to kill as many Americans as he could with what he believed to be a 1,000-pound bomb inside a van.
Nafis sought out fellow al-Qaida operatives in the U.S. to help him execute the attack, but one of the people he recruited turned out to be an FBI informant -- part of an elaborate sting operation that has proved so successful in countless plots before.
Shortly before Nafis was arrested for attempting to set off the phony bomb, he revealed his plan in a chilling video in which he said, "We will not stop until we attain victory or martyrdom."
The lengthening list of such plots should be setting off alarm bells. In 2011, there were "at least 45 jihadist terrorist attack plots against Americans since 9/11," the Daily Beast website warned at the time. Since then, the number has climbed into the 50s and is very likely heading higher.
Last week, a Washington Post poll asked Americans: "Which comes closer to your view -- the terrorists will always find a way to launch major attacks no matter what the U.S. government does, or the U.S. government can eventually prevent all major attacks if it works hard enough at it?"
Only 30 percent believe the government can prevent all major attacks, while 66 percent say terrorists "will always find a way."
Equally alarming is the growing role that the al-Qaida terrorist network is playing in more recent plots.
While it's not clear what level of support, if any, outside terrorist organizations gave to the Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston bombing, al-Qaida may have had a hand in the explosive devices they detonated near the marathon finish line on Boylston Street.
Law enforcement officials said the pressure cooker bombs followed design plans that were accessible on the Internet, including the al-Qaida-linked publication "Inspire."
On Monday, Canadian authorities announced they had arrested two men who were charged with plotting to blow up a passenger train in Toronto, with the support of al-Qaida "elements" in Iran.
"This is the first known al-Qaida planned attack we've experienced in Canada," a top Royal Canadian Mounted Police official told reporters.
That must come as news to Obama, who boasted in the closing weeks of his re-election campaign in Green Bay, Wis., that "al-Qaida has been decimated," a claim that has been repeated by other administration officials.
Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was a bit more circumspect at the time when he said its leadership ranks were reduced, but the organization continues intact. "We have slowed the primary cancer -- but we know that the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the global body," he said in a speech at the Center for a New American Security here last November.
The truth is that al-Qaida operatives have not only spread throughout the Middle East, but also across key parts of North Africa, into Asia, the U.S. and now into Canada.
Last year, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, the older of the two brothers, traveled to visit his family in Russia for about six months, visiting places where Russian forces had fought Islamic insurgents in the 1990s. When he returned to the U.S., he posted a video on his YouTube channel, which he later removed, of Islamic militant Abu Dujana.
It's not known if he came home with specific instructions from terrorist leaders there. But it's clear he returned more determined then ever to carry out the terrorist acts he and his younger brother perpetrated in Boston.
In her prescient analysis of the fast-growing al-Qaida threat in the United States, Zuckerman tells us that while we've foiled many plots, "the U.S. cannot afford to become complacent."
We need to re-examine and reform our visa screening system, which is being exploited by terrorists, and repair gaps in information-sharing with our allies.
In hindsight, Moscow's urgent request to investigate Tamerlan, the mastermind of the bombing, certainly deserved a longer and a far more thorough, in-depth follow-up investigation, which could have resulted in his deportation before he committed his evil acts.