Skip to main content

Terror in N.Y.? Whaddya gonna do

By Errol Louis, Special to CNN
April 26, 2013 -- Updated 1949 GMT (0349 HKT)
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
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT