Twenty years ago today, al Qaeda first attempted to bring down the World Trade Center in New York — killing six people and injuring more than 1,000. As we remember the victims today, we should also remember something else: Eight years later, al Qaeda came back and finished the job.
If we have learned anything from recent history, it is that once al Qaeda develops a plan for a major attack, it never gives up until that attack has been carried out. Their tenacity in the case of the World Trade Center is just one example. Consider:
- In 2000, al Qaeda attempted to blow up an American destroyer in the Gulf of Aden, the USS The Sullivans, but the terrorists overloaded the skiff with too many explosives, causing it to sink in the sand as soon as it hit the water. Ten months later, the same boat was used to blow up another American destroyer in the Gulf of Aden, the USS Cole, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 39 more.
- In 1995, KSM hatched the “Bojinka Plot” to blow up a dozen airplanes carrying some 4,000 passengers over the Pacific Ocean, and failed. In 2006, al Qaeda tried it again — this time over the Atlantic — using liquid explosives to blow up seven planes bound for New York, Chicago, Montreal, Washington, and San Francisco, carrying at least 1,500 passengers. Thankfully, they failed again. But they did not give up. In 2010, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen tried again to blow up planes headed for the United States, this time using bombs hidden in printer cartridges timed to blow up over the eastern seaboard. The plot was stopped thanks to a tip from Saudi intelligence.
- On 22 December 2001, al Qaeda attempted to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami with 187 people on board, sending terrorist Richard Reid to destroy the aircraft with a shoe bomb. On December 25, 2009, almost eight years to the day after Reid’s failed attack, al Qaeda tried it again, this time attempting to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 en route from Amsterdam to Detroit using an underwear bomb.
The lesson of this experience? Al Qaeda’s modus operandi is to continue trying to carry out the same plot, over and over again, until they succeed. So what are some other failed al Qaeda plots the terrorists might try again to carry out? Here are a few possibilities:
- In 2003, the US stopped al Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla as he was en route to carry out a KSM-conceived plot to blow up high-rise apartment buildings in Chicago.
- In 2003, we captured a Southeast Asian terrorist named Hambali and and the members of a cell he had recruited at KSM’s behest to hijack a passenger jet and fly it into the Library Tower in Los Angeles — completing KSM’s original vision for 9/11 as a bi-coastal attack.
- In 2003, we captured Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, KSM’s right-hand-man in the 9/11 attacks, just as he was finalizing plans for a plot to hijack airplanes in Europe and fly them into Heathrow airport and buildings in downtown London.
- In 2003, we captured Ammar al-Baluchi and Walid bin Attash, just as they were completing plans to replicate the destruction of our embassies in East Africa by blowing up the US consulate and Western residences in Karachi, Pakistan.
- In 2004, we captured terrorist Gouled Hassan Dourad (aka “Glueed”) who helped us disrupt an al Qaeda plot to blow up US Marines at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti using water tankers loaded with explosives.
Will al Qaeda come back to finish the job on some or all of these and other failed plots? The record suggests they will. But don’t worry. The president assures us the “tide of war” is receding — so we can focus on “nation building here at home.” Unfortunately, the enemy is still focused on attacking us here at home. We forget this at our peril.