After 9/11, watching for—and thwarting—terrorism on American soil became a much higher priority, and it has paid off. Since then, dozens of planned attacks have been foiled by U.S. authorities and, occasionally, with a little help from our friends.
If you weren’t already hiding under your bed in fear, here are 10 alarming terror plots successfully thwarted since 9/11.
1. The Dirty Bomber
U.S. citizen Jose Padilla was arrested on May 8, 2002 upon arrival at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after a trip to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Padilla was allegedly planning to build and detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a major U.S. city, and had been trained by al Qaeda in Pakistan. Despite his U.S. citizenship, he was held as an “enemy combatant” for being closely associated with al Qaeda and planning attacks against his own country. On August 16, 2007, Padilla was found guilty on all counts and is now serving his sentence in Florence, Colorado.
2. The Brooklyn Bridge Plot
In early 2002, naturalized citizen and former truck driver from Columbus, Ohio, Iyman Faris, headed a plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge by cutting through cables with blowtorches. Federal agents uncovered the plot with illegal wiretaps authorized by President George W. Bush, and it was foiled when security was increased around the bridge, forcing Faris to call off the attack. In 2003, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, after pleading guilty to charges of providing material support and resources to al Qaeda, as well as conspiracy.
3. The Money Bomber
Indian-born al Qaeda agent Dhiren Barot was arrested in the UK on August 3, 2004 when his plan to use dirty bombs to blow up the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup in New York, the International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington, and the Prudential building in Newark, NJ was uncovered. Though the plot never came to fruition, Barot’s plans were clear and thorough and, as noted by the British Court of Appeal, would have “caused carnage on a colossal and unprecedented scale” if successful. He was sentenced to life in prison.
4. The Subway Bombers
The 34th Street subway station in midtown Manhattan was the target of a plot conceived of by Shahawar Siraj and James Elshafay, two young al Qaeda wannabes working on their own. The bombing, which was scheduled to occur during the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden was foiled by an undercover Egyptian informant working for the NYPD, who had spent months getting to know Siraj and Elshafay after reports to a terrorist hotline indicated that the young men were known for “virulent, anti-American tirades.” Siraj was eventually convicted to 30 years in prison, and Elshafay received a 5-year sentence.
5. The Oil Pipeline Bomber
American Michael Curtis Reynolds had a dream, which was to bomb U.S. oil pipelines in retaliation for America invading Iraq. His mistake was in discussing his dream in a Yahoo! Chat room called OBLcrew. With an acquaintance made through the chat room, Reynolds made plans to purchase fuel trucks with which to destroy his targets. He was arrested in December 2005 when he met up with the acquaintance, who was actually an FBI informant and online terrorist hunter. He was convicted in July of 2007 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
6. The Hudson River Bomber
Imagine the fallout if the tunnels connecting New Jersey and Manhattan beneath the Hudson River were bombed. That’s what professor at Lebonese International University, Assem Hammoud, leader of a plot to do just that, did—until he was arrested by the FBI in 2006. The FBI uncovered the plot through online surveillance of chat rooms. Hammoud cannot be extradited from Lebanon, and has been released on bail there, but he will eventually go to trial before a Lebanese military court.
7. The Shopping Mall Bomber
Derrick Shareef figured that disrupting Christmas by bombing a shopping mall with grenades during the last-minute holiday rush might be a good way to honor Islam. He allegedly also considered other potential targets, including courthouses, city halls, and other government buildings. He was caught after arranging a meeting with an undercover Joint Terrorism Task Force agent. He’s currently serving 35 years in jail.
8. The Federal Building Bomber
Ginger-haired fry cook, Michael Finton, was known among his co-workers for not liking America very much. Eventually he put his money where is mouth was and attempted to blow up the Federal Building in Springfield, Illinois. The FBI was watching, though, after a search of his car revealed a document he had written about dreaming of being a martyr for Islam. Working with undercover operatives posing as members of al Qaeda, he drove a truck that he believed to be loaded with explosives to the Federal Building, parked and locked it, then made two cellphone calls he believed would set off the explosives. He is now serving his 35 year sentence in federal prison.
9. Times Square Bomber
Arrested in the nick of time while waiting for his flight to Dubai to take off from JFK Airport, Faisal Shahzad was a junior financial analyst in Norwalk, Connecticut until he decided to set off a car bomb in Times Square. Luckily, he wasn’t a particularly skilled bomb maker and the plot failed. Shahzad was arrested 53 hours after the bomb was found, and pled guilty to all five charges of terrorism. He is currently serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.
10. The “Nice Targets” Bomber
Twenty-year-old Saudi Arabian, Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, was arrested in Texas for attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction after a chemical supplier tipped off the FBI that Aldawsari had attempted to purchase phenol, a chemical used to make explosives. The investigation revealed that Aldawsari had researched explosives and targets, sending himself his ideas in emails with the subject line “Nice Targets.” Targets he found “nice” included nuclear power plants, hydroelectric dams, the home of George W. Bush, and a nightclub. He is awaiting trial.