- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The deadly bombing in Boston and the wave of terrorist plots in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, lead inexorably to three conclusions: The terrorist threat is growing, al Qaeda 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 in one of our major cities, even with police on every street corner. They showed they could pierce our defenses with stunning ease, killing three people and wounding 260 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 several years ago about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two Chechen brothers, who were granted U.S. asylum in 2002. An FBI investigation found nothing to justify Moscow’s suspicions that he had terrorist connections and the case was closed.

This was one of the first successful terrorist attacks on United States soil since Sept. 11, 2001. 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.

The number of attempted plots proves that a growing army of combatants is in our midst, planning further attacks with the help of al Qaeda jihadists here and abroad.

“At least 53 publicly known Islamist-inspired terrorist plots against the U.S. have been thwarted since 9/11,” writes Jessica Zuckerman, a national security analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “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.”

The terrorist who wanted to blow up the Fed’s bank was a 21-year-old Bangladeshi citizen, 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 thought was a 1,000-pound bomb inside a van.

Nafis sought out fellow al Qaeda operatives in the United States 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. By 2011, there had been “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 likely heading higher.

Last week, a poll in The Washington Post 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 think 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 Qaeda network is playing.

While it’s not clear what level of support, if any, outside terrorist organizations provided in the Boston bombing, al Qaeda may have had a hand in the explosive devices 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 Qaeda linked publication Inspire. Then 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 Qaeda “elements” in Iran. “This is the first known al Qaeda planned attack we’ve experienced in Canada,” a Royal Canadian Mounted Police official told reporters.

That must come as news to Mr. Obama, who boasted in the closing weeks of his re-election campaign in Green Bay, Wis., that “al Qaeda has been decimated,” a claim that has been repeated by other administration officials.

Then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was a bit more circumspect at the time, saying 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 in November.

The truth is al Qaeda operatives have not only spread throughout the Middle East, but across key parts of North Africa, into Asia, the United States 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 United States, he posted a YouTube video of Islamic militant Abu Dujana, which he later removed.

It’s not known if he came home with specific instructions from terrorist leaders there. It is clear, though, that he returned more determined then ever to carry out the terrorist acts he and his younger brother are charged with in Boston.

In her prescient analysis of the fast-growing al Qaeda threat in the United States, Ms. 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, repair gaps in information-sharing with our allies and act upon tips from abroad.

In hindsight, Moscow’s urgent request to investigate Tamerlan, the apparent mastermind of the bombing, certainly deserved a far more thorough follow-up.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.