- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

Despite the handwringing from partisan Democrats about the Bush administration’s conduct of the war on terror, the reality is that Washington has scored some impressive successes in the campaign against al Qaeda and like-minded groups. The most recent became news on Thursday, when U.S. officials announced they had thwarted a plot this spring to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Department of Justice’s announcement shows two things: One is that despite Washington’s earlier successes in the international campaign against al Qaeda (including hundreds of arrests of its members and the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan), Osama bin Laden’s terror network remains determined to commit mass murder on American soil whenever it gets the chance. Two, security measures near American landmarks which have taken effect since September 11 can prevent terrorist attacks.

Federal officials said the plot to bomb the Brooklyn Bridge was to have been organized by a terrorist sleeper agent named Iyman Faris, a native of Kashmir who emigrated to the United States in 1994 and became a naturalized citizen in December 1999. Faris, (who pled guilty May 1 to working for al Qaeda) did his most important work for the group from 2000 through March of this year. During this period, Faris, a truck driver living in Columbus, Ohio, made numerous trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he met with bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, widely believed to have been the mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

After returning to the United States late last year, Faris began scouting the Brooklyn Bridge, attempting to figure out how to plunge it into the water by cutting its suspension cables. But, Faris (whose plot may have been divulged by Mohammed, currently in U.S. custody), concluded that the plot was unlikely to work, due largely to the heavy security around the bridge. Earlier this year, Faris sent a coded message to his al Qaeda bosses canceling the attack. “The weather is too hot,” the message said.

It is no exaggeration at all to say that the resources spent on security in the wake of September 11 probably saved the Brooklyn Bridge — and, conservatively speaking, hundreds of lives that would have been at risk if al Qaeda had succeeded in sabotaging the 120-year-old landmark.

Breaking up the plot to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge is just the latest sign of progress in taking on terrorist groups seeking to operate on American soil. In recent months, federal authorities have successfully prosecuted members of al Qaeda cells near Buffalo and Detroit. On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a lower-court ruling that the Bush administration acted properly when it froze the assets of the Holy Land Foundation, a Texas-based charity whose leaders were actively affiliated with Hamas.

The federal government has also won court convictions of individuals involved in a cigarette fraud ring involved in funnelling money to the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah. And, a new federal program called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System has enabled the federal government to detain at least six suspected terrorists who have attempted to enter this country, including at least two suspected al Qaeda operatives whose fingerprints matched ones taken from papers found in caves in Afghanistan by U.S. military forces.

To be certain, we are still at the early stages of what will be a long, difficult war. But the thwarting of the plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge is just the latest sign that heightened security and vigilance can prevent terrorists from carrying out their murderous plots.

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