Abstract: In 2007, The Heritage Foundation became the first and only organization tracking thwarted terrorist attacks against the United States. That year, Heritage reported that at least 19 publicly known terrorist attacks against the United States had been foiled since 9/11. Today, that number stands at 40. The fact that the United States has not suffered a large-scale attack since 9/11 truly speaks to the country’s counterterrorism successes. However, simply applauding the achievement and taking only a forward-looking approach is not nearly enough to prevent the next attack. Reviewing the terrorist plots that have been foiled since 9/11 can provide valuable information for understanding the nature of the threat, as well as best practices for preventing the next attack.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it is important to take stock of what the government must do to ensure that America never experiences another such terrorist attack. There is little doubt that the United States is safer than it was on September 10, 2001—at least 40 terror plots against the U.S. have been foiled since 9/11—but the war on terrorism is not yet won. As heartening as it is that so many plots have been foiled, their number also points to the magnitude of the ongoing threat that must not be ignored. In order to continue America’s success in fighting terrorism and protecting the nation, America must not allow itself to become complacent. Instead, Congress and the Administration should:
- Preserve existing counterterrorism and intelligence tools, such as the PATRIOT Act
- Plug gaps in procedures for halting terrorist travel
- Create a lawful detainment framework for the incapacitation and interrogation of suspected terrorists
- Remain committed to Afghanistan and use a policy mix of inducements and penalties to hold Pakistan accountable for rooting out terrorists on its soil
- Eliminate senseless security measures, such as the biometric exit program and 100 percent cargo screening requirements
- Examine information-sharing gaps
40 Foiled Plots
Compiled by The Heritage Foundation since 2007, the following list outlines those publicly known terrorist plots against the U.S. that have been foiled since 9/11. While all categories of terrorist attacks against U.S. targets at home and overseas have been declining steadily since 2005, thwarted plots have more than doubled during the same period, showing that terrorists continue to plan to harm the United States and its people.
1. Richard Reid—December 2001. A British citizen and self-professed follower of Osama bin Laden who trained in Afghanistan, Richard Reid hid explosives inside his shoes before boarding a flight from Paris to Miami on which he attempted to light the fuse with a match. Reid was caught in the act and apprehended aboard the plane by passengers and flight attendants. FBI officials took Reid into custody after the plane made an emergency landing at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
In 2003, Reid was found guilty on charges of terrorism, and a U.S. federal court sentenced him to life in prison. He is currently incarcerated at a federal maximum-security prison in Colorado.
Saajid Badat was sentenced to 13 years in jail for planning to blow up a passenger plane. The 26-year-old, a religious teacher from Gloucester, was sentenced after he admitted conspiring with fellow Briton Reid. Badat pled guilty in February to the plot to blow up the transatlantic flight on its way to the U.S. in 2001.
2. Jose Padilla—May 2002. U.S. officials arrested Jose Padilla in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport as he returned to the United States from Pakistan, where he met with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and received al-Qaeda training and instructions. Upon his arrest, he was initially charged as an enemy combatant, and for planning to use a dirty bomb (an explosive laced with radioactive material) in an attack in the U.S.
Along with Padilla, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi were convicted in August of terrorism conspiracy and material support. It was found that the men supported cells that sent recruits, money, and supplies to Islamic extremists worldwide, including al-Qaeda members. Hassoun was the recruiter and Jayyousi served as a financier and propagandist in the cell. Before his conviction, Padilla had brought a case against the federal government claiming that he had been denied the right of habeas corpus (the right of an individual to petition his unlawful imprisonment). In a five-to-four decision, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the case against him had been filed improperly. In 2005, the government indicted Padilla for conspiring against the U.S. with Islamic terrorist groups.
In August 2007, Padilla was found guilty by a civilian jury after a three-month trial. He was later sentenced by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to 17 years and four months in prison. He is being held at the same penitentiary as Richard Reid.
3. Lackawanna Six—September 2002. When the FBI arrested Sahim Alwan, Yahya Goba, Yasein Taher, Faysal Galab, Shafal Mosed, and Mukhtar al-Bakri in Upstate New York, the press dubbed them the “Lackawanna Six,” the “Buffalo Six,” and the “Buffalo Cell.” Five of the six had been born and raised in Lackawanna, New York. All six are American citizens of Yemeni descent, and stated that they were going to Pakistan to attend a religious camp, but attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan instead. The six men pled guilty in 2003 to providing support to al-Qaeda. Goba and al-Bakri were sentenced to 10 years in prison, Taher and Mosed to eight years, Alwan to nine and a half years, and Galab to seven years. Goba’s sentence was later reduced to nine years after he, Alwan, and Taher testified at a Guantanamo Bay military tribunal in the case against Osama bin Laden’s chief propagandist, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul.
Jaber Elbaneh, one of the FBI’s most wanted and often considered to be a seventh member of the Lackawanna cell, reportedly has been captured in Yemen. It remains to be seen whether he will be tried in the U.S., since the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Yemen.
4. Iyman Faris—May 2003. Iyman Faris is a naturalized U.S. citizen, originally from Kashmir, who was living in Columbus, Ohio. He was arrested for conspiring to use blowtorches to collapse the Brooklyn Bridge, a plot devised after meetings with al-Qaeda leadership, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The New York City Police Department learned of the plot and increased police surveillance around the bridge. Faced with the additional security, Faris and his superiors called off the attack.
Faris pled guilty to conspiracy and providing material support to al-Qaeda and was later sentenced in federal district court to 20 years in prison, the maximum allowed under his plea agreement.
5. Virginia Jihad Network—June 2003. Eleven men were arrested in Alexandria, Virginia, for weapons counts and for violating the Neutrality Acts, which prohibit U.S. citizens and residents from attacking countries with which the United States is at peace. Four of the 11 men pled guilty. Upon further investigation, the remaining seven were indicted on additional charges of conspiring to support terrorist organizations. They were found to have connections with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a terrorist organization that targets the Indian government. The authorities stated that the Virginia men had used paintball games to train and prepare for battle. The group had also acquired surveillance and night vision equipment and wireless video cameras. Two more men were later indicted in the plot: Ali al-Timimi, the group’s spiritual leader, and Ali Asad Chandia.
Ali al-Timimi was found guilty of soliciting individuals to assault the United States and was sentenced to life in prison. Ali Asad Chandia received 15 years for supporting Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. Randall Todd Royer, Ibrahim al-Hamdi, Yong Ki Kwon, Khwaja Mahmood Hasan, Muhammed Aatique, and Donald T. Surratt pled guilty and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three years and 10 months to 20 years. Masoud Khan, Seifullah Chapman, and Hammad Abdur-Raheem were found guilty and later sentenced to prison terms ranging from 52 months to life. Both Caliph Basha Ibn Abdur-Raheem and Sabri Benkhala were acquitted at trial.
6. Nuradin M. Abdi—November 2003. Nuradin M. Abdi, a Somali citizen living in Columbus, Ohio, was arrested and charged in a plot to bomb a local shopping mall. Abdi was an associate of convicted terrorists Christopher Paul and Iyman Faris and admitted to conspiring with the two to provide material support to terrorists. Following his arrest, Abdi admitted to traveling overseas to seek admittance to terrorist training camps, as well as meeting with a Somali warlord associated with Islamists.
Abdi has since pled guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, one of the four counts for which he was indicted. He was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in jail per the terms of a plea agreement.
7. Dhiren Barot—August 2004. Seven members of a terrorist cell led by Dhiren Barot were arrested for plotting to attack the New York Stock Exchange and other financial institutions in New York, Washington, D.C., and Newark, New Jersey. They were later accused of planning attacks in England. The plots included a “memorable black day of terror” that would have included detonating a dirty bomb. A July 2004 police raid on Barot’s house in Pakistan yielded a number of incriminating files on a laptop computer, including instructions for building car bombs.
Barot pled guilty and was convicted in the United Kingdom for conspiracy to commit mass murder and sentenced to 40 years. However, in May 2007, his sentence was reduced to 30 years. His seven co-conspirators were sentenced to terms ranging from 15 to 26 years on related charges of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to cause explosion.
8. James Elshafay and Shahawar Matin Siraj—August 2004. James Elshafay and Shahawar Matin Siraj, both reportedly self-radicalized, were arrested for plotting to bomb a subway station near Madison Square Garden in New York City before the Republican National Convention. An undercover detective from the New York City Police Department’s Intelligence Division infiltrated the group, providing information to authorities, and later testified against Elshafay and Siraj.
Siraj was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Elshafay, a U.S. citizen, pled guilty and received a lighter, five-year sentence for testifying against his co-conspirator.
9. Yassin Aref and Mohammad Hossain—August 2004. Two leaders of a mosque in Albany, New York, were charged with plotting to purchase a shoulder-fired grenade launcher to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat. An investigation by the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and local police contributed to the arrest. With the help of an informant, the FBI set up a sting that lured Mohammad Hossain into a fake terrorist conspiracy. Hossain brought Yassin Aref, a Kurdish refugee, as a witness. The informant offered details of a fake terrorist plot, claiming that he needed the missiles to murder a Pakistani diplomat in New York City. Both Aref and Hossain agreed to help.
Aref and Hossain were found guilty of money laundering and conspiracy to conceal material support for terrorism and were sentenced to 15 years in prison.
10. Hamid Hayat—June 2005. Hamid Hayat, a Pakistani immigrant, was arrested in Lodi, California, after allegedly lying to the FBI about his attendance at an Islamic terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
Hamid was found guilty of providing himself as “material support” to terrorists and three counts of providing false statements to the FBI. In interviews with the FBI, he stated (correctly) that he specifically requested to come to the United States after receiving training in order to carry out jihad. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
11. Levar Haley Washington, Gregory Vernon Patterson, Hammad Riaz Samana, and Kevin James—August 2005. The members of the group were arrested in Los Angeles and charged with conspiring to attack National Guard facilities, synagogues, and other targets in the Los Angeles area. Kevin James allegedly founded Jamiyyat ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS), a radical Islamic prison group, and converted Levar Washington and others to the group’s mission. The JIS allegedly planned to finance its operations by robbing gas stations. After Washington and Patterson were arrested for robbery, police and federal agents began a terrorist investigation, and a search of Washington’s apartment revealed a target list.
James and Washington pled guilty in December 2007. James was sentenced to 16 years in prison and Washington to 22 years. Patterson received 151 months, while Samana was found unfit to stand trial and was initially detained in a federal prison mental facility. He was later sentenced to 70 months in jail.
12. Michael C. Reynolds—December 2005. Michael C. Reynolds was arrested by the FBI and charged with involvement in a plot to blow up a Wyoming natural gas refinery; the Transcontinental Pipeline, a natural-gas pipeline from the Gulf Coast to New York and New Jersey; and a Standard Oil refinery in New Jersey. He was arrested while trying to pick up a $40,000 payment for planning the attack. Shannen Rossmiller, his purported contact, was a Montana judge and private citizen working with the FBI. Rossmiller posed as a jihadist, tricking Reynolds into revealing his plan. The FBI later found explosives in a storage locker in Reynolds’s hometown of Wilkes–Barre, Pennsylvania. Reynolds claimed that he was doing much the same as Rossmiller, and was working as a private citizen to find terrorists.
Reynolds was convicted of providing material support to terrorists, soliciting a crime of violence, unlawful distribution of explosives, and unlawful possession of a hand grenade. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
13. Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, and Zand Wassim Mazloum—February 2006. Amawi, El-Hindi, and Mazloum were arrested in Toledo, Ohio, for conspiring to kill people outside the United States, including U.S. Armed Forces personnel serving in Iraq. The men also conspired to train and arm for a violent jihad against the United States, both domestically and abroad. Training involved use of materials including those found on secure and exclusive jihadist Web sites, downloaded and copied training videos, and materials for jihad training sessions. The men also were found to have provided material support to terrorist organizations and to have verbally threatened attacks on President George W. Bush. The investigation was begun with the help of an informant who was approached to help train the group.
In June 2008, the three men were convicted of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism against Americans overseas, including U.S. military personnel in Iraq, and other terrorism-related violations. Amawi was sentenced to 20 years, El-Hindi to 13 years, and Mazloum to approximately eight years.
14. Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee—April 2006. Ahmed and Sadequee, from Atlanta, Georgia, were accused of conspiracy, having discussed terrorist targets with alleged terrorist organizations. They allegedly met with Islamic extremists in the U.S. and gathered videotape surveillance of potential targets in the Washington, D.C., area, including the U.S. Capitol and the World Bank headquarters, and sent the videos to a London Islamist group. Ahmed is said also to have traveled to Pakistan with the goal of joining Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.
Both men were indicted for providing material support to terrorist organizations and pled not guilty. In June 2009, a federal district judge found Ahmed “guilty of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists here and overseas.” Ahmed was subsequently sentenced to 13 years in jail. Sadequee was also found guilty and sentenced to 17 years.
15. Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin, and Rotschild Augustine—June 2006. Seven men were arrested in Miami and Atlanta for plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, FBI offices, and other government buildings around the country. The arrests resulted from an investigation involving an FBI informant. Allegedly, Batiste was the leader of the group and first suggested attacking the Sears Tower in December 2005.
All of the suspects pled not guilty. On December 13, 2007, Lemorin was acquitted of all charges, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on the other six. The second trial ended in a mistrial in April 2008. In the third trial, the jury convicted five of the men on multiple conspiracy charges and acquitted Herrera on all counts. On November 20, 2009, the five were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 13.5 years, with Batiste receiving the longest sentence.
16. Assem Hammoud—July 2006. Conducting online surveillance of chat rooms, the FBI discovered a plot to attack underground transit links between New York City and New Jersey. Eight suspects, including Assem Hammoud, an al-Qaeda loyalist living in Lebanon, were arrested for plotting to bomb New York City train tunnels. Hammoud, a self-proclaimed operative for al-Qaeda, admitted to the plot. He was held by Lebanese authorities but was not extradited because the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon. In June 2008, Lebanese authorities released him on bail. He is awaiting trial before a Lebanese military court.
17. Liquid Explosives Plot—August 2006. British law enforcement stopped a terrorist plot to blow up 10 U.S.-bound commercial airliners with liquid explosives. Twenty-four suspects were arrested in the London area. The style of the plot raised speculation that al-Qaeda was behind it, but no concrete evidence has established a link.
The United Kingdom initially indicted 15 of the 24 arrested individuals on charges ranging from conspiring to commit murder to planning to commit terrorist acts. Eventually, in April 2008, only eight men were brought to trial. In September, the jury found none of the defendants guilty of conspiring to target aircraft, but three guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. The jury was unable to reach verdicts on four of the men. One man was found not guilty on all counts.
18. Derrick Shareef—December 2006. Derrick Shareef was arrested on charges of planning to set off hand grenades in a shopping mall outside Chicago. Shareef reportedly acted alone and was arrested after meeting with an undercover Joint Terrorism Task Force agent. FBI reports indicated that the mall was one of several potential targets, including courthouses, city halls, and government facilities. Shareef, however, settled on attacking a mall in the days immediately preceding Christmas because he believed it would cause the greatest amount of chaos and damage. Shareef was also found to have connections to convicted terrorist Hassan Agujihaad, who was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and later sentenced to 35 years in prison.
19. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—March 2007. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured in Pakistan in 2003, was involved in a number of terrorist plots and is one of the most senior bin Laden operatives ever captured. He is being held at the U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. In March 2007, Mohammed admitted to helping plan, organize, and run the 9/11 attacks. He also claimed responsibility for planning the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 2002 bombings of nightclubs in Bali and a Kenyan hotel. He has stated that he was involved in the decapitation of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and took responsibility for helping to plan the failed shoe-bomb attack by Richard Reid, along with plots to attack Heathrow Airport, Canary Wharf, Big Ben, various targets in Israel, the Panama Canal, Los Angeles, Chicago, the Empire State building, and U.S. nuclear power stations. He had also plotted to assassinate Pope John Paul II and former President Bill Clinton.
In December 2008, Mohammed and his four co-defendants (Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, and Walid Bin Attash) told the military tribunal judge that they wanted to confess and plead guilty to all charges. The judge has approved the guilty plea of Mohammed and two co-defendants but has required mental competency hearings before allowing the other two conspirators to plead guilty. In November 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Mohammed would be relocated to the United States to face a civilian trial in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. That decision has now been reversed and the Administration announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other Guantanamo Bay detainees would be prosecuted in military tribunals at Guantanamo.
20. Fort Dix Plot—May 2007. Six men were arrested in a plot to attack Fort Dix, a U.S. Army post in New Jersey. The plan involved using assault rifles and grenades to attack and kill U.S. soldiers. Five of the alleged conspirators had conducted training missions in the nearby Pocono Mountains. The sixth helped to obtain weapons. The arrests were made after a 16-month FBI operation that included infiltrating the group. The investigation began after a store clerk alerted authorities after discovering a video file of the group firing weapons and calling for jihad. The group has no known direct connections to any international terrorist organization.
In December 2008, five of the men were found guilty on conspiracy charges but were acquitted of charges of attempted murder. Four were also convicted on weapons charges. The five men received sentences ranging from 33 years to life plus 30 years. The sixth co-defendant pled guilty to aiding and abetting the others in illegal possession of weapons and was sentenced to 20 months in jail.
21. JFK Airport Plot—June 2007. Four men plotted to blow up “aviation fuel tanks and pipelines at the John F. Kennedy International Airport” in New York City. They believed that such an attack would cause “greater destruction than in the Sept. 11 attacks.” Authorities stated that the attack “could have caused significant financial and psychological damage, but not major loss of life.”
Russell Defreitas, the leader of the group, was arrested in Brooklyn. The other three members of the group—Abdul Kadir, Kareem Ibrahim, and Abdel Nur—were detained in Trinidad and extradited in June 2008. Kadir and Nur have links to Islamic extremists in South America and the Caribbean. Kadir was an imam in Guyana, a former member of the Guyanese Parliament, and mayor of Linden, Guyana. Ibrahim is a Trinidadian citizen and Nur is a Guyanese citizen.
In 2010, Kadir was found guilty on five counts and sentenced to life in prison. In February, both Defreitas and Nur were also found guilty. Defreitas was sentenced to life in prison, while Nur was sentenced to 15 years. The final conspirator, Kareem Ibrahim, was convicted in May 2011 and faces up to life in prison.
22. Hassan Abujihaad—March 2008. Hassan Abujihaad, a former U.S. Navy sailor from Phoenix, Arizona, was convicted of supporting terrorism and disclosing classified information, including the location of Navy ships and their vulnerabilities, to Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, the alleged administrators of Azzam Publication Web sites (the London organization that provided material support and resources to terrorists). Abujihaad was arrested in March 2007 and pled not guilty to charges of supporting terrorism in April 2007. In May 2008, he was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 2010, his conviction was upheld in a federal court of appeals. Both Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan are being held in Britain on anti-terrorism charges and are fighting extradition to the U.S.
23. Christopher Paul—June 2008. Christopher Paul is a U.S. citizen from Columbus, Ohio. He joined al-Qaeda in the 1990s and was involved in conspiracies to target Americans in the United States and overseas. In 1999, he became connected to an Islamic terrorist cell in Germany, where he was involved in a plot to target Americans at foreign vacation resorts. He later returned to Ohio and was subsequently arrested for conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction—specifically, explosive devices—“against targets in Europe and the United States.” Paul pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
24. Synagogue Terror Plot—May 2009. On May 20, 2009, the New York Police Department announced the arrest of James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams, and Laguerre Payen for plotting to blow up New York-area Jewish centers and shoot down planes at a nearby Air National Guard Base. The four had attempted to gain access to Stinger missiles and were caught in the act of placing bombs in the buildings and in a car. (The bombs were duds, because undercover agents sold the four defendants fake explosives as part of an ongoing sting operation). All four men were found guilty. In June 2011, James Cromitie, David Williams, and Onta Williams were sentenced to 25 years in prison. Laguerre Payen’s sentencing has been postponed pending psychiatric evaluation.
25. Najibullah Zazi—September 2009 . Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghane, was arrested after purchasing large quantities of chemicals used to make a TATP bomb, the same type of weapon used in the 2005 bombing of the London Underground and the 2001 shoe-bomb plot. Zazi had traveled to Pakistan, where he received instruction in bomb-making and attended an al-Qaeda training camp. Zazi allegedly planned to detonate TATP bombs on the New York City subway.It has since been found that the plot was directed by senior al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.
Najibullah Zazi’s father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, was also indicted for obstructing justice, witness tampering, and lying to the FBI in attempts to help his son cover up plans for his attack.A cousin of Zazi, Amanullah Zazi, also publicly admitted that he played a role in Zazi’s 2009 plot. Amanullah pled guilty in secret and agreed to become a government witness in federal court in Brooklyn against Najibullah’s father. The father has since been found guilty, and faces up to 40 years in prison. Najibullah Zazi pled guilty, as the result of a plea bargain, and remains in jail. He is currently awaiting sentencing.
At least three other individuals have since been arrested on allegations of conspiring to carry out the attack with Zazi. One of them, New York religious leader Ahmad Afzali, has pled guilty to charges of lying to federal agents about informing Zazi that he was being investigated by authorities.  As part of a plea deal, Afzali was sentenced to time served and ordered to leave the country within 90 days. A second man, Zarein Ahmedzay has also pled guilty to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction in the foiled plot and lying to investigators. Adis Medunjanin has pled not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and to receiving terrorist training. Ahmedzay and Medunjanin are thought to have traveled to Pakistan with Zazi, and to have met with wanted al-Qaeda operative Adnan El Shukrijumah, who has also been charged in the plot. A fourth individual, Abid Nasser, has also been indicated in the plot led by Zazi, as well as other plots in England and Norway. He is currently in the United Kingdom facing extradition to the United States. Also charged in the plot are, Tariq Ur Rehman, and a fifth defendant known as “Ahmad,” “Sohaib,” or “Zahid.” Both El Shukrijumah and Rehman are not in custody.
26. Hosam Maher Husein Smadi —September 2009. Smadi, a 19-year-old Jordanian, was apprehended in an attempt to plant a bomb in a Dallas skyscraper. Originally identified through FBI monitoring of extremist chat rooms, Smadi was arrested and charged after agents posing as terrorist cell members gave Smadi a fake bomb, which he later attempted to detonate. Smadi was found guilty and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
27 . Michael Finton —September 2009. Michael Finton, an American citizen, was arrested on September 23, 2009, by undercover FBI agents after attempting to detonate a car bomb filled with what he believed to be close to one ton of explosives outside the Paul Findley Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Springfield, Illinois. The blast was also intended to destroy the nearby office of Representative Aaron Schock (D–IL). Evidence presented against Finton has shown that he expressed a desire to become a jihadist fighter and was aware that his planned attack would cause civilian injuries. He has been arrested on charges of attempted murder of federal employees and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Finton pled guilty and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
28. Tarek Mehanna and Ahmad Abousamra—October 2009. Tarek Mehanna, previously indicted for lying to the FBI about the location of terrorist suspect Daniel Maldonado, was arrested on October 21, 2009, on allegations of conspiracy to kill two U.S. politicians, American troops in Iraq, and civilians in local shopping malls, as well as conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. Ahmad Abousamra, his co-conspirator, remains at large in Syria. However, both were indicted on charges of providing and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill Americans in a foreign country, and conspiracy to provide false information to law enforcement.
The two men are not believed to be associated with any known terrorist organization. Mehanna has pled not guilty to charges against him, while Abousamra remains at large in Syria.
29. The Christmas Day Bomber—2009. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian engineering student living in London, boarded a plane from Nigeria to Amsterdam and then flew from Amsterdam to the U.S. It was on this second flight when he attempted to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear as the plane began to land. The device ignited but did not detonate, and passengers quickly stopped Abdulmutallab from trying again, leading to his arrest by U.S. authorities upon landing in Detroit. The bomb, containing the explosives PETN and TATP, was similar to the failed device used by Richard Reid in his shoe in 2001.
Media accounts following the plot indicate that Abdulmutallab admits involvement with al-Qaeda in Yemen. He has since pled not guilty to charges including conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. He remains in custody in the U.S. awaiting further trial.
30. Raja Lahrasib Khan—March 2010. Chicago taxi driver Raja Lahrasib Khan, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan, was arrested by the Chicago FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force on two counts of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. According to the charges, Khan was affiliated with Ilyas Kashmiri, leader of the al-Qaeda-linked extremist group Harakat ul-Jihad-I-Islami in Kashmir, and has previously been indicted in the U.S. on terrorism charges.
Khan originally transferred $950 to Pakistan, to be delivered to Kashmiri, and later attempted to send around $1,000 provided to him by an undercover agent to Kashmiri by having his son carry the money to England, where Khan then planned to rendezvous with him and carry the money the rest of the way to Pakistan. His son was stopped by government agents at Chicago’s O’Hare airport before leaving the country. The criminal complaint filed against Khan also alleges that he had discussed plans to bomb an unnamed sports stadium in the United States.
Khan has since pled not guilty to two counts of providing material support to terrorism. If convicted, Khan faces up to 15 years in prison for each count of providing material support.
31. Faisal Shahzad—May 2010. Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized citizen from Pakistan, attempted to detonate explosives in an SUV parked in Times Square. After explosives training in Pakistan, he is said to have received $12,000 from entities affiliated with the terrorist organization Tehrik-e-Taliban to fund the attack. Following the failed bombing attempt, Shahzad attempted to flee the country to Dubai, but was arrested before the flight was able to leave New York’s JFK airport.
Shahzad pled guilty to 10 counts, including conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism and to use a weapon of mass destruction. He was sentenced to life in prison and is being held at the same Colorado maximum-security prison as Richard Reid and Jose Padilla.
32. Paul G. Rockwood, Jr. and Nadia Piroska Maria Rockwood—July 2010. Paul G. Rockwood, Jr., an American citizen, became an adherent to Anwar al-Awlaki’s ideology of violent jihad after converting to Islam. In studying al-Awlaki’s teachings, Rockwood came to believe it was his religious responsibility to seek revenge against anyone who defiled Islam. He created a list of 15 individuals to be targeted for assassination, including several members of the U.S. military. Rockwood is said to have researched explosive techniques and discussed the possibility of killing his targets with a gunshot to the head or through mail bombs. Nadia Piroska Maria Rockwood, Paul’s wife, knowingly transported the list to Anchorage, Alaska, to share with an unnamed individual who apparently shared Rockwood’s ideology. The list then made it into the hands of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Anchorage.
Paul was charged with making false statements to the FBI in a domestic terrorism charge, while Nadia was charged with making false statements to the FBI in connection to the case against her husband. Paul was sentenced to eight years in prison, while his wife was sentenced to five years probation.
33. Farooque Ahmed—October 2010. Pakistani-American Farooque Ahmed was arrested following an FBI investigation into plots to attack the Washington, D.C., subway. Ahmed is said to have conducted surveillance on the D.C. Metrorail system on multiple occasions, and was in contact with undercover FBI agents whom he believed to be individuals affiliated with al-Qaeda. According to an unsealed affidavit, Ahmed wanted to receive terrorist training overseas and become a martyr. The affidavit also indicates that he sought to specifically target military personnel in his bombing attempt.
Ahmed pled guilty to charges of material support and collecting information for a terrorist attack on a transit facility. He was then immediately sentenced to 23 years in prison.
34. Air Cargo Bomb Plot—October 2010. Two packages shipped from Yemen to Chicago-area synagogues were discovered to contain explosive materials of the same type used by Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in previously thwarted bombing attempts. The packages contained printer cartridges filled with the explosive material and were identified with the help of intelligence tips from Saudi Arabian authorities while in transit on cargo planes in the United Kingdom and Dubai. While no arrests have been made, the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed responsibility for the failed attack.
35. Mohamed Osman Mohamud—November 2010. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old Somali-American, was arrested after attempting to detonate a car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. The bomb was composed of inert explosives given to him by undercover FBI agents. Mohamud had previously sought to travel overseas to obtain training in violent jihad. Having failed in that attempt, he wanted to commit an attack that would cause mass casualties to individuals and their families. Mohamud has pled not guilty to the charges.
36. Antonio Martinez—December 2010. Antonio Martinez, a 21-year-old American citizen also known as Muhammad Hussain, planned to bomb a military recruiting center in Maryland. The FBI learned of the plot from an unnamed informant. Martinez was arrested after attempting to detonate a fake explosive device supplied by FBI agents. He has been charged with attempted murder of federal officers and employees, as well as attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He has pled not guilty and awaits further trial.
37. Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari—February 2011. Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a Saudi citizen studying in Lubbock, Texas, was arrested by the FBI after placing an order for the toxic chemical phenol. Both the chemical supplier and the freight shipping company became suspicious of the order, which could be used to make an improvised explosive device (IED), and alerted the FBI and local police. Surveillance of Aldawsari’s e-mail turned up a list of potential “nice targets” including dams, nuclear power plants, military targets, a nightclub, and the Dallas residence of former President George W. Bush. The search also recovered plans to acquire a forged U.S. birth certificate and multiple driver’s licenses. Aldawsari seems to have considered using these documents to obtain rental cars for use in vehicle bombings. He has pled not guilty to charges of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and faces up to life in prison.
38. Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh—May 2011. Ahmed Ferhani of Algeria, and Moroccan-born Mohamed Mamdouh, a U.S. citizen, were arrested by the New York Police Department after attempting to purchase a hand grenade, guns, and ammunition to attack on an undetermined Manhattan synagogue. The men planned on disguising themselves as Orthodox Jews in order to sneak into the synagogue. Reports have also cited the Empire State Building as a possible second target. Both men face charges of conspiracy to commit a crime of terrorism and conspiracy to commit a hate crime, as well as criminal possession of a weapon.
39. Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif and Walli Mujahidh—June 2011. In a raid on a warehouse in Seattle, the FBI arrested Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif and Walli Mujahidh. The two suspects had arranged to purchase weapons from an unnamed informant in contact with the Seattle Police Department. They were looking to purchase automatic machine guns and grenades in preparation for an attack on a military recruiting station in Seattle. Since the arrests have been made, authorities have learned that Abdul-Latif, a felon and Muslim convert, had initially planned to attack the Joint Base Lewis–McChord with his friend, Los Angeles resident Mujahidh. The target was later changed to the Seattle Military Entrance Processing Station for undisclosed reasons. 
The men have been charged with conspiracy to murder officers and employees of the United States government, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and possession of firearms in furtherance of crimes of violence. Abdul-Latif has also been charged with two counts of illegal possession of firearms. Both men are in custody awaiting trial.
40. Emerson Winfield Begolly—August 2011. Begolly, a moderator and supporter for the internationally known Islamic extremist Web forum Ansar al-Mujahideen English Forum (AMEF), was arrested on charges of terrorist actions involving solicitation to commit a crime of violence and distribution of information in relation to explosives, destructive devices, and weapons of mass destruction. Through his profile on AMEF, the Pennsylvania-born man solicited others to engage in violent acts of terrorism against post offices, water plants, military facilities, bridges, train lines, and Jewish schools. Begolly also used the Web site to post a downloadable 101-page document that contains information on how to manufacture chemical explosives. The instructional document is loosely linked to al-Qaeda’s former top chemical and biological weapons expert Abu Khabbab al Misri. Begolly pled guilty to counts of soliciting others to engage in acts of terrorism within the U.S., and attempting to use a 9-mm semi-automatic handgun during an assault upon inquiring FBI agents. He is currently awaiting further trial.
Thwarting the Next Attack
Relying on lessons learned is important in preparing for the future. As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Congress and the Administration must remain vigilant. In order to combat the continued threat of terrorism and protect the nation, lawmakers should:
- Preserve existing counterterrorism and intelligence tools, such as the PATRIOT Act. Support for important investigative tools like the PATRIOT Act is essential to maintaining the security of the United States and combating terrorist threats. Key provisions within the act, such as the roving surveillance authority and business records provisions, have proven essential in thwarting terror plots. Given that at least 40 plots have been foiled since 9/11, the United States is clearly still facing a serious terrorist threat. As such, national security investigators still need the authorities provided by the PATRIOT Act to track leads and dismantle plots before the public is put in any danger. These authorities, which Congress has extensively modified over the years to incorporate significant new safeguards, including substantial court oversight, are vital to this success. Congress should not let the provisions expire and instead should make the authorities permanent.
- Plug gaps in procedures for halting terrorist travel. The problem in stopping terrorist travel to the U.S. is not airport screening per se. Turning every airport into another Maginot Line or Fort Knox will fail at some point. Instead, the best way to discourage terrorists is to frustrate the groups or individuals long before they are able to put the American public in danger. Until the terrorists are rooted out, the free nations under threat from global terrorism have to do a better job of thwarting terrorist travel. Would-be mass murderers like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the Detroit-bound Christmas bomber) should not be allowed near an airliner. At the very least, such suspicious travelers should not be able to move freely without greater scrutiny, inspection, and surveillance. In order to plug gaps in terrorist travel, the U.S. should improve visa security coordination between the Departments of State and Homeland Security, put more air marshals in the skies and in airports, speed up the deployment of the Secure Flight program, step up implementation of REAL ID, expand the Visa Waiver Program, and end the 100 percent visa interview requirement. Efforts should also be made to improve the Terrorist Watchlist, including ensuring that the intelligence community has complete information access in real time, the implementation of “Person-centric” travel histories, and the incorporation of data obtained from abroad by Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Visa Security Units at U.S. embassies and consulates.
- Create a lawful detainment framework for the incapacitation and lawful interrogation of terrorists. As of August 2011, the United States is holding 171 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Under the international law of armed conflict, or law of war, and as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, the United States has the authority to detain enemies who have engaged in combatant actions, including acts of belligerence, until the end of hostilities to keep them from returning to the battlefield. Military detention, authorized by Congress and properly calibrated to protect national security, will enhance the nation’s ability to prosecute this war. The Commander in Chief should have all tools available to defeat this enemy, including the ability to determine whom to capture, where to detain them, whether to prosecute via military commissions or federal court, and whom to release. Efforts by Congress to unnecessarily restrict the Commander in Chief in these areas are problematic and should be avoided. At the same time, the Administration should continue to use Guantanamo as the default detention facility for high-value captures, including future captures and dangerous high-value detainees currently in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Remain committed to Afghanistan and use a policy mix of inducements and penalties to hold Pakistan accountable for rooting out terrorists on its soil. Terrorism is a global threat that requires a global response. Al-Qaeda’s core leadership remains in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, and the Taliban (whose leadership is allied with al-Qaeda) continues to threaten stability in Afghanistan. In order to stop terrorism at its source, the U.S. must remain committed to its counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, which aims to prevent the Taliban from regaining influence in the region. Continued pressure on the Pakistani government to shut down Pakistan-based terrorist groups is also essential, as are efforts to work with other nations to halt terrorist financing and eliminate terrorist safe havens.
- Eliminate senseless security measures. Senseless security measures that are unworkable or add little value consume scarce resources and do not keep Americans safe. These include the national biometric exit program, the 100 percent interview requirement for all visa applicants, and the mandate requiring 100 percent scanning of inbound transoceanic shipping containers. These programs demand enormous investments in tools and technology while providing little commensurate benefits in combating terrorist travel or enforcing U.S. laws. Simply throwing money at the problem is not the answer and only serves to provide a false sense of security. Rather than continuing to promote senseless security measures, Congress and the Administration should return to a truly risk-based approach to homeland security.
- Examine information-sharing gaps. Efforts to increase information sharing between the U.S. and its allies while improving interagency communications between the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security and intelligence agencies are vital to protecting the U.S. from the continued threat of terrorism. One of the central failures leading up to the attempted 2009 Christmas Day airplane bombing was the lack of sufficient information sharing between entities across the government. Information sharing must be strengthened both domestically and internationally to allow the early detection of terror plots long before the American public is put at risk.
Nearly 10 years after 9/11, there is little doubt that the nation is safer than it was on September 10, 2001. But the fact that the United States has thwarted at least 40 terror plots since 9/11 shows that terrorists continue to plan to harm the United States and kill Americans. Using lessons learned, better counterterrorism mechanisms, and new intelligence data are invaluable. Good leadership to keep America safe is nothing less than the American people deserve.
—James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Deputy Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Davis Institute, at The Heritage Foundation. Jessica Zuckerman is a Research Assistant in the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.