NEW YORK — Another failed terrorist plot. Another mass sigh of relief.
The Times Square car bombing attempt last weekend was just the latest in a long list of schemes that for nearly two decades have placed New York City squarely at the center of a sinister target. A breed of hardened wariness has taken hold for many New Yorkers — the price they must pay to live in the nation's largest city.
"I've never felt as though I was out of a bull's-eye," said Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter whose son, also a firefighter, died in the Sept. 11 attacks. "The event did not end on 9/11. The event has continued right on. ... These people are going to come back. Saturday just reinforces that."
There have been at least nine planned terrorist attacks in the city since Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorists involved hoped variously to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, to blow up financial institutions, to smuggle explosive materials into the city, to detonate explosives on the subway, to release cyanide into the subway system, to ignite an airport jet fuel pipeline and to collapse commuter train tunnels at ground zero.
And, in 1993, there was the first attack on the World Trade Center, where Islamic extremists exploded a rented van loaded with fertilizer in a parking garage, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others.
More often than not, though, the schemes have failed. On Saturday, the smoking SUV was noticed without the explosives inside doing any damage. But for New Yorkers, the question always remains: What about next time?
"One might fall through the cracks. And that's the greatest fear," Long Island resident Jack Brijmohan said Monday, standing on the corner where the smoking car bomb was parked a few days earlier. "There's always unguarded moments."
The New York Police Department hopes there aren't many of those. It's setting up 3,000 closed-circuit security cameras covering lower Manhattan, and a similar effort is under way in the Times Square area. The department embeds officers with foreign law enforcement agencies and sends them to the scenes of international terrorist attacks in an effort to share information and better understand and guard against similar violence.
Since Sept. 11, the NYPD has partnered with the FBI and other agencies to share intelligence through the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Officers randomly search bags on the subways, and teams of officers appear unannounced at high-profile businesses to stand guard.
Still, there's no way to be certain of catching every would-be attacker in a city that attracts so many visitors and so much attention.
"New York is always a target," said Joseph King, professor of terrorism at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "It's a world capital. On top of that, it's a Western capital. ... When people think of the United States, they think of New York more than they think of Washington."
From 1970 to 2007, New York was targeted in more terrorist attacks than Washington, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles combined. Of the 1,347 attacks during that time in the U.S., 21 percent happened in New York City and 70 percent of those used bombs or explosives, according to a report by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.
The University of Maryland-based group defines a terrorist attack as "the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation."
The Times Square suspect, whom authorities said they captured Monday as he tried to leave on a flight to Dubai, reportedly told officials he acted alone.
For the investigators who work to discover such terror plans before they're executed, one of the most worrisome prospects is just such a lone attacker — someone working without using the communication methods that frequently allow authorities to catch plotters.
That sort of person is extremely difficult to catch, said King, who used to be a U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent.
"You are looking for a needle in a haystack," he said. "You're looking for someone with no connections."
To make it worse, the sort of bomb used in the SUV found Saturday is not particularly difficult to build, King said, adding that it really wasn't that different from an earlier version of a car bomb that exploded on Wall Street some 90 years ago. That bomb, in a horse-drawn wagon, left shrapnel marks that can still be seen in the Financial District.
There is a cachet attached to New York, former Mayor Ed Koch said Monday when asked why the city is targeted so often by terrorists.
"Frank Sinatra told us: You make it here, you make it anywhere," he said, adding that it seems the rule applies to terrorists as well.
And there is also a grimly pragmatic advantage for attackers in a city so densely populated that pedestrians frequently can't even squeeze onto the midtown Manhattan sidewalks during rush hour.
"I don't think you can find a place with more people in a very concentrated area as you could on a Saturday night at 6:30 in Times Square," said Robert Strang, CEO of security consulting firm Investigative Management Group, which advises some companies located near the car bomb.
Strang estimated the bomb could have killed hundreds of people there, especially if it hadn't malfunctioned and had been driven into a theater or positioned to strike a subway station.
Still, these ongoing threats don't seem to be enough to get New Yorkers to beat a retreat from the crowded streets — or from the metropolis itself.
After spending his 81 years in the city, Milton Glaser, the designer of the famed "I Love New York" logo, says he can't imagine going anywhere else.
"Leaving this because it had suddenly gotten dangerous ... it would be exactly like abandoning your parents," he said Monday.
Glaser says he chooses not to live in fear of a possibility.
"Who wants to spend time thinking about that?" he asked.
Associated Press writers Tom Hays and Colleen Long and AP Video journalist Ted Shaffrey contributed to this report.