New York’s Governor David Patterson labeled Saturday night’s foiled car bomb attack in Times Square an “act of terror.” Janet Napolitano, our secretary of Homeland Security is treating it as “potential act of terror.” Fair enough. If the three propane tanks, fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers, and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components found in the back of the Nissan Pathfinder, had they exploded would have –in the words of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly “caused a significant ball of fire.” New York’s Mayor Bloomberg said the explosion could have caused “huge damage on a block of Broadway theaters and restaurants teeming with tourists.” In short, federal and local officials understand clearly that the SUV-bomb was aimed at killing a large group of New Yorkers and visitors, causing severe damage to the area and a shock to the public (who would be traumatized by the sight of such pictures), had, God forbid, the “act of terror” been successful.

Bravo to the watchful citizen who alerted authorities: he emerges as the hero in this counter- terrorism act. And also a high-five to the men and women of New York law enforcement who rushed to secure the area and disable the device. In that sense it was a success story for New York, one of the cities targeted most by terrorists in the Western world.

What follow will be intense investigations and many questions on two tracks: Technical inquiries and identity reconstruction. On the one hand officials will have to figure out why didn’t the bomb explode and how was it assembled and where? This line of investigation will tell us more about the capacity of terrorists to copycat this attempt, to move material of the same sort across city limits, or worse, build such a weapon inside Manhattan or any other U.S. city. There’s no doubt that the findings will be sobering. The capacity of potential terrorists to build urban-laden bombs, move them through cities, and choose their strategic targets easily would mean that such “acts of terror” can be repeated and launched again in the same city or in other locations across the nation. If the perpetrators did it in New York City, they could do it anywhere.

On the other hand authorities will have to determine the identity of the terrorists. And we’re not just talking about any social security or other identification numbers belonging to the terrorist(s) but their affiliation, their motives and their organization. The public has already received several confusing messages in the past year and a half regarding government’s quick reactions to previous terror attempts. In the most recent cases of the deadly attack at Ft. Hood and the unsuccessful Christmas Day “underwear bombing” attempt, administration officials rushed to call these acts “isolated extremists” only to discover there was more to the attacks in terms of links to a greater circle of terror. That’s why it is important to be cautious and move from evidence to evidence. "Amateurish" or not, as Bloomberg described the attempted terrorist attack, it was designed to have devastating effects. It was indeed an “act of terror.” Now comes the next part. We’ll need to know more about the minds behind it Saturday night’s fatal plan. Was it designed by a domestic extremist(s), homegrown jihadist(s) or was internationally coordinated? These are the questions as we search for answers in the days ahead.

In any of these scenarios, we’re talking about another “terror act” taking place on U.S. soil, it’s about the fifteenth since the beginning of 2009. By empirical methods multiple terror acts are a “terror war” waged against this country – and New York City is its prime target.

Dr. Walid Phares is a terror expert and Fox News contributor.

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