BOSTON — We begin with a simple truism: All bombers are losers.
Now consider our list of the top-10 "loser bombers" — well, nine of them would-be bombers whose equipment, strategy, conviction or brains failed them when it mattered most, and one (very) amateur Kamikaze pilot.
What all 10 have in common is beyond question — they failed to achieve much more than either getting arrested or getting killed.
This is by no means an attempt to make light of what were, for the most part, premeditated and violent attacks intended to kill, wreck or maim an unspecified number and type of victim. Two of the attacks did, indeed, kill a total of seven people.
Rather it's an reminder that the Times Square scare that has dominated international headlines for the better part of a week is only the latest in a long line of thankfully ill-conceived and poorly executed terrorist acts.
While investigators sort out exactly who's behind it and why, let's take a trip down memory lane:
1. Times Square bomb attack (2010)
United States authorities are still investigating a thwarted car bombing in New York's Times Square, but prosecutors have already charged Faisal Shahzad, 30, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, with five counts, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and trying to kill and maim people within the U.S. Shahzad had recently purchased the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder found abandoned in Times Square on May 1 packed with enough fuel, fertilizer and explosives to ignite a massive fireball. An onboard fuse was left lit and smoldering. Investigators are hunting for a man who was caught on tape moments after the SUV was ditched (and subsequently reported to police by a street vendor, unleashing another monster of sorts), but a law enforcement official told the AP on Wednesday that the authorities did not believe there were any other suspects in the plot and that several arrests in Pakistan in the past two days were not related. The authorities have since said that Shahzad, the 30-year-old son of a retired air force officer in Pakistan, admitted rigging the Pathfinder with a crude bomb of firecrackers, propane and alarm clocks based on explosives training he received in Pakistan.
An undated image, obtained from orkut.com, showing Faisal Shahzad, suspected of driving a bomb-laden SUV into New York's Time Square on May 1. (Reuters)
2. Christmas Day "underpants bomber" (2009)
The method might have been unorthodox, but the motive of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (a.k.a. "the underpants bomber") — a Muslim Nigerian citizen who attempted to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while on a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit — seems tiresomely familiar: A direct assault on the U.S. for perceived misdeeds in a foreign land. According to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the spin-off terror group that claimed to have trained and equipped Abdulmutallab, the failed attack was a response to American-backed airstrikes targeting its operations in Yemen earlier in the month. Turns out Abdulmutallab spent significant time in Yemen under the tutelage of Anwar al-Awlaki, who preaches violent uprising against the West and has been linked to some of the most infamous terrorist attacks on American soil, including 9/11 and the Fort Hood shootings. The fresh-faced engineering graduate's own father tried to warn authorities of his son's wayward behavior.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Muslim Nigerian citizen who attempted to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while on Northwest Airlines Flight 253. (Reuters)
3. London car bombs (2007)
Two massive car bombs were discovered on June 29, 2007, in the heart of London's West End and disabled before they could be detonated. Ambulance officers attending a minor incident reported the first car in the early morning in Haymarket after noticing suspicious fumes. The second device was discovered soon after in the same area of the city after the car carrying it was ticketed for illegal parking and towed. Staff at the pound noticed a strong smell of petrol and reported the car to police when they heard about the first device. A close link was established between this attempt and an attack at Glasgow Airort the following day (see below).
The area believed to contain a bomb is cordoned off in Haymarket, a busy street in the heart of central London's theater district, on June 29, 2007. (Stephen Hird/Reuters)
4. Glasgow International Airport attack (2007)
Witnesses described a Jeep Cherokee speeding toward the main terminal building at Glasgow Internatonal Airport with flames coming out from underneath. They also reported seeing two Asian men, one of them on fire, in the car. The June 30, 2007 attack, in which an SUV loaded with propane canisters was driven into the glass doors of the airport and set ablaze, constitutes Scotland's first terrorist incident, if you don't count the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie. Police later identified the two men in the Jeep as Bilal Abdullah, a British-born, Muslim doctor of Iraqi descent who was working at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, and Kafeel Ahmed, who was the driver. One newspaper reported that a suicide note had indicated that the two intended to die in the attack. Ahmed did eventually die of his injuries, while Abdullah was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to 32 years in prison.
Police forensics officers look at the burned wreckage of a Jeep Cherokee vehicle at the entrance of Glasgow airport on July 1, 2007. (Reuters)
5. Plot to blow up transatlantic airliners (2006)
Their plan was to perpetrate the worst atrocity on civilian life since the 9/11 attacks, the courts were told when a gang of British Muslims went on trial for plotting to detonate suicide bombs on seven transatlantic flights over North America in 2006. The flights chosen by the alleged terrorists were scheduled to leave Heathrow International Airport one afternoon carrying almost 2,000 passengers and crew and destined for six American and Canadian cities. Had the bombers — as many as 18 — succeeded in boarding the planes and detonating over land, the death toll could have eclipsed that of the Twin Towers collapse. But they didn't, as the alleged plot was foiled when two of the key gang members were arrested by police in a parking lot following several months of surveillance. What the plotters did achieve was chaos, cancellation and delays at airports across the U.K. and Europe and the introduction of unprecedented restrictions at airports, including prohibitions on carrying liquids onto commercial aircraft.
Rashid Rauf, left, a British citizen believed to have put the transatlantic plotters in touch with Al Qaeda, is escorted by Pakistani police on Dec. 22, 2006. (Mian Khursheed/Reuters)
6. Richard Reid, a.k.a. the "shoe bomber" (2001)
Next time you're running for a flight but get held up taking your shoes off at the security gate, thank one Richard Colvin Reid. Reid, commonly known as the "shoe bomber" pled guilty in 2003 in U.S. federal court to eight criminal counts of terrorism related to his attempt, on Dec. 22, 2001, to light explosives in his shoes on a Paris-to-Miami flight. He was overpowered by passengers and is serving a life sentence without parole in a super maximum security prison in the U.S. Born in London to a jailed career criminal father, the confessed Al Qaeda member spent 1999 and 2000 in Pakistan and trained at a terrorist camp in Afghanistan.
Richard C. Reid is taken from the Massachusetts State Police barracks at Logan International Airport on Dec. 22, 2001. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
7. Summer Olympics bombing in Atlanta (1996)
A chance arrest by an alert policeman led to the capture of Eric Robert Rudolph, the lone suspect in the fatal 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing and a series of blasts across the south who had vanished into the North Carolina hills and been hunted for five years. Rudolph, who had connections since childhood to a number of anti-Semitic, racist and anti-government groups, was charged with detonating homemade bombs that sprayed nails, metal shanks and other shrapnel and killed one woman while wounding 111 at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. Between 1996 and 1998, he also committed a series of bombings — including at a gay nightclub and an abortion clinic — across the southern U.S. that killed two people. He escaped the death penalty with a plea bargain and after his sentencing (to four life terms) released a statement in which he rationalized his actions as serving the cause of anti-abortion and anti-gay activism.
Eric Robert Rudolph, center, is led from the Cherokee County jail by police and sheriff agents along with federal agents in Murphy, N.C. on June 2, 2003. (Tami Chappell TLC/ME/Reuters)
8. World Trade Center bombing (1993)
In what is perhaps the best example of terrorist bungling in recent history, six men who detonated a bomb below the North Tower of New York's World Trade Center in 1993 failed in their bid to bring down the towers and were swiftly rounded up and brought to justice. One of the key steps in catching the men was the arrest of one of the bombers when he tried to get a refund of the deposit on the rental truck used in the bombing. The Feb. 26 attack, which killed six people and wounded 1,042, was funded in part by the uncle of one of the plotters — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Ali Fadden, later considered the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks. Reports of motives vary, but at least one of the men — Ramzi Yousef — spent time in Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Yousef had reportedly mailed letters to various New York newspapers just before the attack that made three demands: an end to U.S. aid to Israel, an end to diplomatic relations with Israel and a pledge by the U.S. to end interference "with any of the Middle East countries' interior affairs."
Nidal Ayyad, a chemical engineer and one of six men convicted over the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six. (Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)
9. Plane crash on White House lawn (1994)
Startled uniformed Secret Service officers at the White House reportedly saw the descending single-engine Cessna minutes before it crashed onto the South Lawn on Sept. 13, 1994. Frank Eugene Corder, 38, a student pilot with a history of alcohol and drug abuse, had stolen the plane from a Baltimore airfield. President Bill Clinton and his family, staying at Blair House, just north of the mansion, during renovations, weren't even woken as the plane skidded, slammed through the hedge and clipped a tree before hitting a wall on the west side of the White House at 1:49 a.m. Corder, a high school dropout from Aberdeen and an Army veteran, was killed on impact. Two weeks before the crash, Corder's third wife had reportedly left him and he had since been living out of his car, sliding toward deep depression. Friends reportedly claim he bore no ill will towards Clinton and likely only wanted the publicity of the stunt, based largely on his sentiments toward Mathias Rust — a German man known for his illegal landing near Moscow's Red Square in a Cessna 172 in 1987.
An undated police photo of Frank Corder. (Reuters)
10. Guy Fawkes (1605)
The story of Guy Fawkes and his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is well-known and his demise still celebrated each Nov. 5 by Britons with bonfires in which his effigy is burned. They dress up and set off fireworks, too. The plot Fawkes led was an attempt by a group of religious conspirators to kill King James I, his family, and most of the members of the House of Lords, by blowing up the British parliament. The conspirators saw this as a necessary reaction to increasing oppression of English Catholics. Fawkes was arrested a few hours before the planned explosion after a tip-off in the form of an anonymous warning letter. The plot didn't stop him, centuries later, from making the rankings of the BBC-sponsored 100 Great British heros (at number 30); and a number of rivers and national parks in ex-colonies, and even two Galapagos islands, are named for him.
A note by an unknown author found in the basement of the British Library with a box full of gunpowder which curators said could be the gunpowder intended to be used by Guy Fawkes in his 1605 attempt to blow up Britain's parliament. (Reuters)