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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

The most frightening terror attempt since 9/11

On Tuesday, NYPD Officers Miguel Gutierrez, left, and

On Tuesday, NYPD Officers Miguel Gutierrez, left, and Dominic Cross stand watch in front of the U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan. Times Square car bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad was scheduled to appear in the court building. (May 4, 2010) Credit: AP

The bungling terrorism suspect managed to hit one mark on Saturday. He successfully maneuvered a murder machine into the heart of New York City.

And had he been a better bomb-maker, vendors and police wouldn't have been gifted with the opportunity to sound the alarm and clear the area.

Those two facts taken together make this the most frightening terror attempt here since Sept. 11, 2001.

For almost a decade, the nation, and especially New York, has learned to live with the threat of terrorism, with the reality that New York City remains firmly in enemy sights. And we will do it again.

Some of the lessons learned after Sept. 11 were invaluable on Saturday. Sidewalk vendors saw something and said something. A New York City police officer from Long Island quickly began to clear the area.

And bystanders, hardened by the years since Sept. 11, evacuated blocks surrounding the SUV without panic.

But vigilance and heroism, followed by a collective national sigh of relief, can't obscure Saturday's act for what it was:

An attack, one that is a game-changer.

He got too close.

Literally and figuratively.

That should be enough to tease the hairs on the neck of anyone traveling by car, train and subway around the city, or anyone who has friends and family doing the same.

New Yorkers cannot afford to grow complacent, as many have, under the threat of terrorism. Or lax with the supposition that everything's always under control.

Post-9/11, parents gave their children cell phones, realizing communication's importance. New Yorkers with spouses working in the city - that includes me - made plans.

Where do we meet?

If we can't communicate with each other, who outside of New York can we call?

Should we keep cash in the house?

Buy masks?

Such questions were not easy to consider then. They are not easy to consider now.

One day after police hauled the sport utility vehicle away, Times Square was again bustling with life. Tourists were still coming in. And so were families.

That's as it should be.

But were any of them thinking of those precautions they had spoken to family about? Probably not.

Saturday's was an imperfect attack, one that popped rather than roared. But the threat of terrorism, again, has become a local reality.

And this time it wasn't a foreign-terrorism-linked group whose plans were aborted long before they managed to get even close to city subways or an office building.

That reality hits hard, like a slap in the face.

It's been almost a decade since most New Yorkers have had to give serious consideration to why soldiers with guns patrol Pennsylvania Station - and head out in patrols in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There's a war on.

New York's job is to stay smart and stay strong.

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