Last week, Waad Ramadan Alwan and his cousin Mohanad Shareef Hammadi were arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The men, both Iraqi refugees, had been allegedly picking up machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades from a nearby storage facility and delivering them to be shipped to al-Qaeda.

It seems that the men never had any plans to attack targets in the United States, keeping them from being added to the ranks of the 39 publically known terrorist plots against the United States since 9/11. However, the incident does serve as a chilling reminder of the fact that al-Qaeda continues to maintain operational capability and remains a threat the United States.

Yet the war on terrorism does not remain confined to the United States. In fact, according to Heritage research, between 1969 and 2009 there were a staggering total of 38, 345 terrorist incidents around the world, with only 7.8 percent (2,981) directed against the United States.

Where the global scale of terrorism really hits home in this case is the fact that six years ago, Waad Ramadan Alwan’s fingerprints were found on an IED along the Iraqi roadside. The Department of Defense logged Alwan’s fingerprints into a database, but when Alwan applied for refugee status in the United States, his application was not checked against this database. Due to gaps in the system, Alwan’s activities in Iraq remained unknown to the Department of Homeland Security, allowing him to gain refugee status and continue to plot against the U.S. from within. Here, like always, the United States would be wise to remember that we are not fighting separate wars; rather, Afghanistan, Iraq, and protecting the homeland are all one in the same.

Ultimately, U.S. citizens may not have been in danger this time around. Next time, however, we may not be so lucky.