Eighteen minutes after noon, on February 26, 1993, a bomb exploded in the basement parking lot under the north tower of the World Trade Center. The massive explosion killed six people and injured more than 1,000, and some 50,000 people were forced to evacuate the Twin Towers as smoke and flames rose up into the buildings.
The bombing brought out the shocking new reality of radical Islamic terrorism as a global phenomenon that directly affected the United States and its citizens. The predicted scale of the attack eclipsed previous terrorist plots, as conspiratorial leader Ramzi Yousef later told the FBI he had hoped to tip one tower into another, killing some 250,000 civilians. Tragically, the 1993 bombing foreshadowed the much larger attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, in which another group of Muslim extremists would achieve at least part of Yousef’s horrific goal.
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1. The bomb detonated a huge multi-story crater under the World Trade Center.
Loaded with approximately 1,300 pounds of urea nitrate (an explosive material made from fertilizer) and hydrogen gas cylinders, along with cyanide, the bomb exploded inside a parked yellow Ryder pickup truck on level B-2 of the parking lot under the north tower. The massive explosion killed six people near the bomb site and injured more than 1,000, most of whom inhaled smoke as the towers were evacuated.
2. By searching 4,000 pounds of rubble, investigators found a key clue about its perpetrators.
Minutes after the explosion, members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) went to the World Trade Center, where they would coordinate an investigation including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New York Police Department (NYPD). ) among others. federal, state and municipal government agencies. The FBI and JTTF had been hunting down Islamic fundamentalists in the city for months before the attack and immediately suspected it was an act of terrorism. The day after the attack, officers searching the wreckage found several parts of a vehicle that apparently exploded from the inside out. Two of the exhibits showed a vehicle identification number (VIN), which investigators traced to a pickup truck that was reported stolen the day before the attack at a rental agency in Jersey City, New Jersey.
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3. By the time the towers reopened in late March 1993, authorities had arrested four suspects.
When Mohammed Salameh, the man who rented the van, returned to the rental company on March 4 in an attempt to recover his $ 400 deposit, an FBI team arrested him. Things unfolded quickly from there: FBI investigators found chemicals to make bombs that matched evidence found at the World Trade Center in a self-storage unit in Jersey City, while The New York Times received a letter claiming responsibility for the attack from a group called the Liberation Army, Fifth Battalion. A search of Salameh’s apartment led to the arrest of three other suspects, including Nidal Ayyad (whose DNA matched the saliva on the envelope of the letter), Mahmud Abouhalima and Ahmed Ajaj. Investigators questioned another suspect, Abdul Yasim, but released him for lack of evidence; he then fled the country and was never captured.
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4. Their leader was on the run for two years.
While Salameh, Ayyad, Abouhalima and Ajaj were on trial, convicted and sentenced to life in March 1994, the man identified as the mastermind of the plot fled to Pakistan immediately after the attack. Over the next two years, Ramzi Yousef participated in a variety of other terrorist actions, including planting a bomb on a commercial plane in the Philippines to test a larger plot involving explosions on a dozen American planes. Captured in February 1995, Yousef was extradited to New York City, tried and convicted of both the bombing and the Manila plane plot, codenamed “Bojinka”. He was sentenced in January 1998 to life imprisonment plus 240 years, with the judge taking into account the combined life expectancy of the six people killed in the 1993 bombing. Yousef did not apologize, saying that he wanted to punish the United States for its role in helping Israel. “Yes, I am a terrorist and proud of it,” he told the court.
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5. Several of the WTC bombers were linked to the same mosque, led by an influential extremist cleric known as the “Blind Sheikh”.
The arrests of Salameh, Abouhalima and Ayyad led FBI investigators to a Brooklyn mosque they all three had attended, and to the home of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a radical Sunni Muslim cleric who had emigrated to the United States in the early years of the United States. 1990s. Abdel Rahman, who lost his sight at a young age, espoused a form of fundamentalist Islam that condemned secular Muslims, Western materialism, and American support for Israel and Egypt. In the early 1980s, he was tried and acquitted twice for having incited the assassination of the country’s president Anwar Sadat.
6. Several months after the bombing, investigators foiled yet another terrorist plot against major New York City landmarks.
In June 1993, as part of an ongoing surveillance operation, an FBI camera filmed a group of men building a bomb in a garage in Queens, New York. Authorities then arrested Abdel Rahman and nine of his supporters and accused them of planning to simultaneously bomb the United Nations headquarters, the George Washington Bridge and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, among other targets. They were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment at the end of 1995. Even behind bars, Abdel Rahman continued to exert a powerful influence over radical Muslims. Peter Bergen, journalist and biographer of Osama bin Laden, described him as the “spiritual guide of September 11”.
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7. The 1993 bombing turned out to be a deadly dress rehearsal for September 11.
In early 1996, the US authorities determined that Ramzi Yousef’s uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had conspired with his nephew to shoot down the planes of the “Bojinka” plot and had wired him money before the first World Trade Center attack. . But KSM (as it was called) escaped capture and rose through the ranks of the militant Islamic group al-Qaeda to become one of Bin Laden’s main lieutenants. As the “main architect” of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, KSM succeeded where its nephew failed, orchestrating the destruction of the Twin Towers and the mass murder of thousands of civilians on American soil.
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