The terrorist attacks of September 11 and the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City were cataclysmic events of macro-historical importance, forever changing the world we live in. They were not, however, the first terrorist attacks on the dual office buildings which dominated the city’s skyline and were colloquially known as “The Twin Towers.”
On February 26, 1993, radical Islamic terrorists detonated a truck bomb under the North Tower, killing six and injuring over 1,000. Though it failed to achieve its goal of bringing down both buildings, it would serve as a learning experience for the same terrorist network that would launch the 9/11 attacks less than 10 years later.
Standing at 1,368 feet and 1,362 feet, the two skyscrapers at One and Two World Trade Center were the tallest buildings in the world when they opened in 1973. Their construction, which began in 1968, was one of New York City’s most ambitious urban renewal efforts and put a bold exclamation point on Manhattan’s Financial District. Among the tenants in the buildings’ 110 stories were leading financial services firms, international banking giants, local television channels and the restaurant Windows On The World. According to The History Channel, they accommodated 50,000 workers and 200,000 daily visitors. Unfortunately, the same things that made the complex a major trade and tourist destination also made it an ideal target for terrorists.
Al-Qaeda-trained terrorist Ramzi Yousef arrived in the United States in September 1992 on a fake Iraqi passport. A self-described “explosives expert,” according to The New York Times, Yousef is of Pakistani background, but grew up in Kuwait, and is believed to be the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned both World Trade Center attacks. Yousef set up shop in Jersey City, New Jersey, and contacted Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, a Brooklyn-based cleric with ties to almost every radical Islamic terrorist group of the last 50 years. "The Blind Sheikh," as he became known, helped him assemble the team that would attempt to bring the Twin Towers down with a 1,300-pound explosive.
In interviews after the bombing, Yousef claimed the bombing was in retaliation for the United States support of Israel and its oppression of the Palestinian people. The plan was to detonate the bomb in a parking garage beneath the World Trade Center, causing the North Tower to topple into the South Tower, collapsing them both.
Around noon on February 26, 1993, Yousef and Jordanian accomplice Eyad Ismoil drove a rented Ryder van into the public parking garage and parked in the underground B-2 level. At 12:18 PM, the bomb went off.
The explosion ripped a crater through four stories of the underground parking garage, nearly 100 feet in diameter. Six people died in the blast, mostly employees of the Port Authority, including a pregnant woman and a dental products salesman who was parking his car. The power was knocked out, and smoke billowed up to the top floors of both buildings. Hundreds were left stuck in elevators, while others made their way down the darkened stairwells, gasping for air through the smoke. Ultimately, 1,042 were treated for injuries sustained in the attack, most of them for smoke inhalation during the evacuation of the two buildings.
The Washington Post reported that evening that after speaking to New York Governor Mario M. Cuomo and Mayor David N. Dinkins, a spokesperson for then-President Clinton said New York authorities "have reason to believe it was a bomb.” However, by then Ramzi Yousef had already fled from the United States. Investigators were able to locate the VIN number on the rental van and traced it back to Mohammed A. Salameh, who had reported the van stolen. He was arrested after trying to get his deposit back. Salameh’s arrest quickly led them to the other co-conspirators. Two years after the attack, Yousef was apprehended in Islamabad, Pakistan and extradited to the United States, as was Eyad Ismoil, who was captured in Jordan.
In May, 1994, Mohammed A. Salameh, Nidal A. Ayyad, Mahmud Abouhalima and Ahmad M. Ajaj were sentenced to 240 years each for their part in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The New York Times reported at the time that Judge Duffy arrived at the sentence by estimating the life expectancies of the victims along with the mandatory penalties related to each count against them. Ismoil, likewise, was given a 240-year sentence, despite his please of innocence.
Yousef received a sentence of 240 years plus life when he was sentenced in 1998, defiantly proclaiming in court, ''I am a terrorist and I am proud of it,” according to The New York Times. However, after giving information to the FBI in 1993, fellow bomb maker Abdul Rahman Yasin was released and returned to his native Iraq. Despite efforts to bring him to justice, his whereabouts are currently unknown.
Meanwhile, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who had helped fund the 1993 attacks, used what he learned about the failed attempt to bring the towers down when he formulated the plans for September 11th attacks. He was captured in Pakistan in 2003, and in 2007 he confessed to his role in both incidents, as well as many other prominent terrorist attacks.
But by then, it was too late. The world was a changed place.
[Photos: Getty Images]