World Trade Center Bombing Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City proved to Americans that the United States is not immune to international terrorism.

Summary of Event

At 12:17 p.m. on February 26, 1993, a yellow rental van loaded with some twelve hundred pounds of nitrate explosives blew up in the garage of the World Trade Center’s North Building, in lower Manhattan Island, New York City. The van, driven by Eyad Ismail, had a twelve-minute fuse located between the front seats. Once the fuse was lit, Ismail and his passenger, Ramzi Yousef, a friend with whom he had grown up in Kuwait, jumped into another car driven by a third companion. Terrorist acts World Trade Center;bombing (1993) [kw]World Trade Center Bombing (Feb. 26, 1993) [kw]Bombing, World Trade Center (Feb. 26, 1993) Terrorist acts World Trade Center;bombing (1993) [g]North America;Feb. 26, 1993: World Trade Center Bombing[08540] [g]United States;Feb. 26, 1993: World Trade Center Bombing[08540] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;Feb. 26, 1993: World Trade Center Bombing[08540] Abouhalima, Mahmoud Ajaj, Ahmad M. Ayyad, Nidal A. Salameh, Mohammed A. Duffy, Kevin Thomas Ismail, Eyad Rahman, Omar Abdel Yasin, Abdul Rahman Yousef, Ramzi

The 110-story tower, like its twin, was part of a seven-structure complex where some fifty thousand people were employed; the complex also hosted some eighty thousand visitors per day. The blast created a huge crater and tore through four levels of the multilayered basement. The maelstrom of smoke, darkness, and chaos left six individuals dead and more than a thousand injured—mostly from smoke inhalation, debris, and psychological trauma. The explosion, which was felt several miles away, knocked out the twin towers’ generators, ripped doors off elevators, silenced radio and television stations, and nearly damaged the wall that held back the waters of New York Harbor.

It took some of the occupants of the higher floors as long as five hours to climb down the quarter mile of stairways, much of it in pitch darkness. Some smashed windows to get relief from the smoke, which had risen through elevator and ventilation shafts. Emergency crews responded quickly in helping the occupants out of the building, plucking some from the roof by helicopter.

Four days after the bombing, The New York Times received a letter from a group calling itself the Liberation Army Fifth Battalion. Liberation Army Fifth Battalion Although the group was unknown to law-enforcement agencies, the letter was authenticated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as originating with a West Bank Palestinian named Nidal A. Ayyad. The message stated that the attack was “in response to the American political, economical, and military support to Israel, the state of terrorism, and to the rest of the dictator countries in the region.” It continued: “The American people are responsible for the actions of their government and they must question all of the crimes that their government is committing against other people. Or they—Americans—will be the targets of our operations that could diminish them.”

Emergency vehicles fill the street near the World Trade Center in New York City after the 1993 explosion in the underground parking garage.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Four Arab Muslim militants were eventually arrested. All had been influenced by blind Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who earlier had been charged in his native country with involvement in the assassination of former president Anwar al-Sadat but later was released. Authorities made the first arrest, of Mohammed A. Salameh, by tracing the person who had rented the van and then asked for his $400 deposit back because, he claimed, the vehicle had been stolen. Arrests of three other alleged conspirators—Nidal A. Ayyad, Mahmoud Abouhalima, and Ahmad M. Ajaj—followed. Abdul Rahman Yasin, also named as a suspect in the case, remained a fugitive.

The five-month trial of the accused began in October, 1993. On March 4, 1994, the four were found guilty on all thirty-eight counts of conspiracy to blow up the building, explosive destruction of property, and interstate transport of explosives. Some ten thousand pages of testimony from 207 witnesses were collected. Each of the men was sentenced to 240 years in prison without parole by Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy of the U.S. federal district court in Manhattan. Because there were no eyewitnesses, the convictions hinged mostly on forensic evidence extricated from the rubble, such as shards of the van, along with telephone and bank records and other documentary evidence. Most of the conspirators had connections with El Sayyid A. Nosair, an Egyptian convicted of assault and weapons charges for a shooting at the time of the assassination of militant Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990.

Long after the bombing, fugitives and additional suspects were apprehended, extradited, and eventually tried. Ramzi Yousef, who was believed to be the mastermind of the bombing, was located in Pakistan and returned to New York in February, 1995. He was considered to be a trained professional terrorist, unlike those he recruited, entering countries under different aliases, with false papers, cash, and connections. Eyad Ismail was traced to Jordan and returned to New York in July, 1995.

Significance

After the blast, the tower and other areas in the World Trade Center complex were closed for varying lengths of time as the federal government made low-interest loans available to many small businesses to offset their forgone earnings. The hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of structural damage to property was covered, in part, by insurance carriers and federal assistance. Repair work to the extensively damaged area provided reconstruction and renovation work for local contractors. The psychological trauma—both to many individuals at the blast site and, more generally, to the collective American psyche—was much longer-lasting. The attack on a symbol of American commerce had largely destroyed the previous sense among many in the United States that they were immune from foreign terrorism on home territory.

In addition, there continued to be lurking suspicion that some fundamental questions had not been fully answered. Who was behind the conspiracy? Who had transferred $8,500 from Europe to some of the defendants? Why was the bombing carried out? Were the eleven persons accused in 1995 of plotting to bomb the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, the FBI office in Washington, two Hudson River tunnels, and a bridge across the river part of this larger montage?

As the authorities pondered these fundamental questions, the more practical and immediate concerns of securing possible future targets from terrorists also were addressed. Although previous procedures—such as checking identities and parcels, restricting the use of space, and exchanging information among law-enforcement agencies—could be intensified, and possibly done better, there was clearly no fail-safe system against terrorism, any more than against other forms of crime. For one thing, terrorists were using advanced technology in their operations; for another, a number were sufficiently motivated to undertake suicide attacks.

Because terrorism is often the result of deep, long-nursed grievances whose solutions lie in difficult political remedies, angry and determined individuals and groups continue to exist. Furthermore, in an open society such as that of the United States, eager media looking for the newsworthy often have been too willing to publicize such groups’ causes and air their grudges. Following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, most American citizens simply resigned themselves to living with the hope that they would not meet the fate of Steven Knapp, Knapp, Steven William Macko, Macko, William Robert Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick, Robert Monica Smith, Smith, Monica John DiGiovanni, DiGiovanni, John and Wilfredo Mercado, Mercado, Wilfredo the six who died at the complex on that fateful winter day.

In a few short years, however, the entire world would be shocked by the September 11, 2001, September 11, 2001, attacks attacks in which terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center by crashing commercial jets into the two towers. The resultant horror and loss of life dwarfed the 1993 incident, prompted a complete reconsideration of American intelligence operations, and provoked a determined counterattack against the al-Qaeda Al-Qaeda[Al Qaeda] terrorist organization led by Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden, Osama This included American and international intervention into Afghanistan, where the Taliban government had given Bin Laden’s organization free reign to train and plot terrorist attacks. Reorganization of the security-related functions of the federal government and its ties to state and local governments took place with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, and a new “intelligence czar” was appointed to overcome the separation between domestic and foreign intelligence agencies that had developed and deepened in the post-Vietnam era, to the detriment of overall national security. Terrorist acts World Trade Center;bombing (1993)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Behar, Richard. “The Secret Life of Mahmud the Red.” Time, October 4, 1993, 54-61. Describes the role of defendant Mahmoud Abouhalima in the World Trade Center bombing.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gauch, Sarah. “Terror on the Nile.” Africa Report 38, no. 3 (May, 1993): 32-35. Connects the World Trade Center bombing in New York and terrorist attacks in Cairo, Egypt, focusing attention on the rise of Islamic radicalism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">MacDonald, Eileen. Shoot the Women First. New York: Random House, 1991. Provides insight into the role of women in terrorist groups around the world, including Palestinian groups.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nacos, Brigitte L. Mass-Mediated Terrorism: The Central Role of the Media in Terrorism and Counterterrorism. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Shows how terrorists exploit the mass media to spread both propaganda and fear. Offers suggestions for ethical news coverage of terrorist acts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Simon, Jeffrey D. The Terrorist Trap: America’s Experience with Terrorism. 2d ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. Examines the history of terrorist acts against the United States. Chapter 1 treats the 1993 World Trade Center bombing under the title of “Welcome to Reality.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weaver, Mary Anne. “The Trail of the Sheikh.” The New Yorker, April 12, 1993, 71-89. Discusses the shadowy, blind Muslim cleric mentioned as a key figure in various terrorist plots and examines his Egyptian connections.

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