1993 World Trade Center bombing
On February 26, 1993, a truck bomb detonated in a parking garage of the World Trade Center. It was not a suicide attack, but a timed device in a rented truck. The explosion blew a hole seven stories up into the building and caused casualties all over it, only six deaths but over 1000 injured. The attack was planned and carried out by jihadists, although a loose association of Islamist terrorists, a number with associations to the Services Office, a group supporting the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in the Afghanistan War (1978-1992); members of this organization would later be among the founders of al-Qaeda. While Richard Clarke suggests the operation was conducted by al-Qaeda, and some individuals involved were associated with its predecessor or later connected to it, it does not appear to have been under its direction. Ramzi Yousef, the leader of the plot, is the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who directed the 9-11 attack but did not swear the bayat oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden earlier than 1996.
Emergency response by New York fire and police was adequate. Evacuation went well, but rescue of victims in the garage stretched capabilities.
The investigation, under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), with the assistance of the United States intelligence community, quickly identified the attackers. Ironically, the effectiveness of their response has been suggested as having given complacency that conventional law enforcement could protect against future terrorism.
An unfortunate consequence of this superb investigative and prosecutorial effort was that it created an impression that the law enforcement system was well-equipped to cope with terrorism.
Major findings of the 9/11 Commission included:
- "The bombing signaled a new terrorist challenge, one whose rage and malice had no limit. Ramzi Yousef, the Sunni extremist who planted the bomb, said later that he had hoped to kill 250,000 people.
- The FBI and the Justice Department did excellent work investigating the bombing. Within days, the FBI identified a truck remnant as part of a Ryder rental van reported stolen in Jersey City the day before the bombing.
Planning for the bombing involved a group of terrorists associated with al-Khifa, an organization based at a New York city mosque, and associated with the Maktab al-Khadamat or Services Office. Actual construction of the bomb was in a rented storage space in Jersey City, New Jersey; the mosque of their spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Often called the "Blind Sheikh," Rahman preached the message of Sayyid Qutb's Milestones, characterizing the United States as the oppressor of Muslims worldwide and asserting that it was their religious duty to fight against God's enemies.
The bomb was made primarily of urea nitrate, which is comparable in power to common military high explosives such as trinitrotoluene. Hydrogen gas cylinders were attached with the intention of increasing the explosive power. It was made in a rented storage space from commercially acquired chemical precursors by Nidal Ayyad, an engineer, and Mahmoud Abouhalima.
The bombing and effects
The bomb contained approximately 1,500 pounds of urea nitrate along with cylinders of hydrogen gas, carried inside a rented panel truck. It was driven into an underground parking garage and detonated by a timer. Its force was much greater than a comparable gravity bomb since it was exploded inside the structure. The location in which it exploded was not sufficiently critical to the structure to collapse the building, although it caused major damage.
Investigation and arrest
Mohammed Salameh, who had rented the truck and reported it stolen, kept calling the Ryder office and trying to get back his $400 deposit. The FBI arrested him there on March 4, 1993.
The FBI identified another conspirator, Ahmad Ajaj, who had been arrested by immigration authorities at John F. Kennedy International Airport in September 1992 and charged with document fraud. His traveling companion was Ramzi Yousef, who had also entered with fraudulent documents but claimed political asylum and was admitted. Yousef, fled to Pakistan immediately after the bombing and would remain at large for nearly two years.
The arrests of Salameh, Abouhalima, and Ayyad led the FBI to the al-Khifa office at a Brooklyn, mosque. This group was planning attacks on other New York targets, and additional arrests were made in June 1993.
In the later trial, the government presented evidence that additional conspirators were involved. Ajaj had materials pointing to activities at the Khaldan training camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Ajaj had left Texas in April 1992 to go there to learn how to construct bombs; He had met Ramzi Yousef in Pakistan.
- Richard A. Clarke (2004), Against all Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, Free Press, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0743260244, pp. 78-79
- National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Complete 9/11 Commission Report, p. 72
- Frank L. Fire, The Materials Involved in the WTC Bomb, in William A. Manning, "The World Trade Center Bombing: Report and Analysis", Fire Engineering; reprinted by United States Fire Administration