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28 Years Later: The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing

Over 700 firefighters battled "the equivalent of a 16-alarm fire" after a bomb exploded in a World Trade Center parking garage Feb. 26, killing six and injuring more than 1,000 others.

The Response

At 12:17 p.m. on Feb. 26, 1993, a 1,200-pound bomb in a rented truck exploded in the parking garage of the North Tower, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others.

The explosion knocked out the World Trade Center’s power—which disabled the sprinklers, generators, elevators, public address system and the emergency command center. The Staten Island Advance reported that thick smoke “sent tens of thousands of workers streaming out of the complex in Lower Manhattan.” “Many of the victims their eyes tearing and their faces smeared with soot were gasping for air as they stumbled to waiting ambulances. Some had spent more than an hour making their way down smoke-filled stairwells.” A massive fire erupted underneath the towers that a fire department spokesman told the Staten Island Advance was “the equivalent of a 16-alarm fire with more than 700 firefighters summoned.” A firefighter from Manhattan Rescue Co. 1 told the newspaper when he arrived he “saw people still sitting in their cars in the destroyed garage, and couldn’t tell if they were alive or dead. ‘It was a mass of wreckage,’ Smith said. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’ He described walls caving in, slabs of concrete ripped from floors, and a giant crater created through several floors of the basement that a fellow firefighter fell into.”

According to the newspaper, “While firefighters searched for victims and fought for two hours to put out the blaze below ground, trapped office workers began to panic above. Some smashed windows not meant to open, sending showers of glass to the street below. Others, including hundreds of elementary school students on outings, were trapped in elevators with no word about what happened.” The students were trapped in the elevators for six hours. In March 1994, terrorists Mohammad Salameh, Ahmad Ajaj, Nidal Ayyad and Mahmoud Abouhalima were convicted of the bombing and sentenced to 240 years in prison. Their sentences are later reduced to 100 years. The man allegedly behind the plot to blow up the World Trade Center, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef was later captured, convicted and sentenced to 240 years in prison. The driver of the van, Eyad Ismoil also was captured, convicted and sentenced to 240 years in prison. The FBI also uncovered plots to blow up the George Washington Bridge, the United Nations and other New York landmarks. The attack also had a local connection. In 1993, the FBI raided the home of Kelvin E. Smith near New Bloomfield, Perry County, saying he allowed Muslim fundamentalists to receive military-type training at a public shooting range on his property. While the three did fire weapons at Smith’s range, Smith said he had no idea who they were. Smith had said he thought the men were mercenaries who planned to help the Muslims in Bosnia. Smith pleaded guilty in September 1999 to three counts of making false statements to the FBI and one count of destroying evidence - he dumped four semiautomatic assault rifles in the Delaware River. In 1999, he was sentenced to 366 days in prison. At the time, the World Trade Center bombing was one of the worst terror attacks in the United States. Eight years later on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States faced the worst when Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked airplanes and flew them into the World Trade Center, bringing down both towers and killing thousands of people. (c)2021 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

The Investigation

The six victims of the bombing were John DiGiovanni, Stephen Knapp, Wilfredo Mercado, Robert Kirkpatrick, William Macko, and Monica Rodriguez Smith

The FBI led the case with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), NYPD, and the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). Some 700 FBI agents teamed up worldwide, quickly covering ground, but the key piece of evidence wasn’t far from the bomb site. Agents discovered a chunk of debris in the rubble – part of a vehicle chassis with a vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN was linked to a van reported stolen the day before the attack. On March 4th, an FBI SWAT team made the arrest of the man who had rented the vehicle while he tried to obtain the $400 security deposit from the rental company.

Mohammad Salameh, the man arrested, still had the receipt from the rental van, from which they found bomb residue confirming their suspicions, and an address to his New Jersey apartment. There, investigators found bomb making materials and the lab where the bomb was built, allegedly by Abdul Yasin, who is still on the run. Further clues and deeper searches led investigators to three more individuals: Nidal Ayyad, Mahmoud Abouhalima, and Ahmed Ajaj, who were all arrested for their involvement. The leader, suspected of planning the entire operation, managed to escape on a plane bound for Karachi, Pakistan. All three men who were arrested, along with Salameh, were sentenced to life in prison.

The DSS had agents in over 200 offices worldwide and became more involved with the investigation. A $2 million reward was offered by the Department of State for information leading to the arrest of the now-known leader, Ramzi Yousef, a deal too enticing to for some to pass up. Nearly two years after the bombing, an informant living in Karachi approached the residence of a U.S. diplomat about the whereabouts of Yousef. DSS agents alerted local authorities before the raid on Yousef’s hotel room. He was escorted back to the United States to await trial. Yousef, along with the known driver of the rental van, Eyad Ismoil, who was arrested in Jordan months later in 1995, were tried and convicted in September 1997 and sentenced to life in prison.

Less than 5 years after the attack, six of the seven alleged men involved in the bombing of the World Trade Center were captured and are currently serving life sentences. During this time, architect Ramzi Yousef admitted that the purpose of the bombing was to topple one building into the other, resulting in the collapse of both. Though their plan failed, but it turned out to be a dress rehearsal for the September 11th attacks, which were formulated by Yousef’s uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.


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