Twenty Years Ago Today: Four Convicted for World Trade Center Attack

wtc-introTwenty years ago today, a court in the US found four islamic fundamentalists guilty of the 1993 bomb attack upon the World Trade Center in New York. That's the same one which would be destroyed in the September 11 attacks of 2001, although the plan was slightly different in 1993. It was February 26th. Ramzi Yousef and Eyad Ismoil drove a rented van into the public garage beneath the World Trade Center, a series of basements that descended several floors below the buildings. The van contained 590kg of explosives, which detonated after Yousef lit the fuse and ran away.

A cavernous hole was blasted through the underground space, and smoke shot up the lift shafts to the 93rd floor. The emergency power line was knocked out, trapping hundreds in elevators. Six people were killed in the blast, while 1,042 were injured - largely from smoke inhalation and the confused evacuation that followed. The experience resulted in a new security regime and evacuation procedures, which may well have saved many lives when the next attack came, eight years later.

As much as the US was horrified by such an assault on their home soil, the actual plan had been for something much worse. The van was not placed randomly within the garage. It was intended to blow out the foundations of the North Tower (WTC 1), causing it to fall onto and demolish the South Tower (WTC 2) - killing many thousands of people in the process, vastly more than were killed in even the September 11 attacks. And if they'd done a bit more homework and put the van in the right place, it might even have worked.

Those who were convicted on this day twenty years ago are still in prison, serving sentences that will likely exceed their natural lives. Two more were convicted in 1997. The final perpetrator, Abdul Rahman Yasin, escaped back to Iraq, where he was being held a prisoner until at least 2002; he was not located after the 2003 invasion. The attack had been funded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Yousef's uncle, who also planned the September 11 attacks, and is presently detained at Guantanamo.

Those who died never knew that they had been caught up in a terrible struggle that would only get worse. It wasn't a one-off incident isolated from the wider conflict in the middle east; one of the perpetrators was also implicated in the murder of Meir Kahane, the Jewish fundamentalist who inspired Baruch Goldstein and his murder of Palestinians in Hebron just a few days before this verdict was handed down. Most people in the US still did not realise what a mess their country was involved in. But sadly, that day would come.

Memorial to the 1993 victims