ATbar Timeline Project #2 - World Trade Center Attack – 26 February 1993
Loading Search Engine

Timeline Project #2 - World Trade Center Attack – 26 February 1993

25/03/2012 | by Radzinski, Jay  

On 26 February 1993, a thunderous blast rocked Tower One of the World Trade Center in New York. A car bomb in the underground parking had been intended to bring down Tower One in such a way that it would collapse into Tower Two, potentially killing thousands. The investigation into the bombing would subsequently bring to light aworld-wide network of Islamist terrorists, most of them veterans of the Afghan war, and an obscure financier of terror named Osama bin Ladin.  Though few knew it at the time, the attack was the opening salvo of a jihad against the West.


A large explosion caused by a car bomb occurred at level B-2 of the underground car park in Tower One of the World Trade Center, located in New York City’s financial district, USA, at 12:18 on 26 February 1993.  This attack, which is believed to have been financed and carried out by al-Qa’ida, was the first of its kind on United States territory by Islamist terrorists.  The attack killed seven people, including an unborn child,and injured more than 1,000[i] others.  The bomb, packed into a rented van, was estimated to have weighed 1,500 pounds. Investigators identified the bomb-maker as Abdul Rahman Yasin.  The attack did not achieve its intended aim of toppling the towers, though that was, ultimately achieved in the subsequent attack of 11 September 2001.[ii]  This watershed event in brought to light a new type of terrorism.  Two of the key people behind the attack would later be linkedwith the 9/11 attacks: Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, and his nephew, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.

Incident Details

The attack took place during the busiest time of the day, when an estimated 100,000 people were working or visiting the towers.[iii]  The truck bomb, carrying a 1,500 lb. urea nitrate device enhanced by hydrogen gas[iv], destroyed three floors of concrete and the inner support beams and left a craterin the wall above the Path underground station.  The explosion also sparked a fire that increased the amount of smoke and ash, trapping thousands of office workers, making it extremely difficult for rescue workers to provide oxygen to the higher floors.[v] The explosion killed seven people and injured 1,042, and caused $500 million of property damage.[vi] Three of the dead were mechanical supervisors for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey transportation agency. Bob Kirkpatrick, 61, Steven Knapp, 47, and Bill Macko, 57, were having lunch in their basement office located next to the detonation site, along with fourth victim, Macko’s pregnant secretary, Monica Rodriguez Smith.[vii]  A sixth victim was identified as Wilfred Mercado, 37, who worked for the Windows on the World restaurant located on the top of the North Tower, but who was checking in deliveries in the basement at the time of the explosion.  Last discovered was John DiGiovanni, 45, a dental salesman who just happened to be in the parking garage when the bomb was detonated.[viii]

The ensuing investigation into the attack involved 700 FBI agents who were located throughout the world.[ix]  Their initial findings uncovered pieces of wreckage from the van used in the attack.  The wreckage led investigators to the vehicle’s identification number, which in turn led them to a Ryder truck rental outlet in Jersey City, New Jersey.  The police determined that a man identified as Mohammad Salameh rented the vehicle and also reported it stolen.  When he returned to the rental facility to collect his deposit on 4 March 1993, he was arrested.  This finding additionally led police to the apartment of Abdul Rahman Yasin, which he was sharing with his mother in the same building as Ramzi Yousef.  Yasin was taken to FBI headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, however was released shortly after.  Upon his release, Yasin traveled to Iraq via Amman, Jordan and he was later indicted for the attack.  The capture of Salameh and Yasin led authorities to Ramzi Yousef's apartment, where they found bomb-making materials and a business card from Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. Khalifa was arrested on 14 December 1994, and was deported to Jordan by the INS on 5 May 1995. He was acquitted by a Jordanian court and lived freely in Saudi Arabia until his death in 2007.[x]

In less than a month of the attack, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force apprehended four individuals suspected of being responsible for the operation: Mohammad Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, Mahmud Abouhalima and Ahmad Ajaj.  Beginning on 13 September 1993, those apprehended were prosecuted on 38 counts in a trial, which lasted six months.  The charges included conspiracy, explosive destruction of property and interstate transportation of explosives.  With the cooperation of 204 witnesses and more than 1,000 pieces of evidence, a jury convicted the four men of all 38 counts against them on 4 March 1994.  On 25 May 1994, a judge subsequently sentenced each of the convicted men to 240 years in prison in addition to a $250,000 fine.  The apprehension of these individuals led, just less than one year later, on 7 February 1995, to the apprehension of Ramzi Yousef, the primary suspect wanted concerning the attack, by Pakistani security officials.  Yousef's fingerprints were found in the apartment, in a nearby storage shed, and on a bomb-making manual.[xi]  After his arrest, he was transferred by Pakistan to United States authorities and he was subsequently tried, convicted, and sentenced to 240 years in prison like his coconspirators.[xii]

Investigators learned that Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the attack, had intended to kill 250,000 people.  Authorities statesthat it was a miracle that there were so few people were killed in this attack.[xiii]  During Yousef's interrogation, he informed security officials that his plan had been to cause one tower to collapse into the other and that he might have succeeded if he would have had more funding.[xiv]

Additional finding led to the arrest of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind cleric who preached atmosques in Brooklyn and New Jersey and connected to the Islamic Group, an al-Qa’ida affiliate.  In October 1995, Rahman was sentenced to life in prison for helping to mastermind the attack.[xv]

The Perpetrators

Ramzi Yousef – Yousef was born in Kuwait on May 20, 1967 to a family descendent from Balochistan, Pakistan.  In the 1980s, Yousef’s family returned to Pakistan, however, he traveled to Great Britain to continue his education at the Swansea Institute in Wales where he studied Electrical Engineering.  In addition to his studies there, he continued to study at the Oxford College of Further Education to improve his English skills.[xvi]  Upon completion of his studies in Great Britain, Yousef traveled to Afghanistan to attend an al-Qa’ida training camp, where he became known as “the chemist” and became proficient in manufacturing bombs, which proved useful to the organization in the World Trade Center bombing.[xvii]  After his time at the training camps, Yousef began to recruit those he needed to participate in his upcoming plot in the United States.  Yousef traveled to the United States in 1992, carrying an Iraqi passport, however, no visa.  He attempted to claim political asylum; however authorities gave him two options: that of arrest or deportation.  Yousef chose arrest in the end, but was released due to lack of detention space, according to the testimony of an INS agent.[xviii]

A childhood friend later claimed that Ramzi Yousef wanted to kill as many Jews as possible.  So, upon his arrival in the United States, he was known to drive around Brooklyn searching for targets, as he heard many Jews lived there.  However, a close confidant named Murad suggested to Yousef that many Jews worked at the World Trade Center and that he should consider that a better target.[xix]

After the World Trade Center attack in 1993, Yousef fled the United States to avoid arrest.  He reunited with his friend Murad in Pakistan where they discussed Yousef’s role in jihad and decided on potential targets.  These included: then Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto; nuclear power plants; government officials in Iran; the United States Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan in addition to numerous United States government institutions.  There was even an alleged plot to assassinate President William Jefferson Clinton.[xx]

United States sources believed that in late 1994 Ramzi Yousef established a sophisticated terrorist cell in Manila, Philippines.  That December, Yousef--under the alias, Armaldo Forlani— purchased a ticket for a flight on Philippine Air scheduled for one month later from Manila to the city of Cebu.  Upon arrival in Cebu, Yousef allegedly left behind a device, which two hours later, caused an explosion on the plane, while it continued to Tokyo. The bomb had been planted in seat 26 in the economy section, where “Armaldo Forlani” had asked to be assigned.  The attack killed one person and injured six.[xxi]  In March, authorities believed Yousef was involved in a car bomb attempt on the Israeli embassy in Bangkok Thailand.  In addition, he is suspected of plotting an assassination on Pope John Paul II in the Philippines in November 1997 and planned to bomb two United States passenger jets near Hong Kong.[xxii]

Khalid Sheik Mohammed - Mohammed was born in 1965 to expatriate Pakistani parents in Hahaheel, Kuwait.  He was the youngest of five siblings--four boys and one girl—raised by the father, an elder preacher and mosque leader.  According to acquaintances, Mohammed attended a strict Pakistani school for boys and became active in the Muslim Brotherhood, probably influenced by his brother, Zahid Sheik, who attended Kuwait University and was a local leader of the Muslim Brotherhood chapter there.  When Mohammed was 17 years old, he obtained a Pakistani passport and within a year had been accepted to study in the United States.[xxiii]

Khalid Sheik Mohammed spent three years pursuing an engineering degree at two North Carolina institutions where Islamic student groups had a large presence and influence over many of the foreign Arab students.  During his studies, he joined a group known as the “Mullahs”.  In addition, Mohammed followed many international students to Chowan College, a Baptist school which appealed to foreign students based on its small size, safe environment, and most importantly, the absence of the standard English proficiency requirements.  After only one semester, Mohammed transferred to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he eventually earned a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1986.[xxiv]

Upon completion of his studies, Mohammed was drawn to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the late 1980s during the Soviet invasion.  His eldest brother, Zahid, was already in the area working as a regional manager for a Kuwaiti charity based in Peshawar called, The Committee for Islamic Appeal.  His two other brothers, Abed and Aref had volunteered to fight the Soviets, and both eventually died in action.  As a result, Mohammed was drawn to the struggle and accepted a position as a teacher at a school founded by an Afghan warlord,  the University of Dawa al Jihad.[xxv]

Khalid Sheik Mohammed is suspected of involvement in a number of terrorist activities.  According to investigators, he has been tied to the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; the Bali bombing, which killed more than 180 people; the firebombing of a Tunisian synagogue. He was also implicated in various plots that never came to fruition, including a dirty bomb attack on an American city, the bombing of U.S. embassies in Southeast Asia, and the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York City.  He was also wanted for his alleged involvement in a plot, conceived in Manila, to bomb commercial airliners en route to the United States from Southeast Asia in 1995.  According to both United States and Pakistani investigators, Mohammed also exploited links with Pakistani extremist groups to carry out attacks on Westerners in Karachi.  He is alleged to be one of the masterminds of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers as a senior leader of al-Qa’ida.[xxvi]

Khalid Sheik Mohammed was captured on 1 March 2003 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan with three others in a safe house, not far from Islamabad.  This apprehension was of great significance, as Mohammed is believed to have taken over as al-Qaida’s chief of operations after the death of Mohammed Atef in November 2001.[xxvii]  Mohammad was detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba until June 2008, when he was formally indicted by a United States military tribunal.[xxviii]  However, before his transfer to Cuba, Mohammed was held in Poland in a CIA black site, where he was tortured in attempts by authorities to extract information in regards to al-Qa’ida operations, operatives, and networks.[xxix]  During his trial, Mohammed refused defense representation and asked the tribunal judge for the death penalty in order to become a martyr.[xxx]  On 8 December 2008, Mohammad stated that he would not enter a plea hearing until an investigation conducted on the mental state of two of his co-defendants was complete.[xxxi]

Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman –, Abdel-Rahman was born in 1938 in the city of Al Jammaliyyah, Egypt.  He lost his sight in childhood as a result of diabetes.  While growing up he was influenced by the works of Ibn Taymiyah and Sayyid Qutb and became an opponent of the Egyptian regime. He graduated in 1965 with a degree in Quran Studies from Al-Azhar University in Cairo and became an imam in a town outside Cairo.  There, he promoted the takfir ideology, which identifies those Muslims who violate strict Islamic principles as apostates and therefore deserving of death.  He criticized then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and was detained by authorities for eight months.  When he was released, he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he built a network of associates in support of militant Islam..  Upon his return to Egypt, Abdel-Rahman issued fatwas that supported the actions of terrorists, which eventually led to the assassination of Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat.  However, due to lack of evidence, Rahman was acquitted of all charges, as he could not be linked to the assassins.[xxxii]

Throughout the 1970s, Rahman developed close ties with two of Egypt’s most radical organizations, Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya.  In the 1980s, he emerged as the leader of the latter, while still maintaining a strong following from members of the Islamic Jihad, which at the time was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later became a senior al-Qa’ida leader.  Rahman was involved with the cause of Jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan where he met with Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s mentor.  In 1990, Rahman moved to the United States and settled in New York City, where he began recruiting jihadists to plan attacks in the United States.  In May of that year, he set up an Islamic center in the Farouq Majid Mosque in Brooklyn, New York to use as a recruitment center.[xxxiii]

El Sayyid Nosair – Nosair was born on 16 November 1955 in Port Said, Egypt. In 1981, he traveled to the United States and obtained American citizenship one year later.[xxxiv]  While in the United States, Nosair was connected with the al-Farouq Mosque in Brooklyn, New York. The mosque was financed by the Maktab al-Khadamat, founded by Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1984.  Nosair made no secret of his contempt for American values, which he described as morally corrupt.  In 1990, Nosair was arrested for the assassination of Meir Kahane, a member of the Jewish Defense League and member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.  Nosair was found innocent of the charge of assassination, but was convicted of assault and possession of an illegal firearm.  In addition, he was convicted of shooting a United States Postal Inspection Service agent during his apprehension.  For these crimes, Nosair was sentenced to the maximum time allowed—seven to 22 years in prison.[xxxv]

While in prison, Nosair was again convicted as part of the trial of Omar Abdel-Rahman.  The two men received life sentences with no possibility for parole.  The death of Kahane was included in the conspiracy conviction, and as a result a term of 15 years to life was added to Nosair’s sentence.[xxxvi]

Mohammed Salameh – Born on 1 September 1967, Salameh was the son of a Jordanian military officer of Palestinian descent.  Salameh was influenced by  the atmosphere of hatred of the West, endemic to the Palestinian Islamic community in Jordan in the wake of Black September.  Salameh traveled to the United States on 17 February 1988 on a Jordanian passport and a six-month visa.  Upon the visa’s expiration, he chose to remain in the United States as an illegal alien.  While there he established a friendship with his cousin, Al-Sayyid Abdul-Aziz Nosair and was a devotee of Abd al-Rahman. Under the influence of Abd al-Rahman, he was recruited to participate in the WTC attack of 1993.  Salameh rented the vehicle and drove it with the explosive device to the site of the World Trade Center.  He was arrested when he attempted to reclaim his deposit for the rented vehicle after reporting it stolen.[xxxvii]

Mahmud Abouhalima – Abouhalima was born in Kfar Dawar, Egypt in 1959 to a father who worked as a foreman in a mill.  As a teenager he joined al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, led by Omar Abdel Rahman.  He studied at Alexandria University for a short time, but left to travel to Germany where he lived a life of “corruption, girls, and drugs.”[xxxviii]  He applied for political asylum in Germany, but was ultimately denied. In order to remain in the country, he married a German woman, whom he divorced after three years. He subsequently married another German woman in a Muslim ceremony and moved with her to Brooklyn, New York.  In New York, Abouhalima worked as a taxi driver for five years and then worked for a group that raised money for the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan.[xxxix]

In 1988, Abouhalima moved to Afghanistan and received combat training in Peshawar, Pakistan.  He was the subject of an FBI investigation until January 1993, just before the first attack on the World Trade Center.  He was seen the day of the attack with Mohammed Salameh at the Jersey City storage unit where it is thought the explosive device used in the attack was manufactured.  After the attack, Abouhalima traveled to Egypt via Saudi Arabia, where he was captured by Egyptian authorities, tortured and ultimately extradited to the United States to face charges related to the World Trade Center attack.[xl]

Nidal Ayyad – Nidal Ayyad was born in Kuwait in 1968 and is of Palestinian decent.  In 1985, he traveled to the United States and enrolled in Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey to study biochemical engineering.  A few years later, in July 1989, Ayyad was seen by FBI agents shooting AK-47 assault rifles and handguns at the Calverton Shooting Range in Long Island, New York together with Mahmud Abuhalima and Mohammad Salameh.  While in school, Nidal spent time at the Al Kifah Association, which operated out of the Al Farouk Mosque in Brooklyn, New York, to help aid the needy in Afghanistan.[xli]  Nidal completed his studies at Rutgers in 1991 after which he became a research engineer for Allied Signal in Morristown, New Jersey.  His area of expertise was chemicals used in paints and pharmaceuticals.[xlii]

Ayyad was recruited to participate in the attack on the World Trade Center, allegedly due to his need for money.  He had attended the El Salam Mosque in Jersey City, New Jersey since the early 1990s and had known Mohammad Salameh for a year. He allegedly went with Salameh to rent the truck that was used in the attack.  Ayyad, provided the group with the know-how in mixing the chemicals for the explosives.[xliii]

Ahmad Ajaj – Ahmad Ajaj was born in the West Bank in 1966.  He claimed to have been tortured by the Israeli army and therefore applied for political asylum in the United States in 1991.  However, he failed to appear for his asylum hearing and left the country for Pakistan under an alias, Ibrahim Salameh.[xliv]  After arriving in Pakistan, Ajaj traveled to Camp Khalden on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but he lacked credentials and was sent to Saudi Arabia to receive a recommendation.  Once back in Pakistan, Ajaj along with Ramzi Yousef flew to New York City carrying multiple doctored passports and educational and medical records.[xlv]  Ajaj was detained upon entry into The United States as a result of his phony documentation and on 2 September 1992 he was sent to prison term.  From prison, Ajaj continued to be in contact with Ramzi Yousef and other perpetrators involved in the World Trade Center plot.[xlvi]

On 1 March 1993, just three days after the attack on the World Trade Center, Ahmad Ajaj was released from prison.  He was again arrested on 9 March 1993 for his connection to the attackers.  Ajaj, however, did not give up his claims for asylum, which was denied on 24 April 1993 due to his use of fraudulent identification.  While incarcerated, Ajaj was diagnosed with lung cancer and was transferred to a prison facility, which treated him.[xlvii]

Abdul Rahman Yasin – Yasin was born on 10 April 1960 in Bloomington, Indiana to immigrant Iraqi parents.  His father came to The United States to obtain his PhD, but shortly after Yasin’s birth, the family moved back to Iraq.  Yasin was recruited by Ramzi Yousef. As an American citizen, Yasin was able to obtain a US passport from the embassy in Amman, Jordan on 21 June 1992.  On 4 March 1993, after the investigation into the World Trade Center attack, the FBI detained Yasin in the apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey that he was sharing with his mother.  After interrogation, Yasin was released by FBI agents and traveled to Iraq.  Yasin lived freely in Iraq for about a year until he was detained by Iraqi authorities and used as a bargaining chip, offering The United States extradition in exchange for the easing of UN sanctions.[xlviii]  Yasin is still believed to still be in Iraq.

Al-Qa’ida The Base prior to 1993

Al Qa’ida puts great emphasis on providing support and funding to terrorist training camps, which have been an integral part of the organization’s major terrorist attacks, including the bombing of the USS Cole, the African Embassie attacks, and the 9/11 attacks. The camps are designed to provide training for different scenarios, including conventional warfare, infantry, operation of heavy machinery, large-scale bombings, and airplane hijackings.  More intense terrorist training was designated only for those recruits personally evaluated by bin Laden.  For the most part, the training camps were located in Afghanistan. A ccording to the Commission on Terrorist Attacks, approximately 20,000 individuals were trained by bin Laden at the camps in Afghanistan between May 1996 and September 2001. Of these, only a select number were chosen to continue on and receive specialized training.[xlix]

Al-Qa'ida’s modus operandi included suicide bombings, assassinations, multiple simultaneous bombings, hijacking, and kidnapping. Bin Laden has also declared a strong desire to obtain and utilize biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. Al-Qa'ida's main targets are prominent economic and diplomatic symbols, such as public buildings, embassies, and official personnel of the United States and its allies. The organization also targets moderate Muslim governments, who they deem to be unjust rulers and un-Islamic. Al-Qa'ida uses video and audio messaging as a means of threatening its enemies.[l] 

Al-Qa’ida was established in 1988 by the Saudi militant Osama bin Laden and espouces a mixture of Muslim Brotherhood and Wahabi ideologies. Al-Qaida's members adopt an extreme interpretation of Islamic teaching, which includes a commitment to violence as a way to achieve their ultimate goals.  Al-Qa'ida believes that a Christian-Jewish alliance—identified as the U.S.-Israeli alliance--is at permanent war with Islam, and that the killing of bystanders and civilians is religiously justified as part of a defensive jihad against this alliance. This extreme view is at variance with the majority of Muslims and the world's leading Islamic scholars.[li]

Al-Qa'ida's primary goal is the overthrow of what it sees as the corrupt and heretical governments of Muslim states, and their replacement with the rule of Sharia, or Islamic law. Al-Qa’ida is fervently anti-Western, and views the United States in particular as the prime enemy of Islam.  Bin Ladin has issued three "fatwas" or religious rulings calling upon Muslims to take up arms against the United States.[lii]

Born in July 1957, the youngest of twenty brothers, Osama bin Laden was the son of a Yemenite construction mogul in Saudi Arabia.  Bin Laden studied at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he learned Islamic thought under the tutelage of Muhammad Qutb, the brother of Sayyid Qutb, who after the death of Hasan al Bana, created a split in the Muslim Brotherhood and took it on a path of more radical ideals.  In addition to Qutb, Osama bin Laden was also instructed by Dr. Abdullah al-Azzam, who at the time was a leader of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood section.[liii] 

Following his studies, Osama bin Laden traveled to Afghanistan just after the Soviet Union’s invasion of the country in 1979, where he connected with Abdullah al-Azzam.  At this time, bin Laden, now aged 23 years old, utilized his personal finances to contribute to the struggle in Afghanistan and enlist Arab and Islamic militantst. Bin Laden developed a financial support network known as the “Golden Chain”, comprised mainly of financiers from Saudi Arabia and the United States who channeled billions of dollars worth of secret assistance to rebels in Afghanistan.[liv]  In 1984,  bin Laden and Azzam constructed a matrix of enlistment and financing posts all over the Arab world, and in Europe and the United States.  This organization, called the Maktab al-Khidamat or Al Khifah, was the precursor of al-Qa’ida. The organization grew out of a complex of Muslim volunteers who had traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight under the banner of Islam against Soviet Communism.  Bin Laden was in touch with an unknown number of devotees all over the Muslim world, in addition to Europe, Asia, and North America.[lv]

Among those who used the Maktab to enlist fighters for the struggle in Afghanistan was Umar Abd al-Rahman, better known as ‘the blink sheikh’, who at that time was one of the leaders of the Egyptian Al Jihad .  In addition to setting up the structural framework for the Maktab, Osama bin Laden also fought on the front lines in the battles of Afghanistan against the Soviets.  In 1986, he participated in the battle for Jalalabad, and a year later led an attack of mujahedeen against the Soviets.  It was reported that during these fights, bin Laden was vulnerable to Soviet chemical weapons and may have been affected by them.[lvi]

In 1988, the network built by Azzam and bin Ladin began to be referred to as al-Qa’ida, the Base. When the conflict in Afghanistan ended  with the withdrawal of Soviet forces, Osama bin Laden and Abdullah al-Azzam sought new applications for their extensive network and the small army of 10,000-20,000 mujahedeen fighters they developed.  Bin Laden and Azzam differed in their views of how best to proceed with their new organization.  Bin Laden wanted to send the fighters back to their countries of origin to aid in overthrowing the Western-backed Arab dictators in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  Azzam, on the other hand, preferred to use the network as a mobile force that could be deployed anywhere in the world where Muslim peoples endangered.[lvii]  It is possible that the growing ideological rift between Osama bin Laden and Abdullah al-Azzam was a result of the increasing influence on bin Ladin of Egyptians, such as Abd al-Rahman,.  Rahman, like bin Ladin, wanted to use al-Qa’ida to overthrow the rule of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and bring the country into line with Islamic values.  The rift between bin Laden and Azzam is believed by some to have led to Azzam’s death at the hands of bin Laden in November 1989.  Upon Azzam’s murder, Osama bin Laden assumed full authority over al-Qa’ida’s financial and structural components.[lviii]

Another Egyptian, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of the Egyptian Al Jihad, also began to have much sway with Osama bin Laden.  Zawahiri was committed to taking up arms in Egypt. Like Rahman, Zawahiri had been detained by Egyptian authorities for the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981.  He was eventually released from prison and joined the struggle in Afghanistan in 1985, where he used his medical skills to treat wounded mujahedeen.  Zawahiri, like bin Laden, believed that the only way to rid the Islamic world of the current regimes was to attack the Western entities that backed them, in particular the the United States.  Throughout the 1990s, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri built up al-Qa’ida as a threat to the West’s national security interests. The World Trade Center Attack of 1993 was the culmination of this process.[lix]  During this time, al-Qai’da has been funded by contributions from like-minded supporters, in addition to donations to Muslim charitable organizations, used as fronts to channel funds to the group.  Governments have attempted to block the group’s funding by freezing its assets.[lx]

Following the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989, bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 put Saudi Arabia and its ruling House of Saud at risk of an Iraqi invasion.  Bin Laden offered the services of his mujahedeen fighters to King Fahd to protect Saudi Arabia from the Iraqi army. The Saudi monarch refused bin Laden's offer, opting instead to allow United States and allied forces to deploy troops in Saudi Arabian territory.  Bin Laden was angered that the Saudis would allow non-Muslim armies onto Muslim land, and spoke out publicly against the Saudi government. This led to bin Ladin’s banishment from the Kingdow. He moved to Sudan.  There he purchased land for training camps, where he trained fighters to make war on  the United States and its allies. Operations were planned in the Philippines, Kashmir, the Balkans, and Chechnya.  During his time there, Osama bin Laden also financed Islamic revolutionaries in London.  Turabi, under strong persuasion by the United States and Egypt, expelled bin Laden in May 1996. He returned to Afghanistan to help the Taliban gain and keep control there.[lxi]

During this time, bin Laden issued a fatwa against the United States' deployment in Somalia.  Al-Qa'ida operatives were believed to have assisted in downing two American Black Hawk helicopters in 1993. Bin Laden and al Qa'ida also took credit for the bombing of the World Trade Center in the same year.[lxii]

The backlash of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. led to further decentralization, as the organization's leaders were killed or scattered. Whether this has made al-Qa'ida less of a threat is an open question. The loss of its bases in Afghanistan, along with much of its funding, has undoubtedly weakened the organization. At the same time, its brief period as the 'superpower' among terrorist organizations has made al-Qa'ida a model to be followed by countless radical cells all over the Muslim world and in the West. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing was thus the first shot in a war that continues into the present, and which is fought out on the battlefield of ideas as much as in the physical sphere. The backlash of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. led to further decentralization, as the organization's leaders were killed or scattered. Whether this has made al-Qa'ida less of a threat is an open question. The loss of its bases in Afghanistan, along with much of its funding, has undoubtedly weakened the organization. At the same time, its brief period as the 'superpower' among terrorist organizations has made al-Qa'ida a model to be followed by countless radical cells all over the Muslim world and in the West. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing was thus the first shot in a war that continues into the present, and which is fought out on the battlefield of ideas as much as in the physical sphere.

* The Timeline Project is a new monthly report by ICT’s Database Team, offering an analysis of significant terrorist attacks that occurred during the same month in the past. The report focused on the attack, profiles of the terrorist and the group, and provides a perspective on its historical ramifications.

[i] Phil Hirschkorn, “New York remembers 1993 WTC victims”, CNN, 26 February 2003

[ii] Craig Whitlock, “Homemade, Cheap and dangerous – Terror Cells Favor Simple Ingredients in Building Bombs” Washington Post, 5 July 2005

[iii] BBC News, "On this day - 1993: World Trade Center bomb terrorism NewYork"

[iv] Craig Whitlock, “Homemade, Cheap and dangerous – Terror Cells Favor Simple Ingredients in Building Bombs” Washington Post, 5 July 2005

[v] BBC News, "On this day - 1993: World Trade Center bomb terrorism NewYork"

[vi] CNN. "Top terrorist convictions upheld", 4 April 2003

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] FBI, "First Strike: Global Terror in America", 26 February 2008

[x] Ibid.

[xi] CNN. "Top terrorist convictions upheld", 4 April 2003

[xii] Joint Terrorism Task Force, "The World Trade Center Bombing", 2005

[xiii] 9/11 Commission Report, 2004

[xiv] CNN. "Top terrorist convictions upheld", 4 April 2003

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] “Web of Terrorism Targeted U.S. Jets”, Toronto Star, May 28, 1995

[xvii] “The Plot”, LA Times, September 1, 2002

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] “Suspect Predicts Attacks on U.S. Forces”, Washington Post, March 7, 2003

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] “A Mythic Figure, In Person”, Washington Post, June 6, 2008

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] “Inside a 9/11 Mastermind’s Interrogation”, New York Times, June 22, 2008

[xxx] A Mythic Figure, In Person”, Washington Post, June 6, 2008

[xxxi] “Top 9/11 Suspects to Plead Guilty”, BBC, December 8, 2008

[xxxii] IPT, “Omar Abdel Rahman, 9 July, 2008

[xxxiii] “Brooklyn Mosque Becomes Terror Icon”, New York Times, 9 March, 2003

[xxxiv] “Alleged Assassin Shot by New York Policeman”, Jerusalem Post, 7 November 1990

[xxxv] “Judge Gives Maximum Term in Kahane Case”, New York Times, 30 January 1992

[xxxvi] “Defense: Juror ‘bias’ in Terror Verdicts, CNN

[xxxvii] FBI

[xxxviii] Benjamin, Daniel and Steven Simon, “The Age of Sacred Terror”, 2002

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Mayer, Jane, “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideal”, 2008 p. 118

[xli] “Nidal Abdrahman Ayyad, 

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliv] “Questioning Focuses on One Defendant”, New York Times, 11 November 1993

[xlv] 9/11 Commission Report.

[xlvi] Los Angeles Times, 14 November 2001

[xlvii] Rocky Mountain News, 26 March 2005

[xlviii] “60 Minutes: The Man Who Got Away” 23 May 2002

[xlix] Al-Qa’ida,, 2009

[l] BBC, "Al-Qaeda's origins and links", 20 July 2004

[li] MI5, 2010

[lii] Israeli Security Agency, "A Review of Al Qaeda and the Diffusion of its Ideas in Israel and the Palestinian Authority", 06 February 2009

[liii] Al Qaeda: Profile and Threat Assessment, CRS Report for Congress

[liv] 9/11 Commission Report

[lv] BBC, "Al-Qaeda's origins and links", 20 July 2004

[lvi] Al Qaeda: Profile and Threat Assessment, CRS Report for Congress

[lvii] Ibid.

[lviii] Ibid.

[lix] Ibid.

[lx] U.S. Department of Treasury, 2010

[lxi] Al Qaeda: Profile and Threat Assessment, CRS Report for Congress

[lxii] 9/11 Commission Report