Thursday, February 26, 2009

World Trade Center Bombed: 16 Years Ago Today...

The 1993 World Trade Center bombing occurred on February 26, 1993, when a car bomb was detonated below Tower One of the World Trade Center in New York City. The 1,500 lb urea nitrate-hydrogen gas enhanced device was intended to knock the North Tower (Tower One) into the South Tower (Tower Two), bringing both towers down and killing thousands of people. It failed to do so, but did kill six people and injured 1,042.

The attack was planned by a group of conspirators including Ramzi Yousef, Mahmud Abouhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Nidal Ayyad, Abdul Rahman Yasin and Ahmad Ajaj. They received financing from Khaled Shaikh Mohammed, Yousef's uncle. In March 1994, four men were convicted of carrying out the bombing: Abouhalima, Ajaj, Ayyad and Salameh. The charges included conspiracy, explosive destruction of property and interstate transportation of explosives. And in November 1997, two more were convicted: Yousef, the mastermind behind the bombings, and Eyad Ismoil, who drove the truck carrying the bomb.

Ramzi Yousef and a Jordanian friend, Eyad Ismoil, drove a yellow Ryder van into Lower Manhattan, and pulled into the public parking garage beneath the World Trade Center around noon. Yousef ignited the 20-foot fuse, and fled. Twelve minutes later, at 12:17:37 pm, the bomb exploded in the underground garage, generating an estimated pressure of 150,000 psi. The bomb opened a 98 foot wide hole through four sublevels of concrete. The detonation velocity of this bomb was about 15,000 ft/s.

The bomb instantly cut off the center's main electrical power line, knocking out the emergency lighting system. The bomb caused smoke to rise up to the 93rd floor of both towers, including through the stairwells which were not pressurized. With thick smoke filling the stairwells, evacuation was difficult for building occupants and led to many smoke inhalation injuries. Hundreds were trapped in elevators in the towers when the power was cut, including a group of 17 kindergartners, on their way down from the South Tower observation deck, who were trapped between the 35th and 36th floors for five hours.

Also as a result of the loss of electricity most of New York City's radio and television stations lost their over-the-air broadcast signal for almost a week, with television stations only being able to broadcast via cable and satellite via a microwave hookup between the stations and three of the New York area's largest cable companies, Cablevision, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable. Telephone service for much of Lower Manhattan was also disrupted.

Altogether, six people were killed and 1,042 others were injured, most during the evacuation that followed the blast. The towers did not collapse, according to Yousef's plan, but the explosion did damage the garage badly. Nevertheless, had the car been parked closer to the WTC's poured concrete foundations, Yousef's plan might have succeeded. Yousef escaped to Pakistan several hours later after the bombing.

Yousef had left Jersey City much earlier in the morning, thus questions linger as to why he waited to noon to attack when the parking area was much less crowded. Conspirator Mahmud Abouhalima later stated that the original plan was to attack the United Nations headquarters earlier in the morning. Author Simon Reeve theorized that something went wrong, such as Yousef encountering too much security, and the target was changed to be the World Trade Center.

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