Wednesday, February 27, 2013

26-Feb-13: What we learned, twenty years ago today, in the first attack on the Twin Towers

February 26, 1993 outside the World Trade Center, New York City [Image Source]
Twenty years ago today, one of this site's two bloggers was in New York City on a business trip. 

On February 26, 1993, a Friday, he was standing in a phone booth in Lower Manhattan, waiting for several associates to show up for a meeting they had set for 12 noon. A short time before the rendezvous, they asked to move it from the lobby of one of the World Trade Center towers, which was meant to be the meeting point, to a less well-known nearby location, the old AT&T headquarters building on Broadway. And they were running late. 

It was already around 12:15 pm and they had not shown up, so we called them again. Standing there in the phone booth on the ground floor, we became aware that something odd was happening: the building's lights flickered off for a moment and there was a distinct sense that the ground was shaking. Then it stopped. And soon after, the people showed up. 

We sat for a few moments and talked, and then we headed out into the traffic and bedlam of the city and took a taxi to where we were all heading: an office building in New Jersey directly across the river from the Twin Towers. What we saw from the NJ side, looking back, was a surreal sight whose memory still makes our blood run cold today: helicopters buzzing around the WTC buildings as smoke billowed upwards and outwards. 

Among the things we did not know until much later: a group of Islamist terrorists had detonated about 1,200 pounds of explosives concealed inside a rented van that they drove unhindered into the World Trade Center's underground parking garage. They fled for their lives shortly before the bomb went off. The explosion - at the exact moment we were in that phone booth - blasted a five-storey crater beneath the towers, killing six people, injuring more than 1,000 people including 88 firefighters, 35 police officers, and an emergency medical services worker. Some 50,000 people had to be evacuated from the WTC, and chaos reined over all of southern Manhattan. 

On 9/11, some eight and a half years later, we were in Israel. 

That was a difficult day for us already before the horrific crash of two aircraft into the Twin Towers and another into the Pentagon. The life of our greatly-loved fifteen year old daughter had ended in a restaurant massacre in our country's capital city just a month earlier. September 11, 2001 happened to be the date on which our local community here in Jerusalem held a shloshim memorial service in honour of the murdered lives of two children: Malki, our daughter, and her friend Michal, the daughter of our neighbours. 

By the time we all gathered in a neighborhood park that evening, the events of 9/11 in far-off New York had happened during the afternoon, Israel time. The world would never again be the same. 

Here is the full text of Jonathan Tobin's essay, "The Day the War on America Began", which appears today on the Commentary website, and deserves a wide audience.
Exactly 20 years ago on this date, a terrorist attack at the World Trade Center took the lives of six people and injured more than a thousand others. The tragedy shocked the nation but, as with other al-Qaeda attacks in the years that followed, the WTC bombing did not alter the country’s basic approach to Islamist terrorism. 
For the next eight and a half years, the United States carried on with a business-as-usual attitude toward the subject. The lack of urgency applied to the subject, as well as the disorganized and sometimes slap-dash nature of the security establishment’s counter-terrorist operations, led to the far greater tragedy of September 11, 2001 when al-Qaeda managed to accomplish what it failed to do in 1993: knock down the towers and slaughter thousands. 
All these years after 9/11 and the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden, are there any further lessons to be drawn from that initial tragedy? To listen to the chattering classes, you would think the answer is a definitive no. Few are marking this anniversary and even fewer seem to think there is anything more to be said about what we no longer call the war on terrorBut as much as many of us may wish to consign this anniversary to the realm of the history books, the lessons of the day the war on America began still need to be heeded.   
It should be acknowledged that the United States has come a long way in the last 20 years when it comes to awareness of the forces that launched that first attack. The 9/11 attacks changed the government’s priorities and forced those in charge of the security apparatus to make fighting al-Qaeda a priority, which was something that was nowhere on the country’s radar screen even after the atrocity that took place on February 26, 1993. The death of bin Laden in 2011 seemed to signal that the long battle against the Islamists had been fought and won by the U.S., allowing Americans to go back to sleep about terror–or at least to put it in our collective rear-view mirrors. 
But as the 9/11/2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya demonstrated once again, the forces that launched the attacks on America are by no means as dead as bin Laden. Indeed, they continue to be a potent force throughout the Maghreb and the Middle East. The Taliban, al-Qaeda’s old allies and hosts, are poised for a comeback in Afghanistan as the United States gradually abandons what President Obama and the Democrats once called the “good war.”   
Even more ominously, al-Qaeda’s ideological allies in the Muslim Brotherhood now rule Egypt in place of a secular regime, which, though undemocratic, was a vital ally in the global war on Islamist terror. Here in the U.S., cases of home-grown Islamist terror continue to crop up as a new generation of Islamists continue to sow the seeds of an unending war against the “Great Satan” of the United States as well as its Israeli ally.  
Unlike in 1993, the problem is no longer whether our intelligence and security establishment is serious about fighting terror, but rather whether we as a nation have the will and the patience to go on doing so. The willingness of the Obama administration to embrace the Brotherhood and to go on, as it did after Benghazi, pretending that the war on terror is over, is a sign that our will may be faltering. 
It is no small thing that the Islamist government of Egypt that the U.S. has embraced has called for the freeing of Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called “blind sheik” who was the al-Qaeda mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack. As we think back on the 20 years since six Americans died as a prelude to the murder of thousands more by the same group, the sympathy for their killer ought to remind us that the fight against Islamism is far from over. 
You might find this interesting too: "The 1993 World Trade Center bombers: Where are they now?", from the CBS News website. 

And this: "The Online Presence Of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman: The Blind Sheikh" which describes the thriving social media network - including Twitter, Facebook and online videos garnering thousands of views - that today serves as an ongoing tribute to the achievements of the man convicted by a federal jury of planning to wage a "war of urban terrorism" against the United States, including blowing up the United Nations building, the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, the main federal office building in Manhattan, and the George Washington Bridge.

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