Sometimes terrorist attacks are merely a harbinger of something worse, much worse, to happen.
NEW YORK, USA — Do you remember the feelings you had on 9/11? Do you remember the shock you felt on seeing the planes strike the World Trade Center towers, the buildings collapsing, the people fleeing the scene? Do you recall the desperate search for survivors?
For many of us it feel like yesterday. I know that for me it was a professional turning point. I had been looking at Islamist terrorism part-time as an intelligence analyst at that point but this attack and our concerns over whether it could transpire in Canada elevated it to the #1 priority for me.
But back to the actual event. As enormous and catastrophic as it was, many were convinced this was but the first salvo in a longer campaign of terrorism. As Carter Malkasian wrote recently in Foreign Affairs:
In the early years after the 9/11 attacks, the political atmosphere in the United States was charged with fears of another assault. Throughout 2002, various Gallup polls showed that a majority of Americans believed that another attack on the United States was likely.
In other words, people were afraid, very afraid. How ironic is it, then, that an earlier attack on the same venue eight and a half years EARLIER did not lead to the same fears?
1993 World Trade Center bombing
On this day in 1993 at 12:18 PM a 200-pound bomb was placed in a Ryder truck in a parking garage beneath the World Trade Center and detonated, killing six people and wounding more than 1000. The explosion created a hole 200 feet by 100 feet (65 metres by 30 metres), several stories deep and caused the ceiling of the PATH station to collapse.
A terrorist named Ramzi Yousef was behind the organization and execution of the bombing and claimed that he sought to avenge the sufferings of the Palestinian people at the hands of US ally Israel. Yousef was tried and convicted and has been locked away in solitary confinement at the federal “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, since 1998.
It is not unfair to label this attack a failure of intelligence, much as 9/11 was. We in the ‘business’ are not allowed to get things wrong. Deaths by terrorist groups stick to us since we are paid to prevent them. That may not be fair (do doctors get blamed when patients die?) but it is what it is.
In any event the 1993 bombing was followed – eventually – by a much larger attack. It took terrorists almost a decade to return to their iconic target and cause damages many, many orders of magnitude bigger.
Will we see another successful plot of this scale at some juncture? Only time will tell.