On January 8, 1998, terrorist Ramzi Ahmed Yousef was found guilty of plotting a “seditious conspiracy” to bomb the World Trade Center and sentenced to life plus 240 years in prison.
On February 26, 1993, terrorists led by Yousef detonated a massive homemade bomb with 1,500 pounds of explosives packed into a rental van parked in the public underground parking lot of the WTC, two levels below the southern wall of the North Tower.
Six people died and more than 1,000 were injured in the subsequent explosion, which also created a five-story crater beneath the towers and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
The 1993 World Trade Center bombing was considered to be one of the the worst terrorist attacks ever to occur on U.S. soil — before tragically being overshadowed by the events of September 11, 2001, when Al Qaeda operatives crashed hijacked airplanes into the towers and brought them down, killing over 3,000 people.In September 1992 Yousef, an explosives expert, arrived in New York City on a flight from Pakistan along with Ahmad Ajaj, a Palestinian from the West Bank. After Ajaj presented a counterfeit Swedish passport at JFK airport, immigration officers discovered that he was carrying bomb-making manuals and decided to hold him in Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detention.
Yousef claimed to be Iraqi and immediately asked for political asylum. Due to overcrowding in INS’s holding cells, Yousef was released pending an asylum hearing. As soon as he was released, Yousef moved to an apartment in Jersey City and made contact with the New York–based militants who helped him execute his plan.
Among his contacts was the Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind sheik based in Jersey City who allegedly assisted in masterminding attacks against what he considered to be capitalist symbols.
The plotters rented a storage locker in which they stockpiled urea, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and other ingredients for making bombs, conducted tests, and visited the World Trade Center to scout locations.
On the morning of the attack, two of the terrorists drove their rented van across the Hudson River into Manhattan and entered the WTC basement parking garage between the north tower and a hotel. They parked illegally on a ramp, lit four 20-foot fuses, got into a car and fled the scene.
At 12:17 P.M. the bomb exploded, knocking out the World Trade Center’s sprinklers, generators, elevators, public-address system, emergency-command center, and more than half of the high-voltage lines that fed electricity to the complex.
Investigators sifting through the rubble soon came across the vehicle identification number for the rental van, which had been reported stolen the day before the attack. When Mohammad Salameh, who had rented the van under his own name, came back to the Ryder dealership to ask for his $400 deposit back, the FBI arrested him. They also arrested Ahmad Ajaj, Nidal Ayyad, and Mahmoud Abouhalima, and in March 1994 a federal jury convicted the four of them for their role in the bombing. They were all sentenced to life in prison.
In January 1995, investigators in Manila, Philippines, located Yousef’s laptops and computer disks in an apartment he was occupying — and found detailed plans, code-named “Bojinka,” to detonate time-delayed bombs on 11 U.S. long-haul flights over the Pacific. Investigators were also able to tie Yousef to an explosive device that was planted on a December 11, 1994, flight from the Philippines to Tokyo. A device exploded under a Japanese man’s seat, killing him.
In February of 1995 Ramzi Yousef was finally captured in Pakistan. He received a life sentence for the Bojinka plot in addition to the 240-year sentence for the 1993 WTC bombing.
He is serving his sentence in a supermax federal prison in Colorado, where he has reportedly spent the vast majority of his time in solitary confinement. In 2013, it was reported that he was suing for more human contact after years in isolation.
Only one suspect in the 1993 WTC bombing, who fled to Iraq after being questioned and released by the FBI, remains at large.
Main photo: Ramzi Yousef [Wikimedia Commons]