In the afternoon of February 26, 1993, a 1,200-pound bomb exploded in the basement level of 2 World Trade Center, killing six people, and injuring more than a thousand. The New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, an investigative task force between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New York Police Department (NYPD) set up a command center to begin sifting through tons of debris to find evidence of what happened. The Task Force scoured the streets of New York City for Islamic fundamentalists for months and, while they had hunches, nothing was definitive.
The six victims of the bombing were John DiGiovanni, Stephen Knapp, Wilfredo Mercado, Robert Kirkpatrick, William Macko, and Monica Rodriguez Smith
The FBI led the case with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), NYPD, and the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). Some 700 FBI agents teamed up worldwide, quickly covering ground, but the key piece of evidence wasn’t far from the bomb site. Agents discovered a chunk of debris in the rubble – part of a vehicle chassis with a vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN was linked to a van reported stolen the day before the attack. On March 4th, an FBI SWAT team made the arrest of the man who had rented the vehicle while he tried to obtain the $400 security deposit from the rental company.
Mohammad Salameh, the man arrested, still had the receipt from the rental van, from which they found bomb residue confirming their suspicions, and an address to his New Jersey apartment. There, investigators found bomb making materials and the lab where the bomb was built, allegedly by Abdul Yasin, who is still on the run. Further clues and deeper searches led investigators to three more individuals: Nidal Ayyad, Mahmoud Abouhalima, and Ahmed Ajaj, who were all arrested for their involvement. The leader, suspected of planning the entire operation, managed to escape on a plane bound for Karachi, Pakistan. All three men who were arrested, along with Salameh, were sentenced to life in prison.
The DSS had agents in over 200 offices worldwide and became more involved with the investigation. A $2 million reward was offered by the Department of State for information leading to the arrest of the now-known leader, Ramzi Yousef, a deal too enticing to for some to pass up. Nearly two years after the bombing, an informant living in Karachi approached the residence of a U.S. diplomat about the whereabouts of Yousef. DSS agents alerted local authorities before the raid on Yousef’s hotel room. He was escorted back to the United States to await trial. Yousef, along with the known driver of the rental van, Eyad Ismoil, who was arrested in Jordan months later in 1995, were tried and convicted in September 1997 and sentenced to life in prison.
Less than 5 years after the attack, six of the seven alleged men involved in the bombing of the World Trade Center were captured and are currently serving life sentences. During this time, architect Ramzi Yousef admitted that the purpose of the bombing was to topple one building into the other, resulting in the collapse of both. Though their plan failed, but it turned out to be a dress rehearsal for the September 11th attacks, which were formulated by Yousef’s uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Bomb technician jackets donated to the National Law Enforcement Museum by William Matens (center) of the FBI investigative team for the 1993 WTC.
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