by Karin Brothers
The 1993 explosion under the World Trade Center complex in New York City was the first major terrorist event on American soil. And, as many claim, this could well have paved the way for the events of September 11, 2001. The explosion along with the trials, which started soon after the September 1993 Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO, brilliantly solved many troublesome problems at one stroke for the US and its allies, Israel and Egypt. The convictions that flowed from the trials proved that the U.S. government was able to obtain terrorism convictions with virtually no evidence against defendants with no motives and no ability to have carried out the explosion. Despite the evidence that the act was facilitated by agents connected to and protected by the US government, with funds from supposedly unidentifiable sources and leadership, there has been no doubt expressed in the mainstream media about the legitimacy of the convictions. In short, the WTC 1993 bombing trials demonstrated the cynical use that the United States — with the cooperation of its courts and the media — would make of its Muslim community to carry out its new, post-Cold War geopolitical agenda.
While the cast of those accused in the events of 9/11 is relatively simple, the public became confused with the myriad of colorful, interrelated figures that the government charged in the many overlapping trials that the government tied to the World Trade Center blast. Some defendants were even tried and convicted for taking the identical role as others who had previously been convicted for that role; yet no appeals have been successful. Trials that should have been straightforward were woven by the U.S. Government into a complex web that would destroy the lives of all of those accused.
Just after noon on Friday, February 26, 1993, a bomb exploded in the parking garage under the Vista Hotel in the World Trade Center complex in New York City; six people were killed and more than a thousand injured. The FBI was staggered by the size of the explosion, which created a hole two-thirds of a football field in size with a crater six parking levels deep. The explosion not only destroyed the electrical system, the emergency control center of the towers, and the subway link, it broke open the sewage lines, which in turn destroyed the evidence that might have identified the make-up of the bomb.
While the media focused on the massive damage, and questioned who might have had the expertise to construct such a bomb, they neglected to note its most interesting feature — published the next day in a New York Times ‘ graph — the shape of the explosion. Instead of creating a circle of destruction, it caused an elliptical shape, with the two ends hitting the corners of both of the twin towers and causing structural damage to each one. It was quickly determined that the explosion had originated under the north tower on a ramp leading to the second level of the parking garage. This sophisticated placement of the bomb, which was said to have doubled its effect, showed that the perpetrators had to have had access to the blueprints of the sixteen-acre complex; a TIME magazine article of March 22, 1993, noted that Zim American/Israeli Shipping Co. had carried out a security study of the World Trade Center.
The remains of the parking garage floors were unstable and there were thousands of tons of debris that police said needed to be examined. The contents of the garage was chaotic. Hundreds of cars had been blown around "like marshmallows" ; the body of one man who had been on the floor above the explosion was later found five floors below the blast level. Officials estimated that it could take six months before they could find evidence to make any case. On Sunday, two days later, however, an agent from the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) went into the darkened ruins with his flashlight and emerged with a fragment that had a reportedly unreadable, partial Vehicle Identification Number. The FBI soon claimed that the part came from a Ryder van from a rental agency in Jersey City, N. J.; a van rented by — and reported stolen from — a Mohammed Salameh.
Salameh had filled out a police report on the stolen van the day before the explosion. He had gone to the Ryder shop a couple of times to try to get his deposit back; despite having the police report, they refused to return it. But on Wednesday, March 3rd, the Ryder shop called to tell Salameh that he could pick up his money. The next morning, the Ryder shop was staffed by FBI and surrounded by police and media who appeared when Salameh left to take a bus home. He was so uncomprehending about his arrest that a TV anchor suggested he looked like a patsy. Salameh didn’t stand a chance with the media; the gentle man was immediately dehumanized as an "Islamic fundamentalist" (before anyone asked him about his religious beliefs!) with probable terrorist connections. NYT journalist Chris Hedges called Salameh’s parents in Jordan and learned that he had called them just weeks before the explosion; they were expecting Salameh to announce his engagement to a woman he kept talking about. Hedges reported that the family was known for its integrity; all of Salameh’s siblings were respected professionals.
The Ryder rental application form led to more than Salameh, who didn’t have a telephone. The number he used led to an Israeli, Josie Hadas, who lived at the same address and has been described as Salameh’s landlady and boss. An article in the March 14, 1993 Guardian Weekly described Hadas as a probable Mossad agent. An International Herald Tribune article quoted the FBI spokesman’s response to that query as: "We wouldn’t tell you if we knew." Most of the American media — with the exception of the spring edition of Lies of Our Times, which quoted the IHT article — remained silent about that apparent association.
After Salameh’s arrest, a police officer — for no apparent reason — searched a New Jersey space rental agency for records that would tie Salameh to a rental unit. Despite having a different name on the rental, the link was made and publicized, hiding the police role. Police immediately declared that the contents of this rental space was bombmaking material and destroyed it "for security reasons" — although some of it would not explode! Salameh agreed that he had been working there — police identified 20 sets of fingerprints on the unit — but claimed that they had been mixing shampoo, not explosives. Chemists quoted by the NYT acknowledged that chemicals that had been ordered for that locker were commonly-used cleaning agents.
Salameh’s court- appointed lawyer, Robert Precht, said Salameh could not understand why he was arrested and hoped for a fast trial so he could get out and get on with his life.
It later emerged that Salameh’s arrest may not really have been connected to any Ryder VIN. Salameh was one of a group of Muslims who had first been under FBI surveillance in 1989 when taking target practice provided by U.S. military agent Ali Mohammed to aid the US effort in Afghanistan. Surveillance continued from 1990 with FBI — and apparently Mossad — surveillance of the mosques led by the famous Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman. The surveillance was confirmed after the 1993 explosion, when Benjamin Begin, the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Menacham Begin, wrote in the newsletter Israel Today that Rahman’s mosques had been infiltrated by the Mossad and the FBI "for several years."
Sheikh Rahman was a blind firebrand who was seen by many as an Egyptian Ayatollah Khomeini, a possible religious replacement to what many regarded as Mubarak’s draconian dictatorship. Rahman was acquitted of the charge of incitement in the 1982 death of Anwar Sadat, but forced to leave Egypt. He went to Afghanistan, where he aided the US recruitment of anti-Soviet mujihadeen and was even on the CIA payroll. When Rahman applied to move to the US , it was a CIA officer who ensured that he was accepted in 1990 despite being on their "terror watch" list. Rahman quickly settled around New York City and established himself in two mosques. While he was interested in the overthrow of the Soviets in Afghanistan, his main aim in life was to return to Egypt after a hoped-for overthrow of Mubarak. He was a grateful resident of the US and uninterested in other issues such as the occupation of Palestine.
When Sheik Rahman moved to the United States, Emad Salem, a Colonel in Egyptian intelligence with expertise in bombmaking, left Egypt for an assignment in New York City. He quickly became a member of Rahman’s circle.
The paths of these two Egyptians crossed publicly in 1991, at the murder trial for the death of the notorious Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane, a vocal supporter of the UN war on Vietnam, a one-time Member of the Israeli Knesset, and the publicly-racist founder of terrorist organizations including the Jewish Defense League — was a man of violence with connections to the FBI and the Israeli Mossad. His terrorism was used to force the Soviet Union to allow the immigration of what became over one million Soviet Jews and their families to Israel. Kahane, a man with many enemies, was shot after a press conference that he called in November 1990. One of Sheikh Rahman’s followers, El Sayid Nosair, was accused of the murder but, represented by the famous lawyer William Kunstler, found guilty only on a gun possession charge. Despite the fact that the parties to the trial rejected the possibility of any conspiracy in Kahane’s death, an conspiracy investigation was launched just two weeks after the Feb. 26th WTC explosion. The FBI would later admit that Rahman’s mosque had been under surveillance by the 1991 trial, and that they paid Emad Salem over one million dollars to entrap members of the mosques including Rahman himself.
Mohammed Salameh’s arrest was followed by others. The four that would stand trial in this first case, known as "WTC I", were: a grocery clerk "driver" (Salameh, who was notoriously unable to drive!), his acquaintance, cabbie "mastermind" (Mahmud Abouhalima), Salameh’s friend, a newlywed chemical engineer "bomb maker" (Nidal Ayyad) and Ahmad Ajaj, a resident of Texas who had just been released in early March from nine months in prison for a passport violation. What most had in common, despite being citizens of various countries, was Palestinian descent. An arrest warrant was also issued for Ramzi Yousef in absentia.
Ramzi Yousef and Ahmad Ajaj, who had been living in Texas and had applied for political asylum in the US, arrived in the US from Pakistan on September 1, 1992 with false passports. Ajaj, who had briefly left the US to upgrade his professional abilities, realized after meeting with a US consular official that he would forfeit his application if he traveled on his own passport. When he was arrested and jailed, jihadi manuals in his possession — which he claimed were not his own — were permanently confiscated despite court orders that demanded their return. An immigration officer also wanted to arrest Yousef, but was forced by INS boss Mark Cozine to allow him into the country. Yousef almost immediately became the roommate of Mohammed Salameh, who had just taken up residence with the Israeli Josie Hadas. The plot was already underway at that time.
This WTC I case was just getting organized for a September trial, when on June 24, 1993, another terrorism story hit the headlines. Emad Salem called the FBI to arrest eight (other) members of Sheikh Rahman’s mosques who he claimed were assembling bombs to be used at various New York City landmarks. The accused denied the charges that there had been any intent to cause American damage and believed that they had been set up by the agent provocateur. Rahman’s arrest soon followed; he was charged with being the leader of a "seditious conspiracy" that started with the murder of Rabbi Kahane and ended with the "bomb making assembly line." The broad, rarely-used charge offered the government a low standard of proof which could draw in a large number of people who did not need to have any particular understanding or involvement in any criminal activity. Fifteen men initially stood trial in this second, "WTC II" case, along with the four from the WTC I trial who were named as "unindicted co-conspirators", a term that implicated them further before their own trial. Although the government tried to tie the June arrests to the WTC explosion, and even used the term " WTC II" for that trial, they excluded the WTC blast from the actual conspiracy charges.
Something extraordinary happened in the course of these arrests. The FBI had instructed Salem to use a tape recorder to entrap people. They got more than they bargained for, when it became apparent that Salem had also been taping his conversations with his FBI handlers. These incriminating tapes were among those entered into state’s evidence for the WTC II trial; they were not allowed to be used for the WTC I trial. Stunning exchanges from these tapes hit the New York Times, such as Salem asking his FBI handler Nancy Floyd and her boss John Anticev why the FBI provided real explosives for the WTC bomb rather than the agreed-on substitute. Their answers acknowledged that fact. The NYT published these conversations as samples of the tapes’ embarrassing accounts showing how the FBI did business. When the WTC I defendants tried to use these tapes to appeal their convictions, Judge Duffy rejected it on the grounds that their lawyers should have known about them.
The World Trade Center trials provide depressing accounts of the virtual absence of justice there is for Muslims accused of terrorism. The WTC I trial was a shocking case in point; there was virtually no evidence against any of the four defendants, who had neither the motive nor the ability to carry out such an explosion (and had alibis!). Salameh’s court-appointed lawyer, Robert Precht, wrote a book called Defending Mohammed, acknowledging that unfortunate truth. Precht not only admitted his abysmal incompetence and Judge Kevin Duffy’s determination to get guilty verdicts (which Precht was too fearful to expose in court, eliminating the possibility of an appeal), but inadvertently displayed his own profound Islamophobia and continued misunderstanding of the political dimensions of the case. The WTC I trial was filled with examples of judicial bias, prejudice and fear- mongering. The court did not permit the experienced lawyers arranged by William Kunstler to defend the four and refused to even provide expenses to the inexperienced, pro-bono lawyers. Judge Duffy’s bias was evident from the first days, when he placed an extraordinary penalty on leaks but only applied it to the defense lawyers so they could not counter the anonymous, prejudicial government leaks that poisoned the public perception of the accused. The New York venue was not permitted to be changed (as it was in the Oklahoma bombing trial), and the non-sequestered jury could have seen the inflammatory articles — perfectly timed at key points of the trial — from a media that assumed their guilt. The court hid the identities of a dozen or so of the accomplices (such as initially, Abdul Yassin) who had facilitated the bombing operation; the FBI bribed a witness who they primed to help them, and threatened witnesses away who could have helped the defendants. The prosecution closed with an FBI witness who provided dramatic evidence on the make-up of the bomb that was known to be false. The origin of the mysterious funding was never brought up; neither were the tapes that incriminated the FBI in providing the explosives. The prosecution’s case closed by challenging the jury’s patriotism to find the defendants guilty.
When the four WTC I defendants received guilty verdicts with 260 year sentences (along with demands for over a quarter billion dollars each to keep them from selling accounts of their stories), it became virtually impossible for the subsequent defendants to be found innocent. William Kunstler and his associates wanted to represent defendants in both WTC I and II trials, but they were blocked by both judges Kevin Duffy and Michael Mukasey (now Attorney General), forcing the defendants to find less competent lawyers who faced increasingly impossible challenges. Kunstler unfortunately died soon after stating his intention to appeal certain convictions.
After the successful WTC II conspiracy conviction under Judge Mukasey, the Kahane murder trial was reopened and Nosair was convicted of Kahane’s death. Ramzi Yousef was convicted in the third WTC trial as the third "mastermind" — despite not even knowing Rahman, who was named as the second "mastermind"! Both Salameh and Ismoil Eyad received 260 year sentences for being "the driver"!
Interestingly, at the end of each of these trials, the media would ask where the $100,000 in funding had come from (it was apparently beyond the ability of the US to determine its origin), who ultimately directed the bombing operation and what the motives could possibly have been for those convicted. While the supposed motive had been Palestinian anger at the US support for Israel, this rationale did not hold up either for those accused or given the context of the ongoing peace talks at that time, which the US had forced Israel to hold with the grateful Palestinians.
After the events of 9/11, some have claimed that both World Trade Center attacks were connected to Osama bin Laden, with the link through Ramzi Yousef’s uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. While KSM recently took responsibility for the 1993 WTC explosion, along with dozens of other attacks, this admission was after years of horrific torture and many of these admissions have been shown to be not only unlikely but impossible. As an apparent CIA asset, however, KSM could well have been responsible for Yousef’s involvement, although it is clear from the timing of Yousef’s entry to the US that the operation was already under way when he arrived. Yousef’s subsequent attempts at bombmaking are evidence that he did not have the competence to carry out the World Trade Center bombing but would have been flattered to take responsibility for it.
The 1993 WTC explosion had to be regarded as a highly successful operation from all government viewpoints. The US, which had been looking for an enemy to replace the Soviet Union, now had "Islamic fundamentalists" to require security funding. They were also able to establish new "anti-terror" legislation that beefed up police powers at the expense of civil liberties. Egypt got rid of a popular cleric who many regarded as a threat to President Mubarak. American public support for Israel, which was diminishing during the prolonged peace negotiations, soared; sympathy for Palestinians, along with acceptance of Muslims, plummeted. New York City even benefited from new money flowing into it.
It could well have been the success of the first attack on the World Trade Center that encouraged the second.