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December 2, 2002
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March 8, 1993
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A murderous explosion in the heart of New York City raises the specter of terrorism in America and sets off a feverish hunt for the bomber Nowd I KP ~WNMRIKI 0~ Nm;rg I AMERICANS WERE NOT ACCUSTOMED to what so much of the world had already grown weary of: the sud- den, deafening explosion of a car bomb, a hail of glass and debris, the screams of innocent victims fol- lowed by the wailing sirens of ambulances. Terrorism seemed like something that hap- pened somewhere else-and somewhere else a safe distance over the horizon. And then last week, in an instant, the World Trade Center in New York City be- came ground zero. At 12:18 on a snowy Friday afternoon, a massive explosion rocked the foundation of the Twin Towers of the Trade Center in I Ibuild- 25, a se 2003/01/17: CIA-R explosion blew a 'crater 0- ft. by 100 ft. Parking Le (60 m by 30 m), ?i (55 m) hole in above ft. thewall 9 the PATH eve! 3 station, and collapsed the 1 station's TIMF Graphic by Nigel Holmes. Source: A P ings in the world and a magnet for 100,000 workers and visitors each day. The bomb was positioned to wreak maximum dam- age to the infrastructure of the building and the commuter networks below. And the landmark target near Wall Street seemed chosen with a fine sense for the symbols of the late 20th century. If the ex- plosion, which killed five people and in- jured more than 1,000, turns out to be the work of terrorists, it will be a sharp re- minder that the world is still a dangerous place. And that the dangers can come home. Against that threat, the relevant intelli- gence agencies mobilized quickly. The news from New York sent the FBI and other federal agencies to Code Red, their highest state of readiness. The FBI activated its Joint Terrorist Task Force, and the CIA turned up the heat at its Counterterrorist Center in Langley, Virginia, a conglomer- ate of psychiatrists, explosives experts and hostage negotiators. Meanwhile, the Bu- reau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the agency responsible for investigating the loss and theft of explosives, mobilized its 13-member National Response Team held on 24-hour call in the New York area. They were joined by bureau chemists from head- quarters in Rockville, Maryland. Until it is firmly concluded that a ter- rorist was responsible, the New York City police department is in charge, and it was the N.Y.P.D. that took the lead in sifting through the 19 telephoned claims of "cred- it" that were received in the first 24 hours. Though none came in before the blast-the earliest followed it by an hour, well after the first news reports-a few were intrigu- ing. Many of the calls were made by people claiming to be affiliated with Balkan groups, including one made by a caller in Europe who said he represented the Black Hand, a Serbian extremist organization last active about 10 years ago. According to terrorism expert Xavier Raufer, Serbian nationalists have threatened terrorist re- prisals against West European countries for interference in the region. There were immediate suspicions that Bill Clinton's decision . last week to air- drop relief supplies over Bosnia-a step that had seemed like a low-risk humani- Scores of emergency vehicles, Including many from nearby cities, sped to the scene to help rescue the injured tarian gesture-might have been an- swered in thunder by the Serbs. Still, ille Bosnian hypothesis was by no means the only one. A caller from the West Coast credited the Iranian Revolutionary Guard; an anonymous tipster blamed Jewish ex- tremist groups. Because of their trouble getting to the "blast seat" in the dangerously crumbling underground garage, investigators could not even confirm to their complete satisfac- tion what had caused the explosion. But its size and intense heat suggested a bomb, as did traces of nitrate found at the edges of TIME Approved For Release 2003/01/17 : lA MARCH 27 -00789R003900260011-0 F600'h1-suers help one of ttie Injured; hundreds suffered cuts and smoke inhalation Deshane, 25, was on the 105th floor when he felt the explo- sion. "All the computers shut down, then all the phones shut down," he said. "Then all of a sudden we saw smoke every- where." He ran to hit the fire- emergency button. "Nothing happened." In a panic, some people broke windows to admit air, sending daggers of glass raining onto the crowds below and creating a chimney effect that drew smoke upward even more quickly. Four of the dead were Port Authority workers, whose of- fices and locker rooms were lo- cated on the lower levels that sustained the worst damage. More than 24 hours after the blast, two other workers were still missing. But the toll was less severe than first feared. Though some suffered major injuries, most of the victims the blast crater. Until they could determine otherwise, informed experts assumed that hundreds of pounds of high explosives had been packed into a. car or van that was left at a four-level underground parking ga- rage. The garage is situated below the Trade Center plaza and near a station of the PATH commuter subway line that links Manhattan and New Jersey. The Trade Center is not a surprising target. In the early 1970s CIA agents com- piled a list of potentially vulnerable sites that they believed might make high-value terrorist strike points. Near the top of that list, former deputy CIA director Bobby In- man told TIME, was the World Trade Center. "When the peo- ple responsible for anticipat- ing terrorist attacks began to run scenarios on this kind of thing, this was one of the places." Why? "Because of the number of victims who would be involved," said Inman. The information raises questions about what kind of extra pre- caution the Port Authority might have taken in light of the building's tantalizing vulnerability. The bomb blew out a crater 200 ft. by 100 ft. wide and five stories deep. Floors collapsed onto one another with an im- pact that caused the ceiling of the PATH station nearby to come crashing down, shower- ing chunks of concrete onto commuters waiting on the platform. In the same mo- ment, the 110-story Twin Towers swayed visibly as the force of the blast shuddered upward. Lobby windows exploded onto the plaza and marble slabs fell from the walls. As fractured steam pipes launched jets of hot mist into the air, the first vic- tims stumbled out of the buildings, blood- ied and in shock. Fires quickly broke out, launching thick, acrid smoke up hundreds of stair- wells and elevator banks. In both towers the electricity went out, including emer- gency backup systems. Even on the high- est floors, workers were stunned by the speed at which smoke flew upward. David were treated for smoke inhalation or mi- nor burns. In a meeting late Friday evening, the state and federal agencies involved in the case hammered out a protocol to govern the inquiry. The first priority was to stabi- lize the pillars that hold up the Vista Hotel on the Trade Center plaza and which were supported in turn by the garage floors that were ripped away in the blast. Before in- vestigators can safely enter the blast site, workers must buttress the dangerous sag- ging remnants of the garage and lay a web of tubular steel beams across the crater left by the bomb. It may be days before in- POWERFUL TOOLS OF DESTRUCTION WHEN INVESTIGATORS DIG THROUGH THREE FLOORS OF RUBBLE TO REACH THE "BLAST SEAT," they will begin to find the telltale traces-detonator fragments, chemical residue, heat indifa-_ tors-that point toward a specific explosive compound. Among the possibilities: SEMTEX This yellowish plastic explosive, one-third more powerful than an equivalent amount of TNT, has a texture like putty; it can be molded into almost any shape. It is also easy to transport. "You can drop it, you can throw it against a wall, you can stomp on it. It won't go off" without a detonator, says terrorism expert Robert Phillips. Composed in equal parts of RDx and PETN, both high explosives, Semtex was manufactured in Czechoslovakia., In 1990, Prague officials vowed to enforce an export ban; by then 1,000 tons had been shipped to Libya. C-4 A relative of Semtex, this odorless, claylike high explosive is made in the U.S. and fa- vored by NATO armies as well as by mining companies. Much like Semtex, C-4 converts to a gaseous state at very high velocity, sending forth shock waves at 26,400 ft. per sec. TNT About twice as powerful as common dynamites but lower in explosive velocity than the plastics, trinitrotoluene is made of nitric acid, sulfuric acid and toluene. This toxic substance, typically bundled in Y2-lb. and 1-lb. sticks, is commonly available in the U.S. AMMONIUM NITRATE When used for benign purposes, this is known simply as fertilizer. But when mixed with diesel fuel and set off, it has a detonation velocity of 3,600 ft. per sec. Y 993 Approved For Release 2003/01/17 : 90'96-00789R003900260011-0 vestigators cai P PMe#t o{I ll se 2003/01/17 : CIA-RDP96-00789R003900260011-0 tons of debris for clues to the bomber. ,!' Then the hard work begins. Once they enter the damaged area, investigators will face the tedious process of finding chemical traces and fragments of the ve- hicle to help identify the type of bomb. Most well-known terrorist groups have their own "signatures"-characteristic explosive compounds, detonators and even device designs. If investigators find enough clues, "they can detect who made this particular bomb," says Professor Robert Phillips, an expert in terrorism at the University of Connecticut. "They're able to detect even individual bomb- makers' ways of doing things, of placing wires, of placing fuses, how they put the whole thing together. There aren't lots of people in the world who do this well." At the top of Phillips' suspect list are Middle Eastern and Balkan terrorists. Says Phil- lips: "The car bomb is very much the sig- nature of these groups." CCORDING TO INMAN, THE sheer difficulty of constructing A bombs of this nature almost rules out an American-made device. "There hasn't been a do- mestic development of the kind of skills that are needed for this, as there has been in Northern Ireland or the Middle East," says Inman. Outside experts liken the task of iden- tifying the Trade Center bomb to the in- quiry into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, in which debris was scattered for miles. Investigators in that case drew a life-size diagram of the plane on a ware- house floor, then set about reconstruct- ing it piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle. From that they could determine where in the plane's body the blast occurred, be- cause "the metal would be bent to follow the contours of the vectors of the explo- sion," says Phillips. Though the FBI does not yet know whether enough evidence is left to piece together the car bomb it believes was there, its experts plan to move large quan- tities of debris to a secure location and ex- amine it with microscopic care. They will search for tiny remnants that don't really belong at the scene-that are not, say, part of a car's headlights or dashboard. Items as small as a bit of wire can point to wheth- er a timing device was used. The whole area will also be examined for chemical residue, which will help in determining what kind of explosive was used. In car bombings, bits of explosive matter are often found in the nooks and crannies of what is left of the auto's trunk lid. Nitrate, traces of which were found in the Trade Center crater, is the most basic component of most explosive mixtures. The next step is to find traces of chemi- cals that maybe unique to a certain com- pound, like potassium or ammonium, WHO COULD HAVE DONE IT THE BOMBING OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER COULD TURN OUT TO BE THE WORK OF none other than a psychotic, mad-as-hell American-a live version of the Holly- wood revenge fantasy. But many aspects of the bomb, including its placement and force, carry the mark of more sophisticated hands. Experts who study terrorists around the world have begun to speculate about several groups: THE BALKAN FACTIONS Of the 19 callers who took responsibility for the bomb- ing, at least one said he spoke for an organization calling itself the Serbian Libera- tion Front. Another claimed to represent Croatian militants. Still another called in the name of Bosnian Muslims. The possibility of a Balkan connection was made more tantalizing by the fact that a bomb was defused on Friday near the U.S. em- bassy in the Croatian capital of Zagreb. Most of the Balkan nationalities have a history of marrying politics with vio- lence. It was the murder of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife in Saraje- vo by a Serbian youth that set off World War I. And according to a French expert on the Balkans, Xavier Raufer, the terrorist techniques that the Palestinians and the Lebanese made notorious in the past two decades-bombings, kidnappings, hijackings-were virtually invented by Balkan groups. "These guys make Abu Nidal look like Mother Teresa," he says. Militants seeking independence for Croatia have struck inside the U.S. in the past. In December 1975 Croatian nationalists were suspected of planting a bomb in a luggage locker at La Guardia Airport, killing 11 people and injuring 75. Less than a year later, Croats hijacked a TWA jet traveling from New York City to Chi- cago and eventually diverted it to Paris. As part of that operation, the group also planted a bomb at Grand Central Terminal, which killed a police officer who tried to defuse it. In June 1980 Croatian "freedom fighters" detonated a bomb in- side the museum at the Statue of Liberty, but no one was injured. All told, Croats committed more than 20 acts of terror in the U.S. from 1976 through 1980. Croatia has achieved a shaky independence since then, albeit one marred by episodes of urban shelling by Serb guerrillas. The Croats could conceivably have been motivated to carry out the attack hoping the Serbs would be blamed. But the Serbs have their own reason for staging the bombing-or for doing it and hoping the Croats would be blamed. The announcement this week that the U.S. would soon start sending relief flights over Bosnia made it just as plausible that the blast might be a response by Serbs to a perceived tilt against their side. Six months ago, Serbian nationalists threatened to bomb Western's Europe's nuclear facilities if its governments intervened militarily in the former Yugoslavia. The Bosnian Muslims too have reason to play a part in the Balkan blame game. They have been known to bomb their own people in Bosnia, hoping the Serbs and the Croats would be held responsible and Western allies would inter- vene on their side. But they are also angry at the Clinton Administration for re- fusing to lift an arms embargo despite earlier pledges to do so. PALESTINIAN FACTIONS An extremist group called Hamas has been virulently opposed to the current Middle East peace talks, and last week's bombing could have been an attempt to torpedo the negotiations before they resume next month. In addition, it was Hamas supporters who made up most of the 400 or so Palestinians whom Israel expelled late last year and who now languish in the no- man's-land between the Israeli and Lebanese lines. IRAN, IRAQ, LIBYA February was the second anniversary of the U.S.-led ground attack against Iraq; setting off a bomb at the center of America's largest city could have been Iraq's way of marking the date. But since Clinton took office, Iraq has been makingconciliatorynoises, as has another of the U.S.'s longtime enemies, Iran. How- ever, there is no shortage of fundamentalist groups, including the Iranian-backed Hizballah, that might seek to punish the nation they regard as "the Great Satan." RUSSIAN NATIONALISTS Long-shot culprits to be sure, Russian nationalists who want to install a reactionary, law-and-order regime in Moscow have blamed much of their country's troubles-from corruption to economic chaos and crime-on Western, and mainly U.S., influence. They have stepped up their at- tacks on Boris Yeltsin in recent months, forcing him to distance himself from free marketeers and from his Western-oriented diplomacy. But so far he has survived their challenges. In frustration, his enemies might have sought expres- sion on American soil.-Reported by William Mader/London and Thomas A. Sancton/Parts TIME, MARCH 8, 1993 33 Approved For Release 2003/01/17 : CIA-RDP96-00789R003900260011-0 which would identify the explosive far more precisely. Experts will also try to determine the velocity of the shock waves emanating from the blast. "Different compounds ex- plode at different speeds," says Brian Jen- kins, senior managing director for Kroll Associates, an international investigating firm. "You can tell by examining the metal that was torn apart. Was it a big explosion that moved a lot of things, or was it a high- velocity explosion that rent metal?" So- phisticated plastic explosives tend to shred metal and pulverize concrete, while common substances like dynamite tend to knock walls over and push vehicles around. Once investigators identify the substance, they will try to determine whether it was a homemade explosive, one made from commercially available materi- al or a product of limited availability, like a military-grade explosive. If the material is common, the trail may be colder than if it is a closely monitored substance. NITIAL SPECULATION IN THIS CASE centers upon plastic explosives like Semtex, the lethal weapon of choice for many terrorists because it is safe to handle and undetectable by sniffer dogs or X-ray inspection. A small amount hidden in a portable radio blew Pan Am Flight 103 out of the sky in 1988. Semtex was produced in quantity under the communist govern- ment of Czechoslovakia; while the post- communist Czech Republic has discontin- ued production, large quantities remain in the hands of terrorist gangs that obtained them illicitly. Three years ago, Czechoslo- vak President Vaclav Havel estimated that "world terrorism has supplies of Semtex to last 150 years." Until last week, federal agents were confident that terrorist groups contemplat- ing action on American soil would have considerable difficulty smuggling in enough high explosives to manufacture a sizable car bomb. Could they have obtained them in the U.S.? Although high explosives are widely used in the construction indus- try, they are monitored. 7ptppIaftr Police cordoned off the entrance to the bombed-out garag , where the explosion left a gaping chasm close contacts with manufacturers and dealers, while sales are tightly regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire- arms. Though the Pentagon possesses its own plastic explosive, a Semtex relative called C-4, a would-be terrorist would have to steal it from a military facility-a theft that would probably be detected. Other ex- plosives might be simpler to accumulate, however, like ammonium nitrate, an ordi- nary component of fertilizer that has been a favorite of the Irish Republican Army. Experts speculate that the bomb may have consisted of several hundred pounds of high explosives. The bomber may have known that because the device would be detonated in the reinforced enclosure of a garage, it would deliver more bang for the buck. An enclosed area can double the "shock wave" value of an explosion. "When you have a contained explosion, the blast doesn't vent," says Phil Hough, president of International Explosives Dis- posal (USA). "Effectively the building be- comes part of the bomb." Says Phillips: "The garage was the perfect location be- cause of both the damage to the upper floors [with smoke] and structural dam- age the bomb would cause at the base." Once more is known about the meth- ods and materials of the bomber, federal agencies can compare them with the de- tails of past bombings that are stored on its computer data base. There is also a massive job ahead of identifying and inter- viewing witnesses who may have seen something in the parking garage or the building. And the FBI is intensifying sur- veillance of possible terrorist groups and foreign agents suspected of involvement in the bombing. The bureau has also infil- trated potential terrorist groups in this country, as the CIA has done overseas. Those contacts can now be used to gather leads. "You're going to have to depend on informants," says former CIA official Da- vid Whipple. "And you almost always Investigators will look at every possi- ble motive, from Balkan nationalism to employee dissatisfaction at the Trade Cen- ter. "You can't take just one track, be- cause you come to dead ends and you've lost time," says an FBI official. "You have to investigate multiple tracks at the same time." Eventually, with luck, the pieces start coming together. "Some of it is mis- information, some of it is disinformation," says Jenkins, "and some small portion is information. You have to sort all that out. In the ideal situation, these paths begin to converge. You get a chain of physical evi- dence that takes you all the way from the debris back to the perpetrator." Will the perpetrator be carrying a flag? Says former CIA Director Robert Gates: "It's always been a possibility that, as eth- nic conflicts spread, the losers might try to exact some sort of price, to attract atten- tion to their cause." But it was by no means certain last week that the Trade Center bombing was an act of political ter- rorism. During the Gulf War, a bomb found on a chemical storage tank in Vir- ginia Instantly raised an alarm. The cul- hoped to make an insurance-fraud fire look like the work of Iraqis. Yet even before the answers were in as to who had planted the bomb, a new question-whether a season of terrorism might begin in the U.S.-had been raised. In the wake of the explosion, bomb threats forced the evacuation of the Em- pire State Building and Newark airport. Both threats were false, but no one was ready to dismiss the likelihood of another assault. Around the country, airports and other public facilities stepped up securi- ty. The blast was a reminder of the vul- nerability of most American office build- ings, shopping malls, airports and railway stations. Even the U.S. govern- ment has let its guard down since the mid-1980s, when American installations were on constant alert and concrete bar- riers were set up around many govern- ment buildings in Washington. "International terrorism in the '80s was fundamentally fueled by the cold war," says Phillips, "and you can almost date the diminution of that terrorism with Gorbachev's ascension to power." But the end of communism has helped ignite the fires of nationalism in regions like the Bal- kans, emboldening other fanatical groups to sow the kind of trouble once created by Soviet and East bloc terrorists. As the only remaining superpower, the U.S. can find itself the target of resent- ments of players on all sides who are seek- ing American involvement or trying to fend it off. Massive cItr bombs have be- come familiar as political weapons in the Middle East and Europe. But it would rep- resent a quantum leap in terrorist capabil- ities-and brazenness-to assemble one in the U.S. Middle East terror networks, for one, have never shown themselves to be capable of that or interested in doing so, preferring to concentrate their attacks on Westerners in Europe, where they have found it easier to operate. Whoever the bomber was, he made an indelible statement. On top of the deaths and injuries, the bomb's damage to the heart of New York City's financial district will bring heavy costs. Repairs and resto- ration alone will cost the Port Authority as much as $100 million, according to one es- timate. But the disruption to business will be even worse, because the Port Authority will have to close the giant complex for at least several days for structural and safety work. The towers, which represent about 10% of all the office space in Manhattan's financial district, are so large that they have two zip codes. Perhaps the most unsettling possibili- ty is that the hand behind the blast will never reveal itself and never be discovered by anyone else. Though two Libyan intelli- gence agents were indicted in the downing of Pan Am 103, they have never been brought to trial, and no nation or group ever came forward to take responsibility. Just blocks from the World Trade Center, the walls of the Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. are still scarred from the effects of a bomb that was hidden in a horse-drawn wagon on Sept. 16,1920. When it exploded into a lunchtime crowd, 40 people died and 200 were injured. The mystery of the blast was never cleared up. The investiga- tors who have begun scratching through the rubble of the Trade Center are deter- mined that this flash of terror will not go unsolved. -Reported by Edward Barnes, Sophfronla Scott Gregory/New York and Mkhael Duffy, Jay Peterzell/Washington Approved For Release 2003/01/17: IC AC RbP9 35 6-00789R003900260011-0