I’ve spent most of today reading and reflecting on my education over the last decade. I don’t remember the first time I heard the word Al Qaeda. I don’t remember the first time I ever heard the name Osama bin Laden. I do remember where I was on September 11, 2001. I had been up most of the night taking care of trauma patients and I was sleeping in the morning. The phone rang and it was my mother-in-law. She is and was the Sentinel. She was always scanning the news. She called to tell us to turn on the TV. She said something terrible happened in New York. I thought she was crazy and misunderstood what she had seen. I handed the phone to my wife as I grabbed the remote control and turned on the television.
I’m sure over the next several days that there’s going to be lots of blogs and television shows which are going to reflect on what has happened in the last 10 years. The New York Times is already started the series on 9/11. I just want to revisit some of the information and data that we’ve learned over the last 10 years. I’m not going to spend much time talking about the Patriot Act and how it has been abused over the last decade. I’m not going to talk about civil liberties and how Republicans have taken advantage of 9/11. I’m sure that these topics will be adequately covered by many others in the blogosphere.
In my opinion, the key to understanding the failure of 9/11 lies in the arrest and interrogation of Ramzi Yousef. Ramzi Yousef was the mastermind behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Once he was captured, authorities began to see into the mind of a Muslim extremist. Ramzi Yousef was associated with Osama bin Laden. The uncle of Ramzi Yousef was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. After escaping the country in 1993, Ramzi Yousef attempted an assassination of Benazir Bhutto in the summer of 1993. He then attempted to bomb an Israeli embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. These attempts failed. Yousef, a Sunni Muslim, bombed a Shiite holy site in Iran in June of 1994. He then made his way to Malaysia, where he began to plot the Bojinka plan (also known as the Manila plot). He and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed planned to blow up 12 US airliners as they flew over the Pacific Ocean. As they were preparing their 12 bombs, a fire broke out in Yousef’s apartment. One thing led to another and authorities got a treasure’s trove of information from his apartment.
At the very least, authorities have an opportunity to see what one man was capable of doing around the world. The mistake that was made was that everyone assumed that this was just one man and not a movement. Only a few in the intelligence community understood that he was one of many. It wasn’t until 1998, the embassy bombings, that many in the United States began to take notice that this was a serious threat. For some, it took until 2000, the USS Cole bombing before they believed that Al Qaeda would stop at nothing.
Ramzi Yoursef is currently in a maximum-security prison in Colorado.
How did you first become aware of Al Qaeda or Bin Laden or the fact that we were a serious target? Where were you 10 years ago?
More tomorrow on 9/11 and Al Qaeda.