The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden, and the Future of Terrorismby Simon Reeve
Simon Reeve is a journalist and writer. He worked for The Sunday Times for five years before leaving to finish co-writing The Millennium Bomb, published in 1996. He has since contributed to books on corruption, organized crime and terrorism, and has written investigative feature articles for publications ranging from Time magazine to Esquire. He lives in London.
During research for The New Jackals Reeve has eaten ice cream sorbet with
Benazir Bhutto, spent hours sitting in stairwells on a London housing
waiting for a former Lebanese smuggler, met American intelligence
in suburban burger bars and a Chinese restaurant, and been followed by
agents from two different countries during meetings with a renegade Asian
Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the 'Afghan Arabs' have "dominated international terrorism as it relates to the United States and Europe [in the 1990s]. At the international level the only terrorist apparatus that the United States has had to deal with over the past several years has been Osama bin Laden and before that Ramzi Yousef." Oliver 'Buck' Revell, former Deputy Director of the FBI.
"Ramzi Yousef is an evil genius." Senior Pakistani intelligence officer.
"Yousef was a pretty unique person. He liked the bar scene, he liked women, he liked moving around. Yousef was very good. He was well trained, very clever. He'll certainly be ranked right up there with the all-timers. Even to this day, he is a very shadowy figure that we really don't know that much about, even after all that's been done and all that's been investigated on him." Neil Herman, the FBI Supervisory Special Agent who led the New York Joint Terrorist Task Force during the hunt for Yousef.
"Yes, I am a terrorist, and I'm proud of it." Ramzi Yousef.
"In the past, we were fighting terrorists with an organisational structure and some attainable goal like land or the release of political prisoners. But Ramzi Yousef is the new breed, who are more difficult and hazardous. They want nothing less than the overthrow of the West, and since that's not going to happen, they just want to punish - the more casualties the better." Oliver 'Buck' Revell, former Deputy Director of the FBI.
"He's a cold-blooded terrorist. He doesn't care who he kills. He may be the most dangerous man in the world." Superintendent Samuel Pagdilao of the Philippines National Police describing Yousef.
"One man said to me 'remember there will only be those who believe and those who will die. There will only be the dead and the believers'." Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan.
"If Russia can be destroyed, the United States can also be beheaded." Osama bin Laden.
"In my personal view [Osama bin Laden] is very much interested in obtaining weapons of mass destruction and he has the money to pay for them. It's certainly a credible threat." Peter Probst, Pentagon terrorism expert.
"We don't consider it a crime if we tried to have nuclear, chemical, biological weapons. If I have indeed acquired these weapons, then I thank God for enabling me to do so." Osama bin Laden.
"Terrorism is changing. We expect biological attacks in the future." Marvin Cetron, author of the Pentagon's secret Terror 2000 investigation.
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Read an Excerpt
The Twin TowersThe Lincoln's window lowered again to let in the icy air, and Abouhalima handed Moosh a $50 note — $18 worth of petrol for the van and around $13 for the car. Abouhalima took the change, gave Moosh a $2 tip, then Yousef jumped back into the van and the drivers of all three vehicles gunned their engines.
There were few cars on the streets that night, and Moosh watched the convoy as it pulled slowly out of the forecourt. Suddenly the lead van jerked to a halt. A white Jersey City police car was coming into view, driving slowly along J. F. Kennedy Boulevard. The van quickly swung round into a parking space behind the petrol station's office, with the two cars close behind, and Yousef and Salameh jumped out and opened the bonnet.
'Can you bring us some water?' Yousef shouted to Moosh, pretending there was a problem with the van. Moosh grabbed a jug of water and walked over to the two men. Yousef and Salameh were peering into the engine bay and shooting glances at the police car cruising slowly along the street. It must have been a nerve-racking few moments for the men.
Earlier that night Salameh had calmly rung the police from near the Pathmark supermarket at the Route 440 shopping plaza and told them the Ryder van had been stolen from the car park. It was a clever ruse to avert suspicion: Yousef was planning a heinous act of terrorism — he did not want detectives investigating his handiwork to trawl around rental centres and discover a group of Arabs had failed to return a large van. Yousef decided they would report it as stolen and give police a false licence-plate number. But even without a stolen vehicle report, many police officers might consider a three-vehicle convoy driving slowly around Jersey City before dawn vaguely suspicious.
Yousef and Salameh held their breath, but the car cruised by. Perhaps the officers did not see the small convoy. Perhaps they had not been given the report of a stolen yellow Ryder van. Moosh noticed a man in the red car motioning to the others and pointing at the road. Yousef and Salameh left the water untouched, slammed the bonnet shut, climbed back into the van, and the convoy turned back on to the streets of Jersey City.
By 8 a.m. the van was nosing through the New York rush-hour towards Manhattan. With Yousef giving directions the van arrived at a hotel in midtown Manhattan where an old friend of his called Eyad Ismoil, a baby-faced Jordanian college student, was staying for a few days. 'They were knocking on the door at 9 a.m. and saying "Hurry up, we are going to be late",' said Ismoil. 'I took a bath and went with them and he [Yousef] asked me [to] drive; he said, "You are a taxi driver and a driving expert in the street." I laughed and told them I was willing to drive.' Ismoil climbed behind the wheel of the van, and the group drove towards southern Manhattan. 'In the middle of a major street we stopped at a traffic light; he [Yousef] said "Go to the right from here" in the direction of an underground tunnel,' said Ismoil. 'I did and we went down underground. I was surprised ... He said "Park here" ...'
At the southern tip of Manhattan island, dominating the New York skyline, the twin towers of the World Trade Center stand proud, symbolizing commercial power and the core American values of hard work and success. New Yorkers are rightly proud of the vast buildings, which rise 107 storeys or a third of a mile into the sky and are served by 250 different lifts. Tower One hosts a huge antenna which pushes the total height to 1,710 feet above sea level. The entire World Trade Center complex comprises seven huge buildings, and even the underground basement boasts impressive statistics: a subterranean world of cooling pipes, parking garages and offices, bigger than the Empire State Building, it houses a small army of 300 mechanics, electricians, engineers and cleaners who keep the towers alive for the daily working and visiting population of nearly 150,000.
On 26 February 1993, Monica Smith was one of those working in a small office on level B-2 in the town under the ground. Monica was a pretty, dark-haired, 35-year-old woman from Ecuador, a secretary whose main responsibility was scrutinizing time-sheets submitted by cleaning contractors. She had met her husband Eddie in the World Trade Center when he had gone to the building for a sales meeting, and now she was seven months pregnant with little Eddie, their first child. Her colleagues adored Smith, fussing around her attentively from the moment she announced her pregnancy. Just a few days previously Stephen Knapp, a 48-year-old maintenance supervisor, had even asked his wife Louise to bake Monica a special dish of aubergine parmigiana.
At noon the room next to Smith's office was being taken over for lunch. A meeting about maintenance services had finished with the arrival of Robert Kirkpatrick, the 61-year-old bespectacled chief locksmith for the towers, closely followed by Bill Macko, a 47-year-old maintenance worker. Kirkpatrick always sat in the same large oak chair for lunch and no meeting would get in his way. Macko unfolded a newspaper, pulled out a knife from his pocket and slowly began peeling an orange. Stephen Knapp, the next to join the group, cracked open an illicit beer from a refrigerator in the corner of the room and flopped wearily into a chair.
Bill Lavin, who worked for the chief maintenance contractor for the Trade Center, eyed his friends, then decided he wanted to see daylight, and perhaps catch a glimpse of the snow forecast on the television that morning. It was falling lightly outside, dusting Manhattan in white. Lavin told the others he would be back in a few minutes and walked down the corridor towards the elevators.
A solid concrete wall separated the lunchroom from a ramp to the public car park. It was supposed to be a no-parking zone, with signs warning off anyone tempted to stop, but it was so close to the offices that nobody took any notice of the rules. As Knapp, Macko and Kirkpatrick ate their lunch, a yellow Port Authority van was parked in the zone. One of the basement army, a purchasing agent leaving the maintenance meeting, grabbed a set of keys to the van and drove off to buy some lunch. There were no windows through which the three workers could see another yellow van glide slowly down the ramp and into the same space. Nobody saw the driver and passenger slide out a few minutes later and disappear. There was no one to stop them, no one to question them, and certainly no one to tell them they were illegally parked. Even if a guard had seen them, he would have assumed the van was owned by a maintenance company. Yellow vans were often left on the ramp while heavy boxes were loaded or unloaded.
Nobody was planning to unload the contents of this yellow Ford Econoline bearing the markings of the Ryder hire company. In the back, Ramzi Yousef used a cheap cigarette lighter to ignite four 20ft-long fuses. They would take just 12 minutes to burn down to his massive bomb. Yousef clambered out of the van, jumped into the red car that had followed him into the garage, and then drove carefully out towards West Street. Then he had a shock: another van was blocking the exit, barring his escape from the car park. Yousef must have felt like a character in a Hollywood disaster movie, with the seconds ticking down to oblivion. The van driver shouted to Yousef he would move in a few moments, and within two minutes Yousef was out of the Trade Center and back on the crowded streets of southern Manhattan.
In her office Monica Smith was carefully checking time-sheets. Next door the lunching workers were indulging in a little verbal sparring, joking and gently teasing each other. In the back of the Ryder van the fuses, encased in surgical tubing to limit smoke, were burning down at the rate of an inch every two and a half seconds. The critical moment came at 12.17 and 37 seconds. One of the fuses burnt to its end and ignited the gunpowder in an Atlas Rockmaster blasting cap. In a split second the cap exploded with a pressure of around 15,000lbs per square inch, igniting in turn the first nitro-glycerine container of the bomb, which erupted with a pressure of about 150,000lbs per square inch — the equivalent of about 10,000 atmospheres. In turn, the nitro-glycerine ignited cardboard boxes containing a witches' brew of urea pellets and sulphuric acid.
In the split second that followed the huge explosion blasted in all directions, tearing the van to shreds and ripping through the nearest office, stamping the patterned imprint of Monica Smith's green sweater into her shoulder. It killed little Eddie, tore apart her lungs, arteries and internal organs, fractured her pelvis and broke her leg. Concrete blocks pummelled her head. She died instantly, 'blunt impact trauma' extinguishing her life.
Bob Kirkpatrick was the next to die. A veteran of the Korean war, just six months from retirement, he was hurled across the room, his skull rent apart by a piece of piping; the left side of his body flattened on impact.
Bill Macko, another ex-military man, was sitting next to Kirkpatrick: small chunks of concrete, moving faster than speeding bullets, ravaged the left side of his face. The blast ripped apart his vertebrae, tore his intestines from the side of his abdomen, and ruptured his arteries, spleen and kidneys. Before Stephen Knapp had time to close his eyelids tiny particles of concrete peppered his eyes, then his body was thrown backwards.
One floor above, Wilfredo Mercado, the 37-year-old receiving agent for the Windows on the World restaurant (that sits a quarter of a mile above the basement at the top of One World Trade Center), had been having a quiet snooze. Mercado studied engineering in his native Peru before moving to New York, and his short nap was a daily ritual, a brief moment of rest in a busy day. For most of the week Mercado worked in the twin towers checking that all the fruit and vegetables for the restaurant were delivered correctly. The other two days he returned to the building to work as a security guard. His wife Olga and two young daughters were his life. Mercado probably never woke from his brief slumber. Like a giant hand rising from below, the explosion plucked the Peruvian out of his room and sucked him down five floors. He landed head first, still in his chair, and his body was crushed under tonnes of concrete.
Back in the car park 45-year-old John DiGiovanni, a dark-haired, olive-skinned dental products salesman from Valley Stream, New York, had just parked near an underground ramp when the bomb went off. He was thrown around 30 feet, his body crumpled and bloodied. Paramedics eventually reached him and took him to St Vincent's Hospital, but it was already too late. John DiGiovanni died of traumatic cardiac arrest, caused by the extreme nature of his injuries and deep smoke inhalation.
Timothy Lang had been waiting to get into the car park behind DiGiovanni. A successful young stock-trader, Lang parked his car underground just moments before the explosion. Now he found himself dazed and barely conscious. He crawled through piles of rubble, his neck bleeding profusely, his lungs hacking from the smoke, and collapsed. Such are the vagaries of life. DiGiovanni had cut in front of Lang as their cars entered the building. Lang survived; DiGiovanni died.
The blast-wave roared upwards, passing through five reinforced concrete floors and severing all power. For a brief moment the buildings were plunged into darkness. In an underground station below the twin towers commuters screamed as the blast blew out a hole 180ft by 12ft in the side of the wall on level 2. Concrete and twisted metal flew through the air, ripping through legs and arms, and lacerating spines.
Outside on the street, several hundred feet from 'ground zero', the centre of the blast, the back window of a car waiting at traffic lights on West Street blew out. The shockwave spread out from its source, and within seconds tourists one mile away on Liberty and Ellis Islands in New York harbour felt the ground shudder gently. Many New Yorkers thought there had been an earthquake.
'There was a big boom, the building shook and I looked out of the window across the Hudson River to see if New Jersey had disappeared,' said Lisa Hoffman, a worker in the nearby World Financial Center.
The first call to the emergency services came within five seconds of the explosion.
'Police operator five. Is this an emergency?' queried the operator.
'Yes, there is an emergency,' said a male caller at precisely 12.17 and 42 seconds. 'Something just blew up underneath the parking garage tunnel between World Trade Center Tower One and the World Financial Center, across the street.'
'Okay, it's in the World Trade Center?'
'No, it's an underground parking garage, the entranceway down there.'
'Hold on a minute,' said the operator. 'What street is it on?'
'On West Street.'
'West,' said the caller, 'near Vesey, just toward the FDR from Vesey.'
'Okay, hold on for the Fire Department, you're in Manhattan, right?'
The operator decided the caller was genuine and transferred him to the Fire Department operator.
'Fire Department, Fletcher, 191.'
'Hi,' said the man, 'there was a big explosion in the underground entranceway to the parking lot on West Street between World Trade Center Tower One and the World Financial Center across the street on West.'
'Okay, would that be, like, by the Vista Hotel?'
'Okay, and it's what number are you calling from?'
'I'm calling from 298 6020.'
'Okay, Fire Department is on our way, sir.'
The Fire Department were already there. Lieutenant Matt Donachie, 36, was standing just around the corner on Liberty Street, watching Fire-Engine 10 backing into its bay, when he heard the explosion. Donachie jumped up into the front seat of the tender and radioed his dispatcher. A 12-year veteran, Donachie was convinced it was an electricity transformer explosion — a routine call. The tender drove around the corner and slowed to look for signs of damage. As it cruised past the 22-storey Vista Hotel, which stood between the twin towers, Donachie saw a wisp of smoke curling out into the street from a ramp leading down to the underground car park. He radioed for more units.
While the Fire Department moved into action, workers on the upper floors of the towers were already smelling smoke in their offices. Car fires in the basement were pumping out thick, acrid smoke, which spiralled up through stairways, elevator shafts and ventilation pipes as if the towers were giant chimneys.
During construction of the building safety and union officials had wanted the stairways pressurized, so the air pressure inside would be higher, preventing smoke entering during a fire. Their advice was ignored: now tens of thousands of people had to escape from one of the world's tallest buildings through thick smoke and down blackened stairwells.
Many people were crushed underfoot as panic began to spread. Hysterical men and women punched and kicked their way down the stairs. In a country fed a regular diet of disaster movies, it was almost inevitable that many would think they were facing death. Denise Bosco, a secretary, was working on the 82nd floor when the bomb exploded: 'The whole building shook. The lights flashed on and off, the computers went down. Then, instantly, there was smoke. I was terrified. People panicked. They started pushing and shouting to get out. Some of them were throwing up. I said, "Oh, dear God, what is it? Is it my time? Is this the way?"'
Many of those in the towers evidently thought so. Rescue workers on the ground saw people hanging out of windows, apparently considering whether to jump. One man threw a hastily written note from one of the upper storeys addressed to his family. It said simply: 'I love you and will always love you.'
Amid the panic there were great acts of heroism. Two men carried a female lawyer in a wheelchair down 66 storeys. Debbie Matut, a pregnant transmitter technician, was plucked off the roof of one tower by a police helicopter hovering 50ft above in powerful crosswinds. But for most there was just a seemingly endless ordeal.
Peter Stanhope, a British banker working on the 85th floor, was trapped for hours. Many of his colleagues tried to escape down the stairs, only to find the lighting had been turned off to prevent electrical fires. 'We had very little communication from the outside world, bar what came in on the emergency telephone line,' he said. 'We closed the doors and put wet towels across the bottom of them.' More than 200 five-year-old children were caught in the panic. One group of 70 children from a Brooklyn school was trapped in darkness in lifts for five hours before rescue arrived. Anna Marie Tesoriero, their teacher, sang 'This Old Man' and used her cigarette lighter to keep spirits high while children wept and vomited with fear.
Calls flooded into emergency control rooms, television stations and radio programmes. The thousands of workers stuck in the towers were terrified. Was the basement on fire? Should they stay where they were? Should they brave the smoke and try to navigate the pitch-black stairways? In a panic, many smashed windows, showering lethal shards of glass on to the emergency services hundreds of feet below, and feeding the fires inside the building with oxygen. Flames began to roar out of control at the base of the building.
The New York City Fire Department sent a total of 750 vehicles to the explosion, and did not leave the scene for the next month. It took hundreds of firefighters two hours to extinguish the blazes and more than five hours to evacuate both towers.
Christopher King walked down dozens of flights of stairs from the Dean Witter brokerage. 'Once we made that decision [to leave], some panic set in,' he admitted. 'There were no lights, so we put our hands on the person in front of us to see and made a human chain. As we headed down the stairs, it became hotter and hotter and you never knew if, when you turned a corner, there would suddenly be a wall of flames. Towering Inferno was in our minds all the way. When I reached the ground, my face was dark and sooty from the smoke, I was drenched in sweat, but all I cared about was being alive.' ...
Meet the Author
Simon Reeve is a journalist and writer. He worked for The Sunday Times of London for five years before leaving to finish co-writing The Millennium Bomb, published in 1996. He has since contributed to books on corruption, organized crime and terrorism, and has written investigative feature articles for publications ranging from Time magazine to Esquire. He lives in London.
During research for The New Jackals Reeve has eaten ice cream sorbet with Benazir Bhutto, spent hours sitting in stairwells on a London housing estate waiting for a former Lebanese smuggler, met American intelligence officials in suburban burger bars and a Chinese restaurant, and been followed by agents from two different countries during meetings with a renegade Asian spy.
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