26 February 1993: World Trade Center bombing

The World Trade Center formally opened in April 1973, and quickly became one of New York’s most important commercial and cultural areas. The complex accounted for 1.25 million square metres of office space across seven buildings (the last was finished in 1985). The North and South Towers (the Twin Towers) formed the core of the “superblock” and rapidly became a key part of the Big Apple’s skyline, and a tourist attraction in their own right.

The symbol of American prosperity also became a target for Kuwaiti-born terrorist Ramzi Yousef (AKA Abdul Basit Mahmoud Abdul Karim). Yousef, who studied engineering at Swansea University, went to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan in the late 1980s. He entered America on 1 September 1992 and met with several fellow terrorists to plan an atrocity they hoped would convince America to abandon its support for Israel.

On 26 February they filled a van with explosive materials, including fertiliser and a gas cylinder, and detonated it in a garage directly beneath the North Tower (using a fuse to delay the detonation long enough to allow them to escape). They hoped the North Tower would collapse, bringing down its twin.

The explosion destroyed five floors and released smoke throughout the building. Experts believe the explosion would have toppled the towers had the van been close to the foundations. In the event, there were six deaths and 1,042 people injured. Yousef was caught in 1995 and sentenced to life imprisonment. His uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, organised the 11 September 2001 attacks that destroyed the towers, killing nearly 3,000 people.

Also on this day

26 February 1995: ‘Rogue trader’ Nick Leeson breaks Barings Bank

Barings Bank, one of the world’s most venerable banks, was brought to its knees by the original ‘rogue trader’, Nick Leeson, on this day in 1995. Read more here.