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18 September 2014
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Out of Nowhere?

By Professor Lawrence Freedman
Creating mass casualties

The first evidence of Bin Laden's approach came in February 1993, in an attack involving a yellow Ford rental van, which was driven into the basement of New York's World Trade Center. A 1,500-pound urea-nitrate bomb was detonated, causing a massive crater, seven stories deep in the garage of the building. Six people were killed with over 1,000 injured. The intention had been to kill many more by toppling one of the twin towers of the building on top of the other, but this part of the plan failed.

'Then came an attack aimed at ending the US military presence in Saudi Arabia...'

Then came an attack aimed at ending the US military presence in Saudi Arabia - targeted on the US Air Force barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in June 1996. A truck bomb killed 19 Americans and wounded more than 370 Americans and Saudis. No definite link has been shown, however, to al-Qaeda, and in June 2001, a Lebanese and 13 Saudi members of Hizbollah, the Iranian-backed group responsible for the October 1983 Beirut bombing, were indicted by the US for the attack.

Other foreigners have also been targeted in Saudi Arabia, although no systematic campaign has ever been developed. Despite this relative lack of terrorist activity, enough trouble has been caused to make both the American and Saudi authorities acutely aware of the political sensitivity of the US bases in the region, and this has led to progressive restrictions on their use.

Manhattan skyline after the attack
Manhattan skyline after the attack ©
On 11 September 2001 came the second attempt on the World Trade Center, with the responsibility for it claimed by al-Qaeda, and this time it succeeded. If the aim was simply to hurt the United States then the attack will have succeeded beyond Bin Laden's expectation. If, however, the aim was to persuade the United States that it should disengage from the rest of the world, it has failed mightily. Almost at once President Bush declared a war on terror, and soon Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation was being driven out of its sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

Published: 2002-08-22

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