This past week was the 20th Anniversary of the first World Trade Center (WTC) Bombing Attack. On Monday good people of all faiths gathered in small Downtown Manhattan churches to quietly honor family members, fellow commuters and how they lived before they were savagely silenced without a moment's notice in 1993.
Do you remember where you were standing when this particular attack on our nation took place? Oddly enough, most people do not.
On February 26th 1993, followers of "Blind" Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman of Egypt and Jersey City blew a breathtaking 10-story gaping hole inside the World Trade Center using explosives placed in a U-Haul truck they had rented from a gas station at the foot of the Bayonne Bridge on Kennedy Boulevard in New Jersey. They operated undetected between this location and a storage facility on Route 440 as they executed the first phase of their plan.
The final goal was to use an underground parking garage under the World Trade Center to wreak havoc on U.S. soil while killing you, me and anyone in their path. Their extended plan to drown thousands more of us on this same day inside the NYC subways by puncturing a hole in the Army Corps of Engineers wall which holds back the Hudson River on the West Side of Manhattan failed that morning.
At the time it didn't feel like America was paying much attention and some of us who lived or worked in this corridor of the Tri-State area were worried that enough people had not fully grasped the magnitude of what this event meant to our region and our nation's health, welfare and security. Twenty years after this bombing, we remain convinced we were right.
In the end, the first World Trade Center attack left only 6 dead and 1,042 injured, so the criminals vowed to come again. On September 11th, 2001 others finished the job Sheikh Abdel-Rahman managed, launched and started not in the shadows but in broad daylight on both sides of the Hudson River in the years leading up to 1993.
People who know me know that I stood with a handful of commuters on the deck of a Seastreak Commuter Ferry in the middle of New York Harbor - a working mom grasping my husband's hand petrified and helpless as the enormity of horror called 9/11 played out.
For us a dangerous phenomenon that had our full attention in 1993 had returned with a vengeance before our eyes and there was nothing left to do but pray in the middle of those waters as our captain raced to pick up the first 300 people fleeing for their lives at Pier 11 on the East River.
From Downtown NYC to the Atlantic Highlands the Seastreak crew helped lead a remarkable 9/11 recovery effort that would later become known as the largest boatlift in human history, (BOATLIFT, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience - www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDOrzF7B2Kg - Narrated by Tom Hanks). - It was a commute from hell that transcended time, place and comprehension.
As our navigation route took us to the south side of the Verazzano Bridge and that blinding mushroom cloud erased our magnificent and incredible towers as they succumbed to the terrors of our society, a fellow passenger screamed out that the Pentagon had been hit.
There we were - a few hundred passengers on a simple commuter ferry alarmed, dazed and stunned, some with tears streaming, some with more fear than others - all of us frozen and bound together by a silence louder than any voice we had ever heard. It was the voice of "terrorism."
How did we arrived at this terrible place in our country's history is the question that never leaves me…
For years as I hustled to my job in Hudson County as a Recruitment Director at ADP Brokerage Services Group, the infamous Blind Sheikh sat a mere arms-length from me and all commuters on a cement wall in the open square surrounded by dozens of doting and adoring followers - all men in their young twenties - dressed in traditional garb. They would arrive daily by Path Train from across the Tri-State region to circle at the Sheikh's feet.
Across the street from my office was a make-shift mosque one floor up from the Chinese restaurant in Journal Square, Jersey City. For years, hundreds of men operated daily as welcome friends in this neighborhood as they made their way to this temporary location for afternoon prayers.
After the 1993 WTC Attack, it was confirmed that this exact spot of worship had been hijacked and abused as a camouflaged safe house by Sheikh Abdel-Rahman who used it to advise a few hand-picked pupils on how to conspire to harm and murder others. It was the Blind Sheikh - a terrorist - who left the beautiful arms of Jersey City brutally broke at the elbows on the boulevard.
After the 1993 bombing was carried out, followers cheered inside clandestine hallways across New York and New Jersey; others did the same openly to honor the Blind Sheik's leadership, conquest and success. It hurt but few noticed.
On and after 9/11, the world watched more dancing in the streets across the globe as crowds burned American flags in a symbolic salute honoring the hatred that resulted in the cold blooded killing of 3,000 more innocent victims on the U.S. homeland. But... through it all the strength and resilience of the American people was never far behind.
This past Monday family members and friends of America's 1993 victims took their 20th somber trip to Lower Manhattan mostly alone, but this year they were able to run their fingers across the names of loved ones that are now etched for eternity in marble and granite at the WTC Memorial Site.
Those who died represent you and me - all of us who travelled through the World Trade Center complex to get to work or NYC culture in those days.
Some of those injured are still working to repair the physical and emotional wounds so they can one day move on. In a twist of fate not to be believed a few who were injured but miraculously survived in 1993 ended up living 8 more years only to be injured or killed in the second wave of violence on 9/11.
For many of us living and working in the urban trenches across this region these experiences altered our lives, attitudes, thinking and shattered our sense of security forever...
Events like this are supposed to do that, but as a teenager I had encountered the most engaging history teacher in my life - the amazing David Oxenford at Pt. Pleasant Beach High School - who taught students it was a civic duty and our awesome responsibility to research, learn, face, assess, reassess, remember and respect history.
I left his classroom knowing full well that a failure to understand history and its reach and/or to participate in collective apathy always creates conditions and opportunities for 'all' history to repeat itself.
As difficult as it is to relive these events, thanks to Mr. Oxenford I remain focused on what happened two decades ago. I also believe reciting the events of February 26th 1993 is the best way to honor the 6 commuters who died and the 1,042 who were injured because how and why they were murdered must always matter.
With this in mind, I'm asking fellow citizens to pay attention to Egypt's new President Mohammed Morsi and some of his countrymen who are now demanding the release of convicted terrorist and Egypt's own Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman from the U.S. Federal Prison System where he is serving the life sentence he earned on his criminal perch across from my Jersey City office.
I'd like to believe that these political demands and highly derisive terms of engagement are some kind of warped joke meant only to mock America and everything she stands for (again). But the tepid response with no real resolve from our nation's side of this appeal and argument should concern all. Don't we owe it to our dead, ourselves and our nation to take a stand on these kinds of important issues of our time? If we don't do it, who will?
Releasing him would be a betrayal of the heroes in law enforcement and the armed services who risked their lives for years tracking the Sheikh's collective actions the world over. Their courageous work resulted in the level of justice the Sheikh's terrorist acts demanded. If Sheikh Abdel-Rahman wasn't interested in a life sentence in a U.S. prison, he should have kept his self-serving hatred and criminal activities in Egypt.
This week we honor and remember fellow commuters - moms, dads, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, spouses and friends - and reflect on two decades of terror that erupted in full view on February 26th, 1993 and culminated in unimaginable events on 9/11.
May we always remember what happened to us and use our assessment of this anniversary to propel our voices forward to make absolutely sure the Blind Sheikh's release request never sees the light of day and that no society gives him the chance to repeat history against the children that will follow us.