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WTC Bombing Ended Age of Innocence

By LARRY NEUMEISTER
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 17, 2008; 10:18 AM

NEW YORK -- The 1993 World Trade Center bombing left a giant crater in the basement of the 110-story twin towers and an even larger hole in the nation's sense of security.

With the 15th anniversary approaching, the days before the bomb blast appear to mark the last time when millions of Americans went about their business, unaware of the dangers posed by international terrorism.

"Not an awful lot of people thought about how vulnerable we were," recalled Joseph Guccione, the U.S. marshal for New York. "It was a terrible lesson that was learned."

Lower Manhattan tried to armor itself _ only to learn the limits of protection just eight years later.

All the steel barriers, restricted access, closed streets, security gates and gun-toting security guards that tens of millions of dollars could buy could not stop the two hijacked airliners that brought down the trade center.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, security has been ramped up even more across Manhattan. More guards. More barriers. Higher fences. More video cameras.

Yet millions of Americans live in fear of another terrorist attack, with the anxiety particularly strong in Washington and New York, the two cities hit on Sept. 11.

All of it can arguably be traced back to Feb. 26, 1993, when a homemade bomb mixed by a group of men in Jersey City, N.J., was carried into the trade center garage in a yellow van and exploded shortly after noon, killing six people.

More than 1,000 people were injured fleeing the buildings on that cold dreary day. With the electricity knocked out, the buildings stood in darkness that night for the first time since they were built two decades earlier.

Weeks later, authorities infiltrated a group of Islamic militants who were followers of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the spiritual leader of the trade center bombers, and learned that a plot was being developed to blow up five landmarks in Manhattan in the summer of 1993.

As the years passed, more plots were unraveled.

By 1995, investigators had focused their sights on Osama bin Laden; separately, plans to blow up a dozen airliners headed to the U.S. from the Far East were discovered in a Philippines apartment where Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 trade center attack, lived.

With more threats and bombings in the late 1990s, including the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, security in lower Manhattan was tightened even more, some of it paid for with funding in anti-terrorism bills passed by Congress.

Giant planters were put around the trade center to prevent truck bombings.

City Hall Park was redesigned to boost security and limit access. Soon, the steps of City Hall were closed off to the public, unless people were screened in security tents set up outside.

Steel barriers capable of stopping a speeding 2.5-ton truck were added outside federal buildings. Cameras that read newsprint a block away were installed outdoors.

The street between two federal courthouses was closed, and cement trucks blocked each end of it until permanent security gates were installed.

Federal officers were stationed in bulletproof booths outside some government buildings, and signs warned people not to bother them.

The 2001 terrorist attacks brought another wave of security tightening that continues to this day.

The street outside the New York Stock Exchange was closed to traffic, and machine gun-toting officers were posted outside it.

Armed officers were placed outside courthouses and some other federal buildings as well. The street alongside the FBI building was closed to traffic.

Guards outside some apartment complexes now routinely inspect trucks and use large mirrors to check under vehicles for explosives before allowing them to enter.

The NYPD has dramatically enhanced its counterterrorism measures, with random bag checks at subway entrances, heavily armored patrols and plans to install biological and radioactive detection devices.

The drumbeat of security enhancements rolls on, with the blueprints of a new World Trade Center being altered to improve security.

Still, the improvements can't restore the sense of security, however naive, that existed on Feb. 25, 1993.

© 2008 The Associated Press