1000 Years For Revenge The inside story of the terrorist who designed the 9/11 plot and the two heroes who tried to stop him.

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Chapter One
BLACK TUESDAY

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the greatest would-be mass murderer since Adolf Hitler was locked down in solitary confinement in a Colorado prison. In a seven-by-twelve-foot cell at the Supermax, the most secure of all federal jails, Ramzi Yousef sat waiting like a bird of prey. Small, gaunt and reed-thin, with close-cropped hair and two milky gray eyes, he looked across his cell at the stainless steel toilet and sink, below a shelf supporting a thirteen-inch TV. It was Yousef’s only link to the outside world. As CNN played silently in the background, his eyes darted across the dog-eared pages of his Koran.

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Yousef may not have known the precise moment of the attacks, but he was sure they would come. After all, he’d set them in motion six years before in Manila. The idea of hijacking jetliners laden with fuel, and using them as missiles to take down great buildings, had come to the bomb maker after he’d tried to kill a quarter of a million people with his first Twin Towers device in 1993. He’d gone on to plot the deaths of President Clinton, Pope John Paul II, and the prime minister of Pakistan, while hatching a fiendish plan to destroy up to a dozen jumbo jets as they flew over American cities. But his most audacious plot involved a return to New York to finish the job he’d started in the fall of 1992. In one horrific morning, suicide bombers trained as pilots would take the cockpits aboard a series of commercial airliners and drive them into the Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a series of other U.S. buildings.

Now, just before 6:45 a.m. Mountain Time, as Ramzi Yousef sat in the Supermax reading the Koran, he heard muffled noises on the cell block: inmates shouting. One of the prisoners down the corridor had been watching CNN and now he was screaming. A guard rushed to his cell, went inside and saw the devastation.

He yelled, “Some plane just hit the Trade Center.”

Yousef quickly looked up at the black-and-white TV above his head. His eyes wide at the site of the North Tower burning, he turned up the sound and heard the voice of an eyewitness: “I just saw the entire top part of the World Trade Center explode.”

Yousef rocked back, amazed himself at the execution of his plan. He stared at the news footage of racing FDNY engines, terrified evacuees, and bodies dropping from the towers. Then, from the Battery, a camera captured UA Flight #175 slamming into the South Tower.

Another onlooker described it as “a sickening sight.” But Yousef, the master terrorist, saw it as the culmination of a dream and the end to some unfinished business. He dropped to the floor, bent over, and gave thanks. “Praise Allah the merciful and the just, the lord of the worlds. We thank you for delivering this message to the apostates.”

Later that morning, his cell door swung open and a pair of FBI agents from the Colorado Springs office came in. They stood in the three-foot-wide anteroom between the solid steel cell door and the bars to Yousef’s cell.

The convicted terrorist got up from his bed and approached the bars as the two agents presented Bureau IDs and identified themselves.

“Why do you come here?” he demanded.

One of the agents nodded to the TV behind Yousef, still tuned to CNN.

“Did you have anything to do with that?”

Yousef shot back: “How would I possibly know what was going on from in here? Besides, I am represented by counsel. You have no right to question me without my attorney present.”

The two agents eyed each other. Now they were facing Yousef the lawyer, the man who had represented himself throughout the entire three months of the Manila airline bombing trial.

“I have nothing else to say to you,” snapped Yousef. He turned up the sound on the TV and sat back down on his bed.

The agents withdrew, but within minutes the steel door swung back open and two Bureau of Prisons guards stormed in.

As one began to unlock Yousef’s cell bars, the other one shouted, “Get up and face the wall.” Yousef stared at him defiantly for a moment, but then the guard slammed a black box and a belly belt chain against the bars, so Yousef got up. Now, as he faced the wall, one guard came in and quickly put the belt around his waist. The other one bent down and snapped on ankle irons and a chain.

“What is this?” shouted Yousef. “What are you doing?”

“Changing cells,” said one of the guards. He turned off the TV. “Hands clasped in front of you.” Yousef ground his teeth, but complied, as the guard snapped the black box onto his wrist—a six-inch long solid restraint that rendered the prisoner’s hands completely immobile. The guard locked the box onto the belly belt, making it impossible now for Yousef to strike out with his arms or fists. The guards turned him around and shuffled him out of the cell, moving him down the corridor of “D” wing, past the cell of the infamous Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. (For a time, this so-called “bombers row” had also housed convicted Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.)

One of the guards unlocked the door to an empty cell and moved Yousef inside as he continued to rant.

“Why are you moving me? My papers—you have to let me take my Koran!”

But when the guards had him locked behind the cell bars, they slammed closed the steel door and went back to Yousef’s cell. There they began to toss it, searching around the mattress and on the shelf beside the bed, throwing Yousef’s letters, papers, and drawings into a plastic garbage bag. The units on the maximum-security “D” wing are supposed to be soundproof, but as the guards worked to clean out Yousef’s cell, they could still hear him screaming down the corridor.

“Why are you doing this? Why would you think that I could have any knowledge of this thing that happened? I’ve been in this place locked down for years. Do you hear me?

In fact, Yousef’s knowledge of the plot was quite precise. He had designed it with his uncle and his best friend back in 1994. It had now been executed almost exactly as he intended. Only the details of the timing had been unknown to him.

Another thing Yousef couldn’t possibly know was that across the country, earlier that morning, a woman who’d almost stopped him had watched the devastation first hand. She had put all of this behind her years ago, or so she thought. But now the terror she’d been so close to preventing, was back. For FBI Special Agent Nancy Floyd, an old wound had just been ripped open.
         

THE VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE

She had come within weeks of breaking Yousef’s bomb cell in the fall of 1992, but her investigation had been shut down by a Bureau superior in New York. Now, just before 9:00 a.m., as she drove west across the George Washington Bridge on her way to an off-site surveillance assignment, SA Floyd heard a report on her car radio about an explosion at the Trade Center.

She hit the brakes. Dozens of cars in front of her skidded to a stop, and traffic on both sides of the bridge ground to a halt as the morning commuters heard the news. Nancy shoved her gun into a holster on her belt, threw a jacket, on and got out of the car. She quickly crossed the center median and moved with dozens of other onlookers to the south side of the bridge.

Down the Hudson River, at the tip of Lower Manhattan, smoke billowed up from the North Tower. Nancy listened to a radio broadcast from a nearby car. It was still early in the attack, and the onlookers around her were speculating: “Are they sure it’s a plane?” “Maybe a gas leak?”

Standing there on the bridge, though, the forty-one-year-old special agent from Texas knew in her gut what it was: an attack by Middle Eastern terrorists—and not just any attack, but one hatched in the brilliant but deadly mind of Ramzi Yousef.

Minutes later, UA Flight #175 roared down the river a few thousand feet above them. For a moment it looked as if the 767 was pointed toward the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor; then it turned to the left, and slammed into the upper floors of the South Tower.

Back in 1992, through Emad Salem, an Egyptian informant she’d recruited, Nancy Floyd had come so close to the men around Yousef that she could almost smell them. By then, Ramzi Yousef was hard at work at an apartment in Jersey City, building the 1,500-pound urea-nitrate-fuel oil device he would soon plant on the B-2 level beneath the two towers.

Now Nancy watched those towers as they burned, knowing that though he’d been in federal lockup since 1995, this was somehow the fulfillment of Yousef’s plan. For SA Floyd it was a vindication, but she took little comfort in the thought.

Her attempt to expose the first Trade Center plot had almost cost her career. Only now, years later, had she begun to recover. She’d put in for a transfer to a small FBI regional office in the far West; her request was granted, and now Nancy was only eighteen days away from leaving New York.

Long ago she’d tried to bury thoughts of Yousef and the 1993 bombing, but now she couldn’t stop thinking about him—especially after a call she’d received that past August from her old informant Salem. He’d been in the Federal Witness Protection Program ever since testifying against the cell around Yousef and Sheikh Abdel Rahman. Largely on Salem’s word, the blind Sheikh had been convicted of a plot to blow up a series of New York landmarks, including the tunnels leading into Manhattan and the very bridge Nancy Floyd was now standing on.

But years before, Floyd had been prohibited by the Bureau from taking Salem’s calls, or ever discussing the details of the original bombing with him. In all the years since, even when Salem had been diagnosed with cancer in 1998, Nancy had never broken the silence.

Then, a few weeks before 9/11, Nancy was working an FBI undercover assignment when Salem sent word that he wanted to talk to her.

They never connected. So she never heard what he wanted to say.

Now, as she stood watching the towers burn, Nancy Floyd felt a cold throb at the base of her spine. Could Emad have been calling to warn me about this?, she wondered. She would never know. Only in the summer of 2002, months after the attacks, did Nancy Floyd become aware that another investigator had been on a parallel course.

Along with the word “tragedy,” September 11 was the day the word “hero” took on new meaning. For the FDNY, the statistics were numbing: 343 members of service lost their lives. Ninety firefighters in the Department’s Special Operations Command were wiped out. Rescue One, the preeminent heavy rescue company in the world, lost eleven men in a house of twenty-five. 9/11 was a day full of terrible ironies, but one of the cruelest involved a man who was already a bona fide legend in the FDNY, fifteen years before he ever roared down to Liberty Street and raced up the stairs of the South Tower.

Ronnie Bucca was a forty-seven-year-old fire marshal with the FDNY’s Bureau of Fire Investigation. A veteran firefighter himself, Bucca had investigated the original WTC bombing in 1993—and had come away convinced that the perpetrators would return to finish the job.

Over the next six years, as he educated himself on Islamic fundamentalism, Bucca found himself continually frustrated by the FBI’s inability to appreciate the bin Laden threat or share the intel. Despite the fact that he had a Top Secret security clearance as a Warrant Officer in a high level Army Reserve intelligence unit, Bucca was repeatedly frozen out by members of the NYPD-FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force, one of the key Bureau units hunting Yousef. His frustration reached a fever pitch in 1999, after he uncovered startling evidence that a mole with direct ties to the blind Sheikh was actually working inside FDNY headquarters.

Now, astonishingly, on that morning, as Nancy Floyd watched from the George Washington Bridge, Ronnie Bucca was on the 78 floor of the South Tower with a hose in his hand, trying to beat back the flames.

 

 

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