The story of the first attack on the World Trade Center (February 26, 1993) is documented in the 1997 HBO Original Film Path To Paradise. The caption reads, "based on the terrifying true story behind the World Trade Center bombing." But it is the top line, the "log line" that really hits home:
No one expected a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. But many could have prevented it.
I saw this powerful film when it first aired on HBO, and was aghast at how this event ever could have happened. Then it happened again, and that's why this film will never see the light of day.
Now I am a believer that this film should be shown, maybe on an endless loop, to show the mistakes that were made the first time. After September 11, 2001, I wrote a letter to HBO, saying this film needed to be re-aired and promoted. Then I followed up with a second letter, and posed the question on their web page. I never received a reply.
Reason 1 why HBO won't air this again, is because of the outrage it would incite toward both Muslims and U.S. investigative agencies.
The lead character is FBI Agent John Anticev (Peter Gallagher). He says the magic words in a post-bombing US Attorney debrief:
"There was no evidence they were doing anything illegal. They were Muslims, it didn't mean they were terrorists."
The story follows a terrorist cell based in Jersey City under the guidance (you hesitate to say direction) of "The Blind Sheik" Omar Abdel-Rahman. They plan and execute the 1993 WTC bombing, killing 6 and injuring over a thousand, but fall short in their goal of bringing the towers down.
As with any criminal organization, there are master criminals and there are idiots. It really is a ragtag bunch that the law stumbles upon several times. There's the 1990 traffic stop, where the Connecticut State trooper stops the group, searches the car, and finds assault weapons and license plates in the trunk.
While the trooper is in his vehicle checking the gun license, here's the scripted dialogue among the terrorists:
Mahmud Abouhalima: "If this was Egypt and he was a policeman, he would shoot us.."
Rodney Hampton-El: "If this was Afghanistan and he was a Russian, I would have shot him by now."
El Sayyid Nosair: "But this is America. He will do nothing, and we will do as we please."
Law enforcement determines that everything is in order and sends them on their way, to the gun range no less.
There's the bait-and-switch ploy where (patsy) Ahmad Ajaj and (bomb-maker) Ramzi Yousef entered the U.S. on the same flight. While Ajaj was found with multiple passports and a notebook with blueprints for a bomb, he was jailed. Since all the resources went that way, Yousef simply claimed political asylum and was was released on his own recognisance while Customs was busy with the other guy.
There's Egyptian informant Emad Salem who infiltrated the group, but the FBI bureaucrats refused to continue to pay his $500 weekly stipend based on an "inconclusive" polygraph test. Funny that an inconclusive polygraph is exoneration when trying to determine guilt, but guilt when trying to determine veracity.
After the bombing, Salem was re-approached and his information led to the capture of all the conspirators all the way up to Abdel-Rahman. He got $1M and witness protection.
The FBI had a number of these guys in for questioning in September 1992, trying to take down Abel-Rahman, but they had no evidence besides some tapes with incendiary rhetoric and had to let them walk. Anticev bitched to his cohorts:
"Thats great, freedom of religion protects a bunch of murdering fanatics. And if these guys feel like blowin' us off, there's not a goddam thing we can do about it. Back home, the police would be shovin' barbed wire up their asses. No wonder they all come here."
Then there was the car accident in the weeks leading up to the actual terrorist attack, in which Ramzi Yousef was hospitalized. The chemical weaponry was inside the vehicle, though it was never searched.
Reason 2 why HBO won't air this again, is the constant imagery of the World Trade Center towers. Not only are they used liberally as transitional "segue" elements, but they are often the backdrop for many of the scenes themselves.
After the events of February 26, 1993, one of the moron terrorists actually wanted his security deposit back on the rental van used for the blast, reporting it as "stolen." On top of that, he had used his own license to rent the vehicle in the first place. That's how the Feds ultimately found who was responsible. Can you believe it?
That sets up Reason 3 why HBO won't air this again: the characters' final words at the end of the film, and how it set up the September 11th attacks which were still 4 years away.
John Anticev from the de-brief:
"Maybe we'll put these terrorists in jail. But others will come here and take their place - I mean that's what this country's all about isn't it? Land of opportunity. Now we can't build a bubble around it...We can throw more agents at it, put more funding on it, but when push comes to shove, it's just so easy. This isn't over."
They did put the terrorists in jail. The film chronicled with pictures and graphics each of the convicted and their sentences. Ramzi Yousef had successfully escaped the country, but was captured in Pakistan and extradited in 1995. The final scene is authorities flying him in by helicopter over lower Manhattan.
Ramzi Yousef looked down at The Twin Towers:
"Next time we'll bring them both down."
You may never see Path To Paradise back on HBO in our lifetime, but it was released on DVD in 2007. You can order it on Amazon.