On the morning of Feb. 26, 1993, Tim Lang stepped out of his car in the parking garage under the North Tower of the World Trade Center and began walking to a work meeting that would never happen. Seconds after his first step, a massive truck bomb exploded nearby, ripping a five-story-deep crater into the ground.
Terrorists had detonated a 1,500-pound fertilizer bomb in the garage with the intent to take down the World Trade Center. Six Americans died in the attack. More than 1,000 were injured.
"I was driving in listening to the news, there was a story about a bomb going off, a mafia hit, somewhere," Lang told the Washington Free Beacon. "My last thought, before I went unconscious, was that the car next to me blew up."
"I woke up on the ground in the dark," said Lang. "I tried to stand up and I couldn’t because I was just dizzy. So I crawled."
Lang made his way to an exit stairwell only to find it blocked by debris. He remembers falling across a dead body while attempting to force his way into an office to find a phone.
"The smoke is getting thicker. I feel pain in my chest from the smoke. It’s hot. All the car alarms have gone off so you have this maddening noise from 100 car alarms," said Lang.
"A symphony of evil," he said. "I felt I was in hell."
Twenty years after the first World Trade Center attack, experts said the bombing marked the beginning of the end of American innocence about the threat of global terrorism.
"Just before the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, the FBI and the NYPD were in the process of disbanding the [FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force]," said Christopher Voss, a former FBI investigator with the Joint Terrorism Task Force who helped investigate and convict the Blind Sheikh after the 1993 bombing.
"Before that bombing, most of us had been reassigned from terrorism to gang crimes," Voss said. "We didn’t believe that terrorism could come to the United States. We thought it was something that happened outside the United States. … Since then, we’ve been disabused of that notion."
Tom Joscelyn, a terrorism analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, also said the U.S. had underestimated the global threat before the 1993 attack.
"They hadn’t seen that the bombing really came from trainees who were trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the fight against the Soviet Union and thereafter," said Joscelyn. "Basically the U.S. government wasn’t prepared for the unintended consequences of what was coming out of the region."
The 1993 bombing shifted Lang’s perspective on the threat of Islamic terrorism.
"Just think about 1993. We were innocent," Lang said. "Who would think there were people out there who would want to kill you just because of who you are?"
Lang was also in downtown Manhattan during the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I was a couple blocks away when it hit," he said. "And I knew exactly what it was as it was happening."