Reason, Liberty, & Culture

Terrorism Chronology

Although international terrorist acts committed in the United States are not unique to the last few years, concern has increased over the past two decades with increasing terrorist activities in the Middle East, particularly suicide bombings, and the deep involvement of the United States in Middle East peace negotiations.

That the United States has become a target for terrorists was tragically demonstrated by the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and again, when its twin towers were destroyed by commercial airline planes hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

These acts, and the related hijacked plane crash into the Pentagon on the same day as well as other earlier attacks and attempted attacks on targets in this country demonstrate that the United States must take the security of its people more seriously.


1990    ElSayyid A. Nosair assassinates Jewish activist Meir Kahane in New York. Nosair is a follower of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who later is linked to the World Trade Center bombing and a U.N. bomb plot.

Jan. 1993    Mir Amal Kansi, a Pakistani, murders two CIA employees in a random shooting outside the Langley, VA headquarters and flees the country. He entered the United states in 1990 on a visa issued in Karachi, Pakistan. In 1992, he applied for political asylum in the United States and was routinely released with a work permit. Records indicate that he had been involved in anti-U.S. demonstrations in Pakistan. He had purchased an AK-47 assault rifle in Virginia.

Feb. 1993    Under the influence of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef organizes Mohammed Salameh and three others in plotting and carrying out a bombing at New York's World Trade Center that caused mass destruction, six deaths and more than a thousand wounded. The group is comprised of Egyptians and Palestinians.

Yousef, travelling on an Iraqi passport, entered the United States in September 1992 without a visa, but was allowed to enter the country provisionally after asking for asylum, because of lack of detention space.

His companion, a Palestinian named Ahmad Ajaj, who arrived on a fake Swedish passport, was arrested and found to have bombmaking videos and manuals in his luggage. Salameh entered the United States in 1988 on a Jordanian passport and a visitors visa issued in Amman, Jordan.

He applied for legal residence status [presumably asylee status], was turned down, and continued to be in the country on appeal of that decision. AbdelRahman, an Egyptian religious leader charged with inciting a 1989 riot in Egypt, obtained a visa in Khartoum, Sudan which had no automated lookout system that would have identified him as a security threat.

He entered as a tourist and applied for political asylum and received legal residence. An immigration judge ordered him deported in March, 1993, but he was still in the country four months later when he is arrested for terrorist acts.

June 1993    Eight militant Muslim fundamentalists are arrested in New York for plotting to blow up the United Nations headquarters, tunnels under the Hudson River and a federal office building. The arresstees were from Sudan, Egypt, the Israeli West Bank and Gaza, Jordan and Pakistan. To read the Department of Justice Inspector General's report on this incident, click here

Mar. 1994    Rashad Baz, an immigrant from Lebanon, and two others shoot up a van full of Hasidic students, wounding four, on the Brooklyn Bridge. Baz entered on a student visa in 1984. He attended courses parttime at a community college in 198485. He married a U.S. citizen in 1989 and applied for legal residence in 1991.

Baz was accompanied by Bassam Mousa Reyati, a Jordanian, who entered as a student in 1989 and received residency in 1992 on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen. Hlal Mohammed, a Jordanian, was the third terrorist.

Sept. 1994    FBI Dir. Freeh sends Dep. Att. Gen Gorelick a package of antiterrorism recommendations from the Executive Advisory Board of DoJ's Office of Investigative Policies. Recommendations are:

  1. develop a uniform database of State Dept. visa refusals;
  2. rethink the visa waiver pilot program;
  3. expand INS preinspection;
  4. allow classified information to be used by the court in deportation proceedings;
  5. tighten the asylum screening provisions and detain and expeditiously deport anyone suspected of terrorist intent;
  6. tighten controls against NIV overstayers and persons involved in sham marriages;
  7. share INS alien files with FBI terrorism investigators.

Aug. 1994    Sen. Kennedy sponsors and obtains passage of a measure in the Violent Crime Control Appropriations Act of 1995 that amends the Immigration and Nationality Act - Section 245(i) - to permit illegal aliens, whether illegal border crossers or visa overstayers, to obtain adjustment to legal residence status without having to leave the United States for investigation by U.S. consular officers in alien's native country of their possible ineligibility for immigrant status. The measure applies for three years and is due to sunset in September, 1997.

Apr. 1996    Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) is enacted. It provides for expeditious removal of mala fide asylum applicants, restricts judicial review of deportation, increases penalties and RICO investigation powers for terrorism investigations.

The State Dept. was required to develop a list of foreign terrorist organizations. President Clinton signed, but said at the time that he considered some of the changes "illadvised." Subsequently the Administration tried unsuccessfully to strip summary exclusion from the law through the Leahy amendment to the Illegal Immigration Reform Act.

In the end, the later act softened some of exclusion process for asylum claimants. Surviving in the INA are AEDPA amendments to Section 219 ("Designation of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.")

Sept. 1996    Illegal Immigration Reform and Alien Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRARA) changes summary exclusion to expedited exclusion for mala fide asylum applicants. The new standard allows an appeal to an Immigration Judge.

Also included is a provision to make activities that "incite terrorism" or represent a danger to the community or security of the United States as a grounds for exclusion from the United States. The IIRARA also expanded detention facilities and broadened the definition of an aggravated felony for purposes of deportation.

Feb. 1997    Ali Hassan Abu Kamal, a Palestinian teacher who arrived in the United States in December, 1996 on a tourist visa kills seven tourists with a 14 shot semiautomatic pistol at the Empire State Building before killing himself.

He bought the gun in Florida despite federal law prohibiting sales to aliens who do not have at least 90 days of residency. Abu Kamal wrote that he was taking vengeance against enemies of the Palestinian people.

Legislation is introduced to make it unlawful to provide a firearm to a nonpermanent resident alien and possession of a firearm by such an alien.

Mar. 1997    Legislation is introduced to extend firearm restriction to legal resident aliens, except for hunting and sporting, unless they have been in the U.S. for one year.

July 1997    Two Palestinians and a Pakistani are arrested on a tipoff to New York City police and are found to have suicide bombs and a note indicating they intend a terrorist attack in the city's subways. Ghazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, a Palestinian, entered the United States (in Washington state) illegally from Canada three times and was apprehended and returned to Canada.

He entered Canada as a student, but requested and received political asylum. After his last U.S. entry the Canadians would not take him back because he had committed crimes in Canada. He applied for asylum, and a judge ordered a hearing for 1998 and released him.

Abu Mezer said that he had been accused by the Israeli government of belonging to Hamas, a terrorist organization a claim denied by his family in Israel. On June 23, at a hearing on his asylum application, he withdrew it, and the judge gave him 60 days to depart the country. Lafi Khalil, the second terrorism suspect entered the country on a tourist visa and stayed on illegally.

   The Administration, represented by the INS and the State Department, support adoption on a permanent basis of the adjustment of status provision for illegal aliens - INA Section 245(i) - that facilitates legal residence status for persons entering without inspection or overstaying their visa without having to leave the United States for investigation of their possible ineligibility for immigrant status in their native country.

Aug. 1997    The State Department acknowledges that it still has not prepared the list of international terrorist organizations required by the Antiterrorism Act in 1996.

A Dept. State spokesman says the report is overdue because any group designated as a terrorist organization will have the right to challenge that designation in U.S. courts. The designation will cause U.S. fundraising activities for the group to be cut off and members of the group will be barred from entering the United States.

Aug. 1998     U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania bombed by terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden causing massive destruction and loss of life. Four of the terrorists were convicted in May 2001 of conspiracy. They are

  • Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a Tanzanian, assisted in creating the truck-bomb that blew up the embassy in Tanzania, sentenced to life in prison.
  • Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, a Jordanian, convicted of particpating in preparing the explosives used to bomb the embassy in Kenya, faces life in prison.
  • Mohamed Rashed Daoud Alowhali, a Saudi Arabian, participated in the attack on the embassy in Nairobi by distracting guards with a stun grenade, faces life in prison.
  • Wahid El-Hage, born in Lebanon, a U.S. citizen, acted as a messanger between Bin Laden and the terrorists in planning the attacks, faces life in prison.

Dec. 1999    Ahmed Ressam, who was admitted to Canada as an asylum applicant in 1994 despite being expelled from Algeria and France for suspicion of terrorist activities, was arrested in Port Angeles, Wash. attempting to enter the U.S. from Canada with a carload of bomb-making materials destined for Los Angeles airport.

Sept. 11, 2001 In the most destructive terrorist attack in history, four U.S. commercial airlines were skyjacked by armed terrorists, and two of them were crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

The third plane was crashed into the Pentagon, and the fourth plane, that may have been headed for another Washington, D.C. target, crashed in Pennsylvania, apparently as a result of a heroic effort by passengers to thwart the skyjackers.

The death toll of victims reached many thousands from among the crew and passengers in the planes, the occupants of the buildings when they were hit, and subsequently as the Trade Center buildings collapsed.


     The Antiterrorism Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform Act (IIRARA) adopted in 1996 some important measures designed to prevent international terrorist acts in the United States.

Especially important was the expedited exclusion provision to assure that our asylum law is not available to would be terrorists entering without documentation or false documentation, who in the past were able to use an asylum claim for automatic entry to the country with screening deferred indefinitely. Nevertheless, these measures are largely remedial rather than efforts to change the environment in which terrorism can thrive.

A suicide bomber planning an attack in the New York subway is not going to be deterred by a more stringent penalty against terrorist acts.

     The environment in which the threat of terrorism will continue to fester results from easy access into the United States for would be terrorists, conditions in which it is easy to disappear into immigrant neighborhoods in city centers while being able to recruit local accomplices, and the availability of time and lack of physical constraints, even after detection, to prepare and execute an attack.

This terrorism environment is further complicated by overtaxing the Border Patrol with hundreds of thousands of illegal entries across our borders each year and the lack of any effective effort by INS inspectors to control against additional tens of thousands of aliens who ignore the terms of their permission to visit our country as tourists, students, business travelers or some other status.

It is compounded by the fact that the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) established only the shell of a program to deny work to illegal aliens. The intended structure, that would create an inhospitable climate for illegal aliens, has been prevented from ever taking full effect by the lack of a system of verifiable worker identification.


  • The employer sanction system for denying jobs to illegal aliens must be made effective now with a nationwide system of worker ID verification linked to the Social Security database and alien registration numbers. This will decrease the flow of illegal aliens and increase the ability of the Border Patrol to keep out wouldbe illegal border crossers.

    It will also narrow the scope of work for INS worksite inspectors and allow them to increase efforts against unscrupulous employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.
  • The adjustment of status provision for illegal aliens in the United States - INA Section 245(i) - must be eliminated so that aliens who bypass normal screening by illegally entering the country are not able to bypass rigorous screening before they can acquire permanent residence.
  • The prohibition against the sale of handguns to nonresident aliens and recently arrived aliens should be strengthened to include explosive supplies, and it needs to be enacted.
  • A computer assisted system must be developed to match entry and exit records for all nonimmigrant aliens from countries identified as sources from which terrorist groups draw their members.

    In addition, the same system should include all persons who enter the United in long-term nonimmigrant visa status (such as students) when their program ends or they drop out of it. When these record checks reveal aliens in violation of their status, action should be initiated to locate and deport them.
  • The United States must insist that a country that has admitted an alien for residence re-admit that alien if he or she is excluded or deported from the United States after an illegal entry or nonimmigrant legal entry.

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