The attacks of September 11, 2001, constituted the most severe terrorist attacks ever committed
on U.S. soil. However, these were certainly not the first acts of terrorism carried out against the United States by foreign terrorists, nor were they the first attacks carried out against the World Trade Center. In February 1993, a bombing of the World Trade Center killed six people and injured more than a thousand others. The bomb left a crater 200 by 1,000 feet wide and five stories deep. The FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (FBI) and the Joint Terrorist Task Force identified and helped bring to trial 22 Islamic fundamentalist conspirators. The trial revealed extensive plans for terrorist acts in the United States, including attacks on government facilities.
During the 1990s, the United States also became more concerned about domestic terrorist activities carried out by U.S. citizens without any foreign involvement. Beginning in 1978, an individual who came to be known as the Unabomber targeted university scientists, airline employees, and other persons he associated with a dehumanized, technology driven society. The suspect killed three people and injured 23 others with package bombs. At the Unabomber's insistence, major newspapers published his 35,000-word manifesto describing his anti-technology philosophy. In April 1996, a suspect, Theodore Kaczynski, was arrested for crimes associated with the Unabomber. After a rather bizarre trial, in 1998, Kaczynski pled guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without the possibility of PAROLE.
However, it was the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on April 19, 1995, that galvanized concerns about domestic terrorism. The bombing killed 168 people and injured more than 500 others. The FBI arrested Timothy J. McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who were charged with murder and conspiracy. McVeigh and Nichols were connected to the right-wing militia movement, which opposes the powers held by the federal government and believes in the right of its members to bear arms.
In June 1997, McVeigh was found guilty of murder and conspiracy, and sentenced to death. He attempted to appeal his conviction for three years, but gave up in late 2000. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh was executed by lethal injection. Nichols faced similar charges in his 1997 trial. He was acquitted on charges of first- and second-degree murder, but was found guilty of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER. A federal judge sentenced Nichols to life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, at the state level, Nichols faced 161 counts of first-degree murder, which could result in the death penalty. The Oklahoma state trial was scheduled to begin in March 2004.
A year after the Oklahoma City bombing, a bomb erupted at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park during the celebration of the Olympic Games in July 1996. The bomb killed one woman and injured 111 others in what President BILL CLINTON called an "evil act of terror." The initial investigation focused on Richard Jewell, a security guard at the park. At first Jewell was considered to be a hero when he alerted authorities to a knapsack containing a pipe bomb. Shortly thereafter, however, he was considered a prime suspect. After a later investigation cleared Jewell of wrongdoing, he sued a number of media outlets for DEFAMATION.
During the next seven years, the Atlanta bombings remained largely unresolved. On May 31, 2003, authorities arrested Eric Rudolph, who is considered the primary suspect. Authorities also suspect Rudolph of bombing abortion clinics in Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama, as well as the bombing of a gay and lesbian nightclub in Atlanta.
Congress has responded to the threat of domestic terrorism with the enactment of several laws. In 1996, Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214. The law allocated $1 billion to fund federal programs to combat terrorism. The act also established a federal death penalty for terrorist murders and strengthened penalties for crimes committed against federal employees while performing their official duties. In addition, the act increased the penalties for conspiracies involving explosives and for the possession of nuclear materials, criminalized the use of chemical weapons, and required plastic explosives to contain "tagging" elements in the explosive materials for detection and identification purposes.
Following the attacks of September 11, Congress, at the urging of President GEORGE W. BUSH, moved swiftly to enact the Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-56, 115 Stat. 272. The act seeks to enhance domestic security against terrorism by setting up a Counterterrorism Fund in the U.S. Treasury, and appropriating money for combating terrorism to the FBI's Technical Support Center. It also increases the president's authority to seize the property of foreign persons, organizations, or countries that the president determines have planned, authorized, aided, or engaged in hostilities or attacks against the United States. Other provisions of the act focus on enhancing surveillance procedures used by federal law enforcement personnel, and attempts to control MONEY LAUNDERING, which is believed to be a major source of income for terrorist organizations.
One year later, Congress enacted the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135. The act formally endorsed the establishment of the HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT, which had been created through EXECUTIVE ORDER by President Bush in 2001. The Homeland Security Act reorganized several federal agencies to fall under the authority of the Homeland Security Department in an effort to coordinate the government's efforts. The American public has become familiar with the new department because of the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, which indicates the likely threat of terrorist attacks against the United States. The two lowest levels are low (coded in green) and guarded (coded in blue). The other three levels include elevated (yellow), high (orange), and severe (red). Throughout much of 2003, the level was set at elevated or high due to a number of threats identified by department officials.
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