On the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I want to focus on one man — one of the thousands of victims of these wicked assaults.
To get the full sense of this depraved terrorist deed, I want you, for a brief time, to reflect upon a real person, with a real life, who was an innocent victim on Sept. 11, 2001 — John P. O’Neill.
You are perhaps wondering who John P. O’Neill was.
O’Neill retired as the FBI’s top terrorist expert. He worked for the FBI for 31 years. The FBI appointed him as the chief of the bureau’s International Terrorism Operations.
During his time with the FBI, O’Neill worked on many of the world’s deadliest terrorist attacks, including the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa.
O’Neill’s first terrorism case was, in fact, the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center.
After retiring from the FBI, O’Neill took a new job. That job was the security director for the World Trade Center.
O’Neill started at the World Trade Center on Monday, Sept. 10.
He died on the now infamous day of Tuesday, Sept. 11.
According to media reports, John P. O’Neill was in his 34th-floor office at One World Trade Center when the first hijacked plane crashed into the upper floors of the tower. Within minutes, O’Neill was safely outside the building. He was able to call his son from his cellular phone.
O’Neill also called the FBI headquarters before re-entering one of the World Trade Center towers to assist in the evacuation. He was inside the building when it collapsed.
The body of O’Neill, 50, was pulled from the debris of the collapsed World Trade Center.
O’Neill sounded the alarm on terrorism for many years. A 1996 article, published in the Van Impe Intelligence Briefing, quoted him as saying, “A lot of these groups [international terrorist organizations] now have the capability and the support infrastructure in the United States to attack us here if they choose to do so.”
O’Neill also correctly predicted the increasing destructiveness of future terrorist attacks. In his 1997 watershed speech, presented to the National Strategy Forum, O’Neill said:
“The only thing that knocked O.J. Simpson off of television, his trial, was the Oklahoma City bombing case. The larger the attack, the more newsworthy they can make it. . . . We are concerned about the lethality of the attacks. We’re very, very concerned that we seem to have a rash of both problems in the international side and the domestic side at the same time. And we are also concerned now that we have had, obviously, a lot of conventional types of attacks, but now we’re starting to see unconventional types of attacks like the attack that took place in Tokyo with an unconventional type of weapon.”
I will conclude this tribute to John P. O’Neill with his own powerful and almost prophetic words. During that same 1997 speech, he said:
“I think interesting times lie ahead. Certainly, we as citizens will be challenged. I know the FBI will continue to be challenged in the years to come. Unfortunately, I cannot predict that no Americans will be injured or killed as a result of a terrorist attack. And in fact, it will happen as long as violence is seen as the way to move along political or social agendas. We will have terrorism as a problem to contend with. Hopefully, working together, we will continue to reduce the amount of terrorism to its lowest amount possible.”
It is a tragic irony that our top terrorism authority died in the world’s deadliest terrorist attack.
We salute and thank you, John, for your wisdom, insight, and patriotism in our war against terrorism.
Now you, too, have the privilege of knowing at least a little about John P. O’Neill.
My Final Thoughts: You now have a modest insight into the remarkable, important, and irreplaceable life of but one of the thousands of real people, like you and me, who were murdered by these heartless terrorists.
I wish I had the opportunity to tell you about each and every victim of Sept. 11, to differentiate their unique and indispensable lives from the unimaginable numbers we all hear.
A year, or even 100 years, from today, we must, as a civilized community, never let the immeasurable numbers of Sept. 11 numb us to the harsh, potent, and vibrant reality that we must always and forever remember deep in our hearts and minds.
Sept.11, 2001 — real people — real lives — we must, and will, never forget.
Copyright 2009 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce Mandelblit (www.CrimeZilla.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com. This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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