A little after noon, a truck bomb exploded in the parking garage under the World Trade Center, setting off a chain of collapse that would bring down the two principle towers of the WTC complex. The North Tower (also known as Tower One) would hold for several minutes before giving way, toppling into the South Tower, which would also fall. While many office workers had just left for lunch, the buildings were largely occupied, and the bombing would kill nearly three thousand Americans and leave thousands more injured.
Downtown New York City became flooded with rescue operations and helping survivors amid the rubble. President Bill Clinton, just a month into his first term in the White House, appeared on national TV shortly thereafter to address Americans to bind together in this hour of need. A wave of fear washed over the nation, which had seen bombing attacks on foreign soil such as car bombings in Colombia and Turkey in the last month but never at home. A Pakistani had opened fire outside CIA Headquarters with an AK-47, but most had considered it a localized event rather than mass conspiracy. New York Governor Mario Cuomo was quoted as admitting, "We all have that feeling of being violated. No foreign people or force has ever done this to us. Until now we were invulnerable."
America seemed to come to a standstill. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had been climbing to untold heights over the past five years, suddenly plummeted. Only two days after the explosion, a rebuffed search warrant at the Branch Davidian ranch near Waco, Texas, turned into a gun battle. As fear turned to panic of widespread terrorism or harsh government crackdown, survivalists began assembling at compounds, prices skyrocketed, and riots broke out in several major cities. It looked as if, only a few years after the defeat of Communism, the dream of a "Pax Americana" had turned into nightmare.
President Clinton worked quickly to turn the tide of terrorism. Order was generally restored after numerous deployments of the National Guard, and banks and businesses remained open by executive order. A great leap forward was made on March 6 when FBI investigators arrested Mohammad Salameh. They had determined the epicenter of the explosion from debris of a Ryder truck, traced it to a Jersey City rental outlet, and caught Salameh as he attempted to retrieve his $400 deposit. Salameh's arrest led to the discovery of an international extremist Islamic conspiracy. Many called for execution of the terrorists, but Clinton led the call for sensible trial and, ultimately, life terms in prison.
The investigations of conspiracy led to many examples of governments such as the Taliban of Afghanistan protecting and even funding terrorists while other governments such as Pakistan simply looked another way. Calls for declarations of war to make the world safe from terrorism rose up, but Clinton's government decided to focus instead on reinforcing international policing systems. Over the course of his two-term presidency, terrorist organizations and training camps would be uncovered and shut down while numerous terrorists would be arrested, including Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the World Trade Center Bombing as well as the Shiite shrine in Mashhad, Iran, and Philippine Airlines Flight 434. The latter led to Yousef's arrest in 1995, the same year a homegrown plot to attack a federal building in Oklahoma City was foiled.
With the sense of America's invulnerability returning, the economy rebounded and then exploded with the introduction of the World Wide Web. Clinton would routinely be listed among the top ten American presidents, often beating out FDR for the #3 spot. His vice-president and successor Al Gore would hold the Democrats in office until 2004 when national mood would swing toward conservatism after the bursting of the Dot Com Bubble.
In reality, the Towers did not collapse. According to the FBI, the bombing “carved out a nearly 100-foot crater several stories deep and several more high. Six people were killed almost instantly.” It was ultimately underpowered for the terrorists' goals, which would be sadly realized eight years later with airplane attacks.