Alternative History

The last known photo of the Library Tower, taken by a tourist minutes before the May Day Attacks

On May 1, 2002, four Malaysian men – Mohamad Farik Amin, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, Zaini Zakaria, and Masran bin Arshad – boarded American Airlines Flight 24 from San Francisco Airport bound for New York, scheduled to depart at 8:01 AM PST. Additionally, four other men boarded four separate aircraft in Dallas, Miami, Chicago, and Toronto (one of whom is Richard Reid) around the same time in their respective time zones. With the exception of Reid, all came from Malaysian, Indonesian, or Filipino backgrounds. All of these men had two things in common – they were sworn members of al-Qaeda (the four Malaysians were members of the SE Asian al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), while the Indonesian and Filipino operatives belonged to JI or the Philippine affiliate Abu Sayyaf), and all carried explosive substances hidden in their shoes.

At the security checkpoint in SFO airport, all four men take cautious maintain their composure as they pass through security. Security measures are still strict, but National Guardsmen had been removed for over a month, and DNP guidelines have been relaxed to a degree, mostly from complaints of profiling by Muslim organizations. The carry-on luggage of the four men is not opened and searched as it would have been 1 month ago. The four men proceed through security, one by one, without raising the suspicion of DNP personnel. As the plane shuts the door and begins to taxi to the runway, bin Arshad closes his eyes and whispers to himself, "Allah Ackbar!"

At 8:43 AM, as the plane has reached cruising altitude, bin Arshad signals his men to act. They open their carry-on luggage, obtain a hardcover book, and remove an object within it. The four then overpower the crew and use their explosive shoes to blow the protective doors on the cockpit. Attempts by the passengers to overpower the 4 men are repulsed, as paniced calls from other passengers aboard Flight 24 report the terrorists have "some sort of knife - they killed 3 people so far!" The terrorists disabled the flight crew but not before the co-pilot could send a hijacking mayday. Zakaria, a trained pilot, quickly disabled the flight transponder for the plane, and turned the plane on a course due southeast.

President Gore was notified of the hijacking at 11:59 AM EST and called in his National Security staff to discuss the situation. With the flight transponder disabled, tracking the aircraft was going to be a challenging task. Not knowing what to make of the situation, at 12:07PM, Gore ordered two F-18s from North Island NAS in San Diego to scramble and search for the aircraft. The jets were airborne 7 minutes later in a northerly direction. The Navy pilots requested support from AWACS aircraft (which flew after the 9/11 attacks), but with no E-3 Sentry assests on the West Coast, the only comperable aircraft were E-2 Hawkeyes based in San Diego, none of which were on standby status.

La mayday

Smoke rises from the former sight of the Library Tower

Reports back to the F-18s said that support would be at least an hour. The Navy pilots were searching for a needle in a large haystack of airspace.

Reid capture

Passengers overpower would-be bomber Richard Reid

At 12:11 PM EST (9:11 AM PST), 3 explosions were reported aboard the flights originating from Dallas, Chicago, and Toronto. Pilots struggled to control the planes as they rapidly descended, but these aircraft crashed in Texas, Indiana, and Michigan, respectively. One passenger aboard the Miami flight, Richard Reid, had trouble igniting the explosives in his shoe. When spotted by a flight attendant, she called for help and Reid is overpowered by the passengers and crew. At 12:16 EST, an aide to President Gore rushed in on the National Security meeting and said to him, “Mr. President, it’s happening again!” Gore immediately ordered all inbound and outbound flights to be grounded.

The hijackers of Flight 24 made their way to Los Angeles airspace unmolested. At 10:21 AM PST, Flight 24 crashes into the Library Tower in downtown Los Angeles at the 25th floor. Zakaria, having studied the 9/11 footage continuously in preparation for this attack, angled the aircraft to impact with the lower levels of the tower. Firemen from all over Los Angeles County rush to aid people stranded in the tower, but the fire sweeps through the bottom floor and begins to heat the infrastructure. Much like the World Trade Center 8 months ago, fire swept the crash area of the building and at 11:04 AM PST, the tower collapsed. First responders and firemen from all points in Southern California rush to the scene. Los Angeles Mayor Hahn orders all Angelinos out of the downtown area, and Governor Gray Davis mobilizes the California National Guard to enforce the Downtown quarantine.

Post attack[]

Fireman funeral

A funeral on May 15, 2002, for L.A. firemen lost in the May Day attacks

The coordinated attacks resulted in over 1900 people killed, including the passengers aboard the aircraft. The attacks were similar to the Bojinka plot from the 1990s by Ramzi Yousef, who organized a plan to destroy a dozen aircraft with on board bombs. Though this plot did not succeed, al-Qaeda learned their lessons from their failure and reproduced the plan years later. Additionally, the attack against the Library Tower also showed that al-Qaeda was adapting to US security techniques and procedures.

Flights to and from the United States were grounded for over a week following the attacks, which had a cascade effect on tourism and business across the country and the globe. Many people found themselves stranded in foreign areas with no resources to get them home.

Post-crash analysis determined that the terrorist team was able to keep passengers at bay with pieces of thick, sharpened plastic used as makeshift knives. These items had not been recognized by the X-ray scanners at the airport, allowing the hijackers to defend themselves during their operation.

Once pictures of the hijackers and suicide bombers made it to the news media, paranoia overtakes the American public as the sterotype of "the Arab terrorist" is shattered, and the name Jemaah Islamiyah enters the lexicon of groups such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hizballah. FBI reporting showed that hate crimes against those of Hispanic and Pacific Islander heritage rose dramatically in the weeks following the May Day attacks.