S1: On the morning of April 19th, 1995, Imad and Chassy drove to work at a shopping mall in Oklahoma City. Imad was the general manager of a buffet restaurant. The first thing he did when he got in was count all the money they made the night before
S2: I was going to the bank to make a deposit as usual. Part of the security procedure is to have, you know, one of the waitresses to watch me until I get to my car.
S1: Imad and his colleague looked out the window to make sure it was safe to take all that cash outside.
S2: As we are about to open the door to come outside to the street, that’s when the explosion happens and it rattled the restaurant. It rattled the glass. We were so scared that the waitress actually jumped almost on top of me because we thought somebody was shooting at us trying to get the money. But the moment I opened the door, when I saw the smoke in the sky, I said, that is a bomb, that’s a car bomb.
S1: Imad had grown up in Lebanon in a family of Palestinian refugees as a child. He lived through a brutal civil war and survived a civilian massacre in his refugee camp.
S2: You know, we went when we were little, we played named the caliber of this bomb. It sounds odd, but when you grow up in a watery zone and those are your games that you play as a kid. The smell, the smell of a bomb exploding that could recognize it anywhere.
S1: Imad had been close by when a suicide bomber killed hundreds of U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983. He’d heard those explosions and felt them in his stomach. He left Lebanon for America shortly after that bombing and had lived in the U.S. ever since. On April 19th, 1995, with the worst memories of his childhood flashing through his mind. Imad got behind the wheel of his pickup truck. He still had to go to the bank to make that deposit.
S2: I’m sitting in my car, glued to the radio, and then here comes a chopper report.
S3: Wow, look at that shot. Absolutely incredible. This side of the federal building has been blown off just about a third. About a third of the building has been blown away that every window is gone and there is debris hanging out of the windows. It is really a chaotic situation. Many people are running around trying to find friends and coworkers. Are there people missing from your office? Twenty six. You don’t know what happened. I can look at that building. Imagine what’s happened to.
S2: My heart was crying for everybody, I knew there will be fatalities.
S1: There were all kinds of reports flying around in those first few hours. It seemed like the attack might not be over, that this was just phase one.
S4: We do know that they found what they believed to have been a second unexploded bomb
S3: in this building. A third explosive device has now been found, and it’s the second and third explosives. If you can imagine this were larger than the first.
S1: None of that was true. There was just one bomb and it exploded in a truck parked outside of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. But on the morning of April 19th, no one knew much about who had attacked Oklahoma City and how and why. And Imad and chassis. He was scared. The violence he’d escaped in Lebanon had found him in America.
S2: It just deja vu. This is what I ran away from
S1: several miles away. A friend of Imad experienced the blast very differently. He was getting ready to go to the airport when his wife heard a sound that she couldn’t place.
S5: I remember I was on the phone when, when? When she said, there is a noise. And when she heard something, she opened the door to see if somebody hit the car or something. And she said it’s nothing.
S1: Like Imad, Ibrahim Ahmed was in his early 30s and had grown up in the Middle East as a Palestinian refugee. Ibrahim wouldn’t learn about the bombing for some time. He was rushing to make a flight to Jordan to see his family.
S5: You know, I still have the tickets, I still have the passport all this time and everything. It was supposed to be Oklahoma City, Chicago, Rome, Amman on the 19th.
S1: Ibrahim was traveling to Jordan alone while his wife, Martina, stayed behind with their two young daughters. He was in a hurry that morning hunting around for his socks before he kissed the kids goodbye. A relative drove him to the airport and he got there in time to make his 10:40 a.m. flight.
S5: We check them my bags took my boarding pass left to Chicago.
S1: Ibrahim’s plane landed at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in the early afternoon. As he walked into the terminal, he didn’t know anything about the explosion in downtown Oklahoma City. He didn’t have a cell phone and he hadn’t seen the news.
S5: When I went to the right gate for an Italian airline to go from Chicago to Rome and now the screens showing, you know, CNN was reporting breaking news Oklahoman and I’m not even close to the TV. It’s just like 20 meters, 50 meters. So what is your first reaction? You’re on your own to really see what is going on on the screen. You could see the building. You can see that something big happens.
S1: So all you know is that just something bad happen in Oklahoma.
S5: And my first reaction maybe more earthquake than
S1: it’s a bomb. Were you worried about your family?
S5: Definitely immediate. Let what comes to your mind. My wife, my life. My kids, my friends. I mean, that is my home now. You know, for me, this is home.
S1: Ibrahim didn’t have time to check in with his family or to make sense of what he was seeing
S5: a minute or two later. It was the custom or the immigration. They politely just came and just told me, just would you come with us?
S1: For Ibrahim Ahmed, that simple question was just the beginning. This is one year a series about the people and struggles that changed America. One year at a time, I’m Josh Levin in our second season, we’re going to tell seven stories from 1995. It was the year the nation discovered the worldwide web when DNA evidence transformed the justice system and when an enormous fertility clinic scandal shocked the medical world. And it was the year white supremacist anti-government terrorists attacked Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. Ibrahim Ahmed had nothing to do with the Oklahoma City bombing, but in April 1995 he’d be detained and interrogated, and the media would connect his name to one of the most horrific crimes in American history.
S3: Early this afternoon, a second possible break in the case, he is described as an Arab-American with a valid U.S. passport. Oklahoma City, I can tell you, is probably considered one of the largest centers of Islamic radical activity outside the Middle East.
S1: This is one year, 1995. The man who didn’t bomb Oklahoma City. Ibrahim Ahmed wasn’t sure why he’d been pulled aside in Chicago. All he knew was that he needed to answer a few questions before he could board his next flight.
S5: And they take me inside to their office and they start questioning me. It was just about the trip itself, you know, and the bags, the carry on bags, which I had.
S1: Had you ever been questioned like this before?
S5: No, never, never. This is the first time.
S1: Ibrahim had moved to the United States in 1982. He came on a student visa.
S5: When you finally got it, you know, it’s like, you cannot believe it. You just carrying that passport with a visa and just show everybody you go like crazy, like when you are in the bus and say, Listen, I got a visa to go to the United States. I got a visa to go with the United States. You know, it was really it’s really a beautiful moment.
S1: His first stop was Long Island. He stayed with a friend’s uncle.
S5: We went to I think it was Burger King or McDonald’s. So when he order Hamburger, I told him, I don’t eat pork. Yeah. They start laughing, you know? And they explain to me what’s happened and what’s hamburger?
S1: Ibrahim wasn’t in New York for long. A Jordanian company had gotten him admitted to a junior college in a tiny town in Oklahoma. He made friends with a small group of Muslim students. They hung out and studied and prayed together, and they aroused the suspicion of their white neighbors.
S5: I remember that night very well. We had a calculus test. Next day, somebody came and knock on the door and I opened the door myself, and he was around 15 20 guys, pushed the door to my face and start beating me, beating me, beating me.
S1: Ibrahim says the dean of international students advised him that he’d be safer somewhere else. He ended up at a school outside Oklahoma City. It was there that he fell in love with his new home state.
S5: You know, you lived in Oklahoma. Many cowboys, you know, and that lifestyle become part of you. You know, wearing boots and cowboy hats. I love that.
S1: Ibrahim worked at Pizza Hut and Arby’s, and he studied computer science. In 1990, he became a U.S. citizen.
S5: You could make it in America. You could have a good job. You can’t afford to save money and to buy your own house. And that’s what happened.
S1: Ibrahim, his wife and his two daughters lived in uptown Oklahoma City, four miles northwest of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
S5: and the neighborhood’s, I think, 100 percent white. It was very quiet, respectful. Everybody’s respecting everybody. I had no issue being being different at that time.
S1: Ibrahim didn’t get rattled easily. When he got pulled aside at O’Hare Airport on April 19th, 1995, he felt confused, but not annoyed. Customs and immigration officials asked him how long he’d been in the country and how he’d become a citizen. Ibrahim suspected that they thought he might be carrying a phony passport. He was happy to clear up any confusion to prove his papers were authentic. Customs and immigration, we’re done with them after a couple of hours. But Ibrahim wasn’t free to go. A team of federal agents came in with a new batch of questions.
S5: When the FBI came, you know, it was all about the Arab and the Muslim community in Oklahoma or in America in general. You know, to I pray I do. I go to the mosque. I practice my religion. Yes, I do practice my religion. I do pray, I do fast. I go to the mosque on Fridays, you know, and I teach my kids, you know, to adopt this religion and be a good, good Muslim, good person and so on.
S1: Were you at all concerned or were you thinking this just seems routine?
S5: You have that in the back of your head is like, like, why me? But for me, I see it as an opportunity to explain to those people who who may be ignorant. Maybe they don’t know enough about the Arab culture or the Muslim culture. I still had no worries whatsoever.
S1: The agents asked Ibrahim about the vehicles he owned and how he paid for his plane ticket. They also wanted to know if he’d ever been a part of any group that discussed violent activity against the United States.
S5: I, of course, told them I’d never been part of any organization whatsoever.
S1: The FBI asked Ibrahim what he knew about the destruction of the Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City. He told them that he didn’t know anything. All he’d seen on that airport TV was that something bad had happened in Oklahoma. And Ibrahim was in custody for five or six hours. He says that when it was all over, the agents told him they were sorry for the whole ordeal.
S5: You know, they really apologized and they said, Well, you missed the flight and we booked another ticket for you. And now we go. British Airways to London and then from London to Jordan. They told me, You will arrive, Jordan around almost the same time. Everything is going now, according to the schedule.
S1: Ibrahim’s trip didn’t stay on schedule. When he got to London’s Heathrow Airport, he learned that he’d missed his connection to Jordan. There wasn’t another available flight for two more days. So an agent rebooked him and gave him a new ticket. On his way out of the airport, Ibrahim handed his documents to an immigration officer,
S5: and when he looked at my name, he asked me to wait. A few minutes later, he came with. I don’t remember how many guys were with guns. Security and I looked and I see all these bullies or whatever they call them with their weapons and come with us.
S1: This was Ibrahim’s second. Come with us in less than a day, but this one felt different. Ibrahim wasn’t sure who those men with guns were working for, but they acted like he was a major threat.
S5: I tell you, when I started worrying, they took me to a small room. A strange thing. When I entered the room, I saw my picture there.
S1: It’s printed on a piece of paper like somebody has a piece of paper.
S5: Yes, you can see it on the table. And the first thing they asked me to do is to take my clothes off. And now I’m stuck become annoying like this. You know, I tell them, Listen, I am American citizen and I have the right to talk to anybody from the embassy to represent me. You know, they say sorry when going to do that.
S1: Ibrahim says he pleaded to make a phone call. They said no. He asked for a pen and paper. They refused. He said that removing all his clothes was a violation of his religious beliefs. They insisted he needed to take off everything.
S5: I remember if you want me to take even my underwear, yes, thank you. No underwear, but your legs and open your hands and around. Then they were just looking and searching. This is a total humiliation, you know, you become very angry for from inside. And I told them, this is no respect me. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? You know, we’re not in the jungle here and you’re treating me just like an animal now.
S1: The strip search didn’t turn up anything. Ibrahim was allowed to put his clothes back on. And then he sat and waited.
S5: No question whatsoever. They didn’t ask me after that any question that was with two guys inside the room and the room is locked and nobody, nobody’s talking to me.
S1: Ibrahim knew this had something to do with Oklahoman. But he still wasn’t sure what had happened. He hadn’t heard a news report, and the people detaining him weren’t sharing any information. Every 30 minutes or so, the man who seemed to be in charge would come to that small room, open the door and say that it would all be over soon
S5: after a total of five hours. He brought, you know, he he had company. And he told me, you are under arrest. You have to go back to the United States.
S1: Ibrahim got paraded through Heathrow Airport with his wrists in shackles.
S5: There were security with guns. All of them around you, you have the handcuffs on and he was dragging me. You know, everybody was looking at you. Definitely. The two are criminal.
S1: Two FBI agents escorted Ibrahim onto a plane.
S5: And what made it worse? That same guy who was talking to me earlier, he came to the policeman who was sitting next to me and he said, Listen, if he tries to move or do anything, you know what to do? He looked at me and I remember I laughed and I said, Come on, you are here and they are here and I have got, what do you expect me to do?
S1: Those FBI agents sat behind him for the whole flight. He could feel every passenger in the cabin staring at him. Ibrahim Ahmed had likely heard less about the bombing in Oklahoma City than anyone on that plane. What he didn’t realize is that millions of people around the world had been hearing all about him.
S4: Immigration officials in Britain stopped a man who was trying to enter London on a flight from Chicago today. They returned him to the US for questioning in connection with the Oklahoma bombing.
S1: Imad and chassy felt shaken by the bomb that exploded in Oklahoma City. And by the memories of dredged up of his childhood and war torn Lebanon. But on the morning of April 19th, 1995, as his friend Ibrahim went to the airport, Imad didn’t have time to dwell on the attack. The buffet restaurant he managed open for business at 11 a.m. less than two hours after the bombing,
S2: I opened as usually trying to put a facade of a happy manager. You could look at the people’s faces and everyone was in disbelief of what just happened. One of my customers was, I thought he was a friend. That’s been to my house, been to my dinner table. Looked me straight in the eye and say, You people better have not done this. You you meaning you were the Muslims you were. The Arabs have met or not done this. And he doesn’t say discreetly. He said as loud as possible where everybody actually hear it. And I just looked at him. I said, Really, you people.
S1: Imad and chassis and Ibrahim Ahmed were part of a small Muslim community. They worshipped in a two bedroom apartment while the group raised money to build a mosque, a spiritual home that would deepen their roots in Oklahoma City.
S2: And I just turned around and went back into the kitchen, and I called my district manager at that time, I said, I don’t think I could stay here. And then, you know, he said, I could go home for the day.
S1: Back at home, Imad stayed glued to the radio and TV, what he heard on the news that day wasn’t any more comforting than what he’d gone through at work.
S4: Today’s attack was similar to the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and similar to attacks on U.S. forces in Beirut in the 1980s that has investigators looking for a possible link to Middle East terrorists right here in the American Midwest.
S1: Federal investigators were looking for a link to Middle Eastern terrorism earlier that year. Intelligence agencies had heard chatter that foreign extremists were planning a strike on the U.S.. But early media reports after the bombing suggested something different, that Oklahoma itself was a hotbed of radical Islam.
S3: Sources say the FBI has been watching dozens of suspicious Islamic groups in cities throughout the American Southwest and several right in Oklahoma City. A former Oklahoma congressman, Dave McCurdy, who says this is an obvious terrorist attack, pointed out that there had been meetings of Muslim fundamentalists in the area, including supporters of Hamas,
S1: that former congressman said he’d gotten his information from a documentary. It was called Jihad in America, and it aired on PBS in 1994. The documentary was produced and hosted by Steven Emerson.
S3: These American Muslim children are attending a summer retreat in the Midwest, but this is not your typical summer camp here. When children are taught to praise armed struggle and terrorism,
S1: Emerson was a former CNN reporter who left the network to devote his career to researching Islamic terrorism. He used hidden camera footage to try to build a case the jihadists were infiltrating middle America. Emerson’s Jihad in America won a Polk Award for excellence in documentary filmmaking, but it was also widely criticized for taking material out of context and making unsupported allegations. One critic said the documentary created mass hysteria against American Arabs. But Emerson and many others saw the attack on Oklahoma City as proof that he’d been right. On April 19th, as search and rescue teams dug through the rubble for survivors, Emerson became a sought after TV pundit for Emerson.
S3: The attack in Oklahoma City appears to have a familiar mark. This was done with the attempt to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait.
S2: I knew immediately this this is going to be the blame will be we’ll be looking at the usual suspect and that is the Muslim community. As American Muslims, we are robbed of our normal feeling of feeling sad and hurt immediately. That feeling of feeling broken for the children and for the victims of that building was replaced by fear for me, from my family and for my community.
S1: As Imad and chassis watched the news on the afternoon of the bombing, that fear became less abstract.
S3: Oklahoman city police are looking for two what they call Middle Eastern men and last seen wearing blue jogging suits and travelling in a brown pickup truck registered in Dallas.
S1: A citizen reported his suspicions to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol about a man, possibly with a Middle Eastern appearance who had asked for directions to a shopping mall. A pair of Pakistani brothers was taken in for questioning in Dallas and Oklahoma City and on the afternoon of April 20th. Word got out about an Arab-American man who’d flown out of Oklahoma City just after the attack.
S3: Tonight, a man wanted for questioning returned to Washington aboard a British Airways jet. He was detained in London while
S1: after Ibrahim Ahmed got detained at Heathrow Airport. His story was all over the news. Although he wasn’t yet identified by name at a press conference in Washington, DC, reporters pressed Attorney General Janet Reno to share what the government knew.
S3: What can you tell us about the man being returned from London? Nothing. Other than that he is being returned to this country if he wanted a speck or witness thing. At this point, he is being returned as a possible witness.
S1: CNN was on the case from the start.
S3: Well, the latest that we have, Natalie, is this that the man that was turned back here at Heathrow Airport today after being detained is a Jordanian American.
S1: The network was careful to note how much it didn’t know.
S3: He may be a witness. He may not even be that.
S1: But CNN’s minute by minute coverage did suggest that this could be a major breakthrough.
S3: I think that obviously it’s a serious case. They’re taking it very seriously here.
S1: They stationed a reporter at Dulles Airport in northern Virginia to send live updates from the runway where Ibrahim’s flight was scheduled to land.
S3: This is a line of official vehicles. It was just pulled up here within the last five to 10 minutes. Police officials in the vehicles, we expect him to be going out to pick up this person when the airplane arrives here that evening.
S1: The story also got big play on the ABC Nightly News
S3: yesterday, shortly after the bomb exploded. Ibrahim boarded a flight in Oklahoma City for Chicago. Ibrahim later caught a flight to London
S1: for Imad and Tracy. Hearing his friend’s name and connection to the bombing was an enormous shock and is Ibrahim’s plane approached the East Coast? The updates kept on coming.
S2: Now on the news Here’s the luggage of Ibrahim Ahmed.
S3: By the time officials in Chicago finished questioning Ibrahim, he had missed his flight to Rome, but his three suitcases had already left.
S1: Multiple networks reported that Ibrahim’s luggage had been searched and what they found sounded pretty alarming.
S3: They discovered electric wire, silicon pliers and various other equipment that officials say could have been useful in building a bomb.
S1: The New York Times reported that according to Italian officials, Ibrahim’s luggage held a photograph album with pictures of military weapons, including missiles and armored vehicles. And CBS had an update from a senior law enforcement official. Ibrahim fit the description of a man seen outside the federal building in Oklahoma City shortly before the blast. On the night of April 20th, both CBS and CNN broadcast a zoomed in shot of Ibrahim’s bags, the camera focused on one of his luggage tags. It showed his name, address and phone number. Nothing was blurred out. Ibrahim’s wife, Martina Ahmed, hadn’t heard from him since he left home for the airport. She did hear from the FBI. Agents questioned her for hours asking about how they’d met and what Ibrahim was up to in the days before the bombing. And now major television networks had broadcast their address in primetime. Camera crews and angry Oklahomans showed up at their door. Martina was home with their five and two year old daughters when she poked her head outside to see what was going on. Someone hinted her to get out of town.
S2: Neighbors would drive by and throw bottles of beer or throw trash.
S1: Imad and chassy helped out his friend, Ibrahim’s family that night.
S2: His wife runs away to our house and came to stay with us for safety.
S1: Did she seem scared when you saw her?
S2: She was. She was not scared. She was terrified.
S1: The Oklahoma City bombing had the country on edge. The attack had killed federal workers and people applying for Social Security cards. There was a daycare center in the building. 15 of the 21 children there died in the blast. One of them had just had her first birthday the day before. In the hours after the explosion, Oklahoma City in the nation were looking for reassurance. An announcement that whoever had done this had been caught. They were also hungry for a villain. That anxiety and anger weren’t just directed toward Ibrahim Ahmed and his family. Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko wrote that Middle Easterners were likely to blame for the bombing, said when the time comes for punishment, it shouldn’t be an eye for eye. We should take both eyes. Ears knows the entire anatomy. Radio host Bob Grant told the Muslim caller I’d like to put you up against the wall and execute you with them. The Council on American-Islamic Relations recorded 222 incidents of harassment and violence against Muslims in the immediate aftermath of the bombing
S3: in San Diego today. Police searched the Nation of Islam mosque after members of that group reported they received a telephone threat, which they taped blew up that federal building in Oklahoma, blowing up Friday.
S1: Someone threw a fake bomb into the playground of a Muslim daycare center in Dallas, a mosque in Stillwater, Oklahoma, got shot at two days in a row. On April 20th in Oklahoma City, a group of assailants terrorized a pregnant Iraqi refugee. Breaking windows at her home and shouting anti-Islamic insults. She had a miscarriage the next day. Ibrahim Ahmed’s family found its way to safety with the help of Imad and Tracy. They had no idea what might happen to Ibrahim and when this was all going to end. As Imad waited to learn his friend’s fate, a thought kept nagging at him. Impulse. He felt ashamed of, but found it impossible to ignore
S2: when they said they found bomb making material in his luggage. There were very convincing. The media has been so conceivably thorough in their investigation that I’m I, I really suspected my own friend.
S1: Ibrahim Ahmed’s flight touched down at Dulles Airport around eight p.m. on April 20th. For the third time in a little more than a day, he’d be placed inside a closed off room. Before the FBI interrogated him, they asked Ibrahim to sign a piece of paper. It said that he was waving his right to an attorney and that he hadn’t been coerced.
S5: And now my mind start thinking, Wow, it seems like now they’re going to frame me for something that I didn’t do. If you remember in nineteen ninety five, what else happened in that year, the O.J. Simpson story, and I was watching it closely. And if you remember the theory of the lawyers, it was like framing him for the murder of his wife. It’s not him who did it. So your mind now is about. Of course, they can frame you for something that you didn’t do.
S1: Ibrahim agreed to sign that piece of paper so long as he was allowed to write down everything that had been done to him in Chicago and London. When Ibrahim finished that account, he got driven to another location. This time he was allowed one phone call. Ibrahim asked to be connected to his sister in Jordan.
S5: I just told him, listen, I decide not to travel in this date. I reschedule my departure from the US and I will let you know what I’m coming.
S1: Ibrahim was making up a story to protect his family from worry. He didn’t know that his sister and everyone else in Jordan had heard about him on the news.
S5: Later, she told me immediately when you were talking to me, she assumed the authorities say Jordanian American been arrested with the connection to Oklahoma City bombing. You didn’t come one time. So what? What do you want us to think? And she told me even my voice was not even normal. You try to be calm as much as you can. But there are some things that you cannot help.
S1: So what happens when you hang up the phone?
S5: All the questions were about the luggage.
S1: Ibrahim’s luggage had gone on without him to Rome. One of the cities on his original itinerary. So it was Italian officials who opened the bags. News outlets around the world reported what they found inside electronics tools and tubes of silicone. According to media reports, those were possible bomb making materials. Ibrahim had brought three pieces of checked luggage on his trip. All of them were extremely full.
S5: Typical person coming from Third World and come to Western country, you always what’s in your bags. You buy like the maximum because everything you buy in the United States is really, really good quality.
S1: Do you remember some of the stuff that you were bringing on that trip?
S5: Yes, I do remember. I remember the wireless phones. I think I had like two or three of them. I remember cause serious. I remember tools, good brands, craftsman, for example, a lifetime warranty on those things.
S1: Five tubes of silicone. Do you remember that?
S5: When I was in Jordan, four or five months before that, my father told me, you know, we have this sink that, you know, when you when you said it against the wall, you put silicone around it and he keeps buying cheap stuff because that’s the thing. Available in Jordan. So he said, since you are coming. Why don’t you get me that good silicone from the United States?
S1: It wasn’t just the silica that media outlets had branded suspicious and sinister. The New York Times had passed along a report from Italian officials. Ibrahim Ahmed supposedly had pictures of military weapons, including missiles and armored vehicles. Ibrahim says that in reality, those were family vacation photos.
S5: My brother in law, you work for the Jordanian Army as an engineer, and he came to American base for training. This was in Aberdeen, Maryland. I went to visit him and they had, I think, tanks and rockets, maybe from World War Two or something. I just take my camera and I start shooting, you know, and those pictures happened to have in the album and the album was in the luggage.
S1: The stuff inside Ibrahim’s luggage was likely the main reason he got strip searched in London and sent back to the U.S. in handcuffs. It’s what the media seized on in reports that made it sound like he could be a terrorist. It’s what caused Imad and chassis to suspect that his friend might have something to do with the Oklahoma City bombing. And it’s the only thing that federal agents wanted to ask him about on the night of April 20th after his plane landed at Dulles Airport. Ibrahim explained everything. The photographs, the electronics, the tools, and he told them all about that silicone for his father’s sink.
S5: And I remember they told me, How much did you pay for it? And I said, I don’t know. Maybe I don’t have $2 maximum for each. And they said, We’re going to buy it from you. The government said, you can have it. They say, No, no, no, we want to take it to the lab and we we cannot take it like that, you know, and just tell us how much you paid for it and we will be all for it. And they made me, they paid me for this and it had me sign a paper that’s, you know, they’re not taking it from me. And they asked me, Do you know anything about sitting on? I said, the only thing about was, it’s good to use that on the sink. That’s the only thing I know. So they were just laughing, you know?
S1: The agents questioning Ibrahim believed he was telling the truth. These were not bomb making materials. Everything else that Ibrahim said checked out too. He was not. As a CBS News report had suggested seen outside the federal building shortly before the blast, he was just a family man from Oklahoma City who’d been on his way to visit relatives in the Middle East.
S5: You say you are innocent. You were nothing to do with this. It was getting late. Now we are talking about 11 12 midnight. They said, you’ll sleep tonight here with us in the building and tomorrow would buy a ticket for you and you go back to Oklahoma City. And the only thing you just can’t fly to Jordan now you have to go to court an Oklahoma City federal court because you are material witness. But what does that mean? I have no idea.
S1: You’re like the least good witness of anyone living in Oklahoma at the time. You’re like the only person who didn’t know anything about it.
S5: Definitely. Definitely. And now now it’s like the bowl of snow is, you know, rolling. They told me they bought the ticket, but it’s not under my name because they say the media, your name now is in the media and I say, who leaked my name to the media and they wouldn’t answer.
S1: Ibrahim says the FBI gave him a Spanish sounding pseudonym, something like Fernando Gonzalez, his itinerary was Washington: to Nashville to Oklahoma City.
S5: So when we landed in Nashville, we had an hour or so connection between the two flights. There were many firemen going on the same flight to help with the rescue and Oklahoman city, and everybody is talking about the Oklahoma City bombing. And they say they brought a Middle Eastern man from London back to the U.S., but they didn’t know. This is the person I am. I am listening to a story about myself and I was going, Wow, wow.
S1: It was there in Nashville, 48 hours after the bombing that Ibrahim Ahmed first began to piece together what had happened in Oklahoma. A bomb had destroyed a federal building. Scores of people were killed. The nation was in mourning. Ibrahim made it back to Oklahoma City on Friday, April 21st. When he got to his house, his wife, Martina, wasn’t there, but Martina’s brother was.
S5: I said, What is my wife? And he he told me she went into hiding. I said, Hiding from what? So you didn’t know what was going on. I said, No, what is going on?
S1: Martinez brother told Ibrahim that she’d been interrogated by the FBI and that their address had been broadcast on the news that people had thrown trash at their property. In that Martina had taken their girls to a safe place. Ibrahim’s wife and daughters had stayed with Imad, and Jossy then moved on to the house of another friend. Around midnight, Ibrahim went there to reunite with his family.
S5: When they open the door and she saw me, she read, dropped like unconscious and the poor woman she she freaked out when she saw me finally. You know, right in front of our eyes, you know, safe and sound. I think what she went through is much harder than what I went through for her. The uncertainty was the biggest thing.
S1: Ibrahim’s five year old daughter couldn’t stop crying even after he returned home. She said that she didn’t understand why all those angry people had been outside their house. Ibrahim told her that those people had thought he was a killer and that he didn’t know why, but he told her not to worry. He said, I’m safe now. You’re safe and I’ve got nothing to do with all this stuff. Ibrahim and his family finally made it back to their house early on Saturday morning when he turned on the news. He learned that the real Oklahoma City bomber had been publicly identified.
S5: You turn every channel. Everybody’s talking about it, and they at that time, they already catch Timothy McVeigh.
S3: I am pleased to announce that one of the individuals believed to be responsible for Wednesday’s terrible attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City has been arrested.
S1: Timothy McVeigh had been pulled over for a traffic violation less than an hour and a half after the bombing, just a few minutes before Ibrahim’s flight to Chicago. Police took McVeigh into custody when they found he was carrying an illegal gun. In the meantime, the FBI traced the truck used in the bombing to a rental facility in Kansas. A sketch artist made drawings of the two white men who rented it. McVeigh was hours away from potentially making bail when a lawyer recognized him from one of those sketches. McVeigh was arrested in connection with the bombing on the afternoon of April 21st. Ibrahim Ahmed is released from custody, became public the same day
S3: and sources tell CNN he was very cooperative, is no longer considered a suspect or a witness instead of going back to Europe. In fact, he’s going to Oklahoma City himself voluntarily.
S1: Ibrahim’s exoneration did not make big headlines, The Washington Post mentioned it in the thirty sixth and final paragraph of its front page story on McVeigh’s arrest.
S5: Now your story is gone. It’s his story. Your story is nothing. You know you are completely forgotten. Nobody’s talking about what happened to you and your family.
S1: For Imad and chassy, it was hard to see his friend’s release and Timothy McVeigh’s arrest as anything but an enormous relief.
S2: Imagine that you are drowning under the water and you’re about to take your last breath and then somebody pulls you. It was like, You know, really, the soul is coming back to my body was like, I could go back to my grief. I could go back to feeling with the victims and their families.
S1: There was one other thing that Imad needed to do before he got closure. After Ibrahim got home, Imad sat his friend down and made a confession,
S2: couldn’t look him in the eye. Ashamed looking down. I was in a very hesitant voice, told them, you know. The media was very strong in condemning you and pointing the finger towards you that, you know, some of the people here actually including me, thought, maybe you have done it. And I begged for his forgiveness and he forgave me for that.
S1: After nine 11, Imad and chassis felt a calling to become an imam, he wanted to spread peace and understanding and to promote a positive image of his faith in the media. He’s now the senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City. He’s given sermons on the doubts he felt about Ibrahim after the Oklahoma City bombing. He tells that story as a reminder not to rush to judgment. He thinks about that lesson every time he sees his friend
S2: will be hang around the mosque. Go have lunch. Or, you know, his wife and my wife are still good friends. But, you know, Ibrahim was here a few days ago, actually, and I swear I could still not look him in the eye.
S1: The date of the Oklahoma City bombing April 19th had special significance for Timothy McVeigh and his collaborator, Terry Nichols. It was the second anniversary of an event that had helped stoke the American militia movement. The federal raid in Waco, Texas, that ended with the Branch Davidian compound burning in 76 people dead. That connection, which pointed to anti-government domestic terrorists, didn’t get major media attention in the hours after the attack on Oklahoma City. The bogus connection to the Middle East that did. Two of the experts who touted that Middle Eastern link were former congressman Dave McCurdy and Steven Emerson, the producer of the documentary Jihad in America, McCurdy said he was sorry if anyone thought he’d jumped the gun, but continued to insist that Islamic extremists had met in Oklahoma City. Steven Emerson said he’d done nothing wrong in declaring a possible link to Middle Eastern terrorism.
S3: I have never referred to as American Muslims as the subjects of somebody who should be investigated. I’ve always said very precisely that militant Islamic terrorists and suspects the ones that should be investigated.
S1: Emerson is now the executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which calls itself the world’s most comprehensive data center on radical Islamic terrorist groups. After Timothy McVeigh got caught, news outlets had to reckon with the choices they made and the hours after the bombing. CNN had broadcast the names of four individual Muslim men who it turned out had nothing to do with the bombing. One of them was Ibrahim Ahmed. CNN’s executive vice president stood by the network’s choices. He said they were not in the business of keeping secrets from their viewers. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Bernard Shaw and Bruce Morton also defended their early focus on the Middle East. I’m sure that in the postmortem
S3: of this, there will be a lot of criticism of the news media. Are not ready to handle the way we handle it. But of course, as all of us know, we’re just reporting what we hear from reliable sources. I think everybody made a serious good faith effort to get this right, and the Arab Americans were right to be sensitive. They’ve been victimized before. But this came out pretty evenly. CNN’s live coverage of this day of healing.
S1: One year later, on the anniversary of the bombing, a number of journalists checked in on Ibrahim. He said that his life was in shambles.
S3: Of course, it changed our life forever.
S5: We don’t feel we are welcome in this country anymore.
S3: Part time jobs shunned by neighbors. Counseling for him and his wife and a family divided. He sent his daughter to Jordan to escape the attention.
S1: Ibrahim had a recurring nightmare. He was in a courtroom and a judge told him, You killed those people and we’re going to hang you. He filed a lawsuit against the government saying that he’d been detained because of his ethnic heritage. But Ibrahim eventually dropped that lawsuit. In our conversations, he wanted to focus on the positive things that happened after his detention. The people who left flowers on his doorstep and who sent his family notes of sympathy and solidarity. He’s held on to those letters for 26 years from a women’s Bible study group, a Sunday school class and the man who offered to paint his house for free.
S5: You know, when you when you see something like that, you really forget about everything that you went through. This another human being is feeling like, you know, this is America. This is America. The one I came in 1982 to live this dream.
S1: Ibrahim left America in 1999 to be closer to his aging parents in the Middle East. For now, he lives in Bosnia and he wants to open an American style fast food restaurant in Sarajevo. It’s going to specialize in fried chicken. Ibrahim still travels to Oklahoma City as often as he can when he’s there. He goes to Imad and Chase’s mosque to pray and to say hello. He hopes that someday he’ll be back again for good.
S5: If you exclude the first three days, 1995 Oklahoma, I think in America, everything was positive for me. This is the place where you really feel home. You know, this is this is really home.
S1: Next time on one year, 1995, a group of American teenagers sets off for one of the world’s most prestigious universities and finds something totally unexpected.
S4: Then I remember when I was coming up from the main house. That’s when someone first said, You know, there’s an issue where this isn’t actually part of Oxford, and that’s when I went, I’m sorry, what?
S1: One year is produced by me and Evan Sharp with editorial direction by Lowe and Lou and Gabriel Robyn Madeline Ducharme, his one year assistant producer, and we got additional production help from Shane O’Rourke. You can send us feedback and ideas and memories from 1995 at one year at Slate.com. And you can call us on the one year hotline at two three three four three zero seven seven seven. We’d love to hear from you. Our mix engineer is Merritt Jacob. The artwork for one year is by Jim Cook. Imad and Josh wrote a memoir about his life in Lebanon and Oklahoma City. It’s called the Cloud Miles. Some of the audio you heard in this episode comes from CNN. Special thanks to Andrew Gumbel, Adam Soltani, Suhaib Webb, Kelsey Powell, Reverend Marchini, Sayid emceed Ayman Ishmael, Alicia Montgomery, Christina Carter Rugy, Jared Holt, Laura Bennett, Allison Benedict, Holly Allen, Katie Rayford, Ayesha Saluja, Amber Smith, Seth Brown, Rachel Strom and Chao to. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back with more from 1995 next week.
S6: Hi, I’m too, and we are doing a quick sleeper segment here for you to give you an exclusive preview of the season of one year. To do that, I have here with me when your host Josh Levin and producer Evan Chong. Hey, there you do. Hey, Joe. Hey, how are you? I’m good. Welcome back. So season one of one year went through 1977, which, as we heard through your stories, was sort of a transitional moment in America, socially and culturally. Josh. Can you remind us about why you wanted to jump ahead to 1995 for the second season?
S1: Yeah, I think it was a similarly transitional moment, but in a different way. So in 77, you have this new president coming in Jimmy Carter and you have this sort of massive social change, along with the pushback that inevitably comes with social change in America. And in 1995, and maybe this is because I was alive in 1995, it feels like more similar to the world that we’re living in now. At least I can remember it, but it was a moment when the technology universe was just completely shifting and being created like all the websites that we know of, or many of them were created at Amazon, Match.com, and some of the ways in which we interact with each other were just totally being upended. And so even in those stories that were telling the season that are not about the internet or about technology, it’s still kind of present and looming in a lot of different ways. And that was just fascinating to me. Like if you go back to a time when Google doesn’t exist, when you know, email is not a super common thing and how that changes the ways in which the world works in some and obvious and some and unexpected ways, that was really interesting to me.
S6: Mm hmm. Yeah. So let’s hear about some of the stories. Evan, can you run us through some of the themes from 1985 that you’ll be exploring this season?
S2: Yeah. I mean, if you look into 1995 and look at the stories, you quickly realize there’s two stories that really dominate the year, and that’s the Oklahoma City bombing and the O.J. Simpson trial. And so we knew we had to deal with those somehow because they really just are everywhere. Everywhere you look, even in unrelated stories, they’ll pop up someone’s always referencing O.J. or referencing what’s happening in Oklahoma City. So obviously, our first episode is about Oklahoma City, but we did try to find kind of a less obvious route because to tell the story of either the bombing or the trial, those were enormous stories that you would need huge multi-part documentaries to tell those stories and those documentaries already exist. We don’t really need to do that. So you’ve heard now our story about Ibrahim, who I think is a really fascinating component that’s of the Oklahoma City bombing story that’s been largely forgotten. And we’re going to be bringing up O.J. periodically. We’re not going to do something that’s directly about the trial, but we’re going to do a story about the Ann Arbor Police Department using DNA as a dragnet to try to catch a criminal in the town. But they did so in a way that racially profiled the black residents of Ann Arbor. And this is all happening at the same time that the O.J. trial is raising the idea that DNA is this powerful crime solving tool so interesting ways that those stories dovetail. Josh mentioned the internet and the internet asking me looming over this the whole season. And there’s a story coming up that I’m working on about this web site called the spot when the web was really just first launching and the spot became pretty much the first online TV show. It’s not exactly a TV show, but it was viewed that way, and it caused all sorts of excitement and lots of fan drama. And it gets it gets wacky. And I think one of the most fun episodes we’re working on is about a certain song called The Macarena, which really exploded. It peaked in its popularity in 1996, but in 1995 it was becoming this huge phenomenon, specifically in Latin clubs, in places like Texas, in Miami. And so we’re really trying to figure out how did this thing happen?
S1: Are the Macarena? Well, hopefully that will delight and not annoy our listeners, or maybe both. Hopefully, that will annoy them in a way that makes them want to tell their friends to listen to one of those stories that I have just been so delighted by in the reporting process. The story of Fake Oxford, which is about this group of American students who think they’ve been admitted to one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, and they get to England and they discover they are not where they thought they’d be. It is just a totally bizarre and amazing story that I think. Not many people know about and catching up with the people involved 26 years later was a really fascinating experience. And then we have a story from our colleague Christina Ricci, who we were very lucky to have do a one year episode for this season, which is about a fertility clinic in California that was using an innovative procedure to help couples get pregnant. And long story short, whistleblowers expose this terrible secret about what the clinic was doing, and it turns out that a group of women had biological children that they never knew existed because their eggs were, you know, used without their consent. And it’s just a totally shocking incident that happened one of the largest breaches of medical ethics in American history. But yeah, I mean, this story has has nothing to do with the internet and how that was changing the world. But this is a moment when a lot of the technology around fertility and infertility was being developed. And so when you are in these moments when things are changing, when there’s innovation, there’s going to be people that push the limits or go beyond the limits and test the limits. And this is a story about that.
S6: So Josh, is there anything that you think you’re going to be doing new or differently for this season?
S1: Yeah. So one of the things that was so exciting for me when we started doing this show was the idea that we could cover anything and everything. Stories about politics, culture, science, sports, and that we could experiment with all sorts of different forms and ways and in telling a story. So I think you’ll be hearing a few more episodes this year that similar to the Oklahoma City episode that you just heard a really tightly focused on one person or a couple of people. There’s a kind of intimacy to that storytelling that I think works really well and the audio medium. And just like Evan was saying before, when you have an enormous story like the Oklahoma City bombing that could support a 10 part documentary series, you really need to limit your scope. And the best way to do that is to focus on, you know, one person who has a really particular experience. And so I think they’re going to be a couple of episodes like that. And, you know, don’t worry, we’re still going to have a few that feel more kind of sprawling, but it’s those intimate episodes that I think often will really stick in people’s heads.
S6: Mm-Hmm. And the schedule is going to be a little bit different for this season as well, right?
S1: Yeah. So it’s going to be seven episodes, just like one year, 1977, the first five will be hitting your feeds in 2021. Then we’re going to take a quick break over the holidays and we’ll be back with the last two and in January of 2022. Speaking of years, 2022, man,
S6: it’s coming, OK. And so if someone wanted to start diving into 1995 and, you know, read or watch along with you, were there any like favorite things that have come up in your research that maybe listeners could check out right now?
S2: Yes. So it turns out we’re not the only people to think that 1995 is a really exciting year. So there’s a book, actually, that we found at some point by a writer named W. Joseph Campbell called 1995 The Year The Future Began. And so that’s a really good overview, and it covers a lot of big stories that we’re not going to get to. So, for instance, there’s a great chapter in that book about the negotiations in Dayton that ended the war in Bosnia, which is a big, wonderfully messy and dramatic story that we would spend forever just trying to get the names pronounced right for that. But it’s a really great
S1: Bosnia, the country where Ibrahim Ahmed is opening a fried chicken restaurant.
S2: There you go. We should have mentioned that later on. But anyway, so yeah, so that’s a great book that would give you a good overview of some of the other stuff going on in the year. And I’ll just say, you know, before the pandemic, right before the pandemic, there’s a series going on in New York where I live a film series at anthology film archives, which is a really great legendary repertory cinema and experimental film venue in the Lower East Side. And they were doing a series right as lockdown began, called 1995, the year the internet broke. I believe so. It’s a whole series of films entirely about that moment where the country was discovering the World Wide Web and starting to develop these kind of paranoid fears about what are new interconnected aids would bring. Movies like Hackers, The Net, Johnny Mnemonic, Strange Days, Ghost in the Shell, these all came out in 1995, and so I think that would be a good watch list that gets you into the mindset of the internet becoming this huge force that’s preying on Americans minds in 1995. Hackers was the final film I saw in theaters before everything went down.
S1: Hack the World. I have found it really fun to look at Usenet newsgroups. You know, there were Usenet groups about everything. And so the fun thing about doing 1995 is that there is actually a kind of contemporaneous internet commentary about the stuff that we’re doing stories on whether that stuff was explicitly about the internet or not. So it’s just fun to like, look back and see what how people were responding to events in real time in these newsgroups.
S6: Yeah. Have you been able to dig back and see what, like the internet look like in 95, I gather any of those sites still up anywhere. Can you access them?
S1: Yeah, archive.org. What an amazing resource. But Evan, I mean, with your story on the spot, one of the things that’s so interesting about it is that it really does not exist at this point, right?
S2: Yeah. I mean, archive.org is great because you can find a bunch of stuff, but not everything. I mean, that’s what’s so interesting about the internet is just its ephemerality and a lot of these things that. Big news stories in terms of these new websites and these new developments on the web. They are basically lost to history now. So that’s part of the fun of this season for us, I think is sort of reopening the time capsule and trying to rediscover the things that we’d lost in the last twenty six years of internet history.
S6: Yeah, take it back. Well, that’s a great reason to do the season. Then I’m really looking forward to listening to all these episodes. Thank you so much to Josh and Levin, and for usually plus members, we will be doing an exclusive recap of all the one year 1995 stories at the end of the season, giving you behind the scenes info on how everything came together and what didn’t make it into the show. So that will be at the end of the season in January. So we will talk to you then. Thanks for listening.