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October 9, 2013

The legacy of 9/11 hero Danny Lewin

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/the_legacy_of_9_11_hero_danny_lewin

Danny Lewin, the first person murdered by al-Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo courtesy of Akamai Technologies.

Danny Lewin, the first person murdered by al-Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo courtesy of Akamai Technologies.

At the center of the 9/11 attacks against the United States by Islamofascist terror, an unlikely hero played a largely unknown role. He sacrificed his life in an attempt to stop the hijacking of one of the planes that later crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He was an Israeli-American and his role has remained largely ignored and unacknowledged.

Danny Lewin was an American-Israeli, a world-class Internet entrepreneur, and the very first person to be murdered by the al-Qaeda barbarians on Sept. 11, 2001. He was aboard the American Airlines Flight 11 plane out of Boston headed for Los Angeles when it was hijacked by the terrorists. A veteran of the special forces in the Israeli army, Lewin quickly understood what was going down. He spoke fluent Arabic and knew what the terrorists were saying. He single-handedly attempted to attack and subdue the terrorists. He was stabbed to death on the plane by terrorist Satam al-Suqami, a Saudi law student. Lewin was 31 years old when he was murdered.

A new biography of the hero of 9/11, written by Molly Knight Raskin, is now in book stores; it is titled “No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet.” 

Lewin grew up in Denver and immigrated to Israel with his family in 1984, three years after I did the same. His parents were devoted Zionists and passionate about their Jewishness. While exempt from military service in Israel on grounds that he had recently immigrated, Danny insisted on serving anyhow, and in the country’s most challenging military unit at that. He served in the ultra-elite special forces combat unit called Sayeret Matkal. 

Lewin attended the Technion in Haifa, where in 1995 he was named the year’s Outstanding Student in Computer Engineering. He then worked for IBM in developing high-tech products, later doing graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There he became the protégé of the legendary MIT professor F. Thomson Leighton. According to Raskin, “The more Lewin got to know Leighton, the more professionally enamored he became, routinely telling friends he’d met the ‘smartest man in the world.’ ” The two developed mathematical algorithms for optimizing Internet traffic. These became the basis for Akamai Technologies, which the two founded in 1998. Lewin served as the company’s chief technology officer and a board member. The company went public in 1999 and its stock market valuation rose rapidly to $345 billion. Lewin was posthumously named one of the most influential high-tech figures in the world. Much of Raskin’s book details his career in advanced high technology. He was not only the first victim of the 9/11 terror — he was also its wealthiest and most successful victim. Raskin writes:

“An executive summary mistakenly leaked by the Federal Aviation Administration to the press stated that terrorist Satam al-Suqami shot and killed Lewin with a single bullet around 9:20 a.m. (obviously a typo, as the plane crashed at 8:46 a.m.). But almost as soon as the memo was leaked, FAA officials claimed it was written in error, and that Lewin was more than likely stabbed, not shot. The 9/11 Commission concurred, offering a more detailed summary: based on dozens of interviews with those who spoke with flight attendants Madeline Sweeney and Betty Ong, the commission determined that al-Suqami most likely killed Lewin by slashing him in the throat from behind as he attempted to stop the hijacking. The time of his death was reported to be somewhere between 8:15 and 8:20 a.m., which — if fact — would make Lewin the first victim of the 9/11 attacks.”

After his death, the intersection of Main and Vassar streets in Cambridge, Mass., was renamed Danny Lewin Square in his honor. He left behind a widow and two sons.

Lewin’s life captures everything positive about the American-Israeli collaboration in education, high technology and military strategy. He also epitomizes the world struggle against barbarism.

This column first appeared in FrontPage Magazine and is reprinted with the permission of Steven Plaut.


Steven Plaut is a native Philadelphian who teaches business finance and economics at the University of Haifa in Israel. He holds a doctorate in economics from Princeton. He is author of the David Horowitz Freedom Center booklets about Hamas and “Jewish Enablers of the War Against Israel.”

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