First 9/11 Victim Was Internet Genius

Danny Lewin was killed when he fought hijackers

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 11, 2013 1:52 PM CDT

(Newser) – On the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Internet is remembering one of its own: Danny Lewin, an Internet genius who was also likely the very first victim of the day, and whose story is just now fully coming to light. Slate and Salon are featuring excerpts from a new biography of Lewin by Molly Knight Raskin. He was born in Denver, but moved to Israel with his family at age 14, where he attended a technology school and later signed up for the Israeli Defense Force, serving as a commando in an elite counterterrorism unit. He eventually ended up at MIT on a full scholarship, and while there he wrote algorithms to make web content delivery quicker and more efficient. "MIT has a lot of really smart people, and Danny stood out even among that rarified environment," one of his professors tells CNN. Based on those algorithms, Lewin and that professor founded software company Akamai; he was taking American Airlines Flight 11 to a business meeting on September 11.

After the hijacking began, Lewin, 31—who Raskin suggests could have suspected something was amiss before anyone else, because of his IDF training and knowledge of conversational Arabic—got up and struggled with one of the terrorists. Per a 9/11 Commission report issued four years after the attack and based largely on the info two flight attendants relayed to authorities, Satam al-Suqami most likely killed Lewin from behind, by slashing his throat. He died between 8:15am and 8:20am, and the plane slammed into the World Trade Center at 8:46am. "He was the first victim of the first war of the 21st century," says Lewin's best friend. Akamai, now a multibillion-dollar business, was struggling on September 11—but, Raskin notes, most major news sites managed to stay up and running amid the avalanche of traffic that day because of it. Click for more on Lewin.

In this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, American Airlines Flight 175 closes in on World Trade Center Tower 2 in New York, just before impact.   (AP Photo/William Kratzke)
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