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First victim died
a hero on Flt. 11

Ex-Israeli commando tried to halt unfolding hijacking

Daniel Lewin
WASHINGTON - The man who was likely the first killed in the 9/11 attacks was a veteran Israeli commando and dot-com millionaire who died fighting to stop ringleader Mohamed Atta from taking over his plane.

According to new details revealed in the final federal report on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, one of that dreadful day's unsung heroes was 31-year-old Daniel Lewin, who served four years in Israel's elite Sayeret Matkal special forces outfit and was flying from Boston to San Francisco on American Airlines Flight 11.

The terror began at 8:14 a.m., when two hijackers slashed two female flight attendants, and Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari rose from their seats to go to the cockpit.

Lewin, seated a row behind them, moved to stop the pair, "not realizing that another [hijacker] was sitting behind him," the report said.

The hijacker behind Lewin, probably Satam al Suqami, stabbed him in the back.

That was likely the only way they could have killed Lewin, his friends said.

"If anyone was going to get him, they were going to come from behind," said Todd Dagres, a venture capitalist who met Lewin when he was studying at MIT and later backed his company. "Nobody that approached him from where he could see him would ever get the better of him, ever."

"He was a militarily trained fighter, and none of us had any doubt... that Danny would have been able to assess the situation and understand what was going on," said Jonathan Seelig, a close friend and co-founder of Lewin's company, Akamai.

Lewin was "absolutely rock solid and thick," Seelig said. "He was a pretty burly guy and he was very strong."

No one was surprised to learn he tried to stop the hijacking.

"It was obvious to anyone who knew him," Seelig said. "It's like someone calling you tomorrow and saying, 'Hey, I just read a report that said the sky is really blue.'"

At 8:46:40, Flight 11 slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, killing all 92 aboard.

Lewin was born in Denver and moved to Israel with his family as a teenager.

In the military, he rose to the rank of captain in the Sayeret Matkal, the reconnaissance unit of the Israeli general staff known as The Unit. It specializes in antiterror operations and is considered the equivalent of the U.S. Delta Force.

After the military, Lewin attended MIT and went on to become co-founder of the Akamai Internet firm. He became a millionaire before age 30.

"He was quite a guy - an accomplished guitarist, a violinist and he could kill you with a common comb," Dagres said. "People like him just don't come along. This guy was intellectually brilliant, creatively brilliant; physically, he was ominous."

Originally published on July 24, 2004

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