Laith Yousif — Iraqi 9/11 Survivor

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Robert Giroux / Getty

Smoke pouring from the upper floors of the twin towers after terrorist highjackers crashed 2 Boeing 767 passenger planes into the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001.

Yousif left Iraq in 1998 and moved to New York City in 2001 to take an IT job at the World Trade Center. He was running late on the morning of 9/11 and reached the lobby as the first plane hit. He later witnessed the entire structure's collapse from less than a block away. Since then, he has applied for U.S. citizenship and launched several blogs about Iraqi news and culture.

On his family
I left Iraq in 1998. I moved to Dubai for a couple years and then I moved [to New York City] in 2001. My family left Iraq in 2006 after my two brothers got threats. They were going to be killed if they [continued] to work with the humanitarian organization that they were working with. They really thought of leaving after the war, but they didn't want to get outside of the country without any plans. My parents are old so they cannot really move easily. In fact, one of the things that happened when they left Iraq, my parents, my mother, she didn't even go to the house that we were living in — the one that I left — because the area, al Dora, is so full of insurgents, it's almost no-man zone. No one can go there. So they left Iraq not even going to the house that they used to live in with everything there. They just left it. It was that dramatic. They just drove in a car and left. Now my five-member family lives in three countries. I haven't seen my family in the last nine years.

On why he left Iraq
There was no hope in the future for anyone who has ambition to do things. If you are there, you are so stuck with the system you either play with their rules or you are an outcast. Iraq at that time — you had every flexibility that you have here in New York except being able to say anything bad about the government. Here I can say whatever I want, no one is listening. But there you cannot. I've seen it with my own eyes that people disappear for no reason. In Iraq, no matter what you would have done at that time, you could not make money that can get you a step further. You will always be getting enough to just get you by.

On 9/11
When I came here in the U.S., my first job was in the World Trade Center. I was in the building when it was hit. There was still debris falling when I got out of the building. When the second plane hit, I was less than one block away from the building. I saw so many sides of the trouble, it's not realistic. Just after I left [Iraq], in December of '98, there was a bombing campaign — Clinton — so you get out of that and you start seeing the country get bombed when you were outside and then you get here and I thought that at least I'm away from all those horrible [threats]. In fact, when I was in the building and I walked out, I used some of the things we learned in Iraq during the war with Iran to kind of be safe. Everyone was running in the middle of the street. Rule number one when I was in Iraq is that you get next to the wall because that will minimize your chance [of getting hit by debris]. If you're in the middle of the street, you can get hit from anywhere. I couldn't call my family because my phone stopped working. They thought I died. I was able to call them eight hours later when I made it home. They couldn't believe that I was still alive.

On homesickness
About three weeks ago, I got a call from my mom and she was crying. Our neighbor called her and said that there are people who live in our house — we don't know who they are — but they are a family. It is good because it is better than an [insurgent] group using it. So the family is moving because they thought that the situation is getting a little bit better and they are moving the furniture that we have out. So I was laughing, like, "Mom, are you kidding me? The whole country is ruined and you are thinking about your dinner table?" [laughs]. You have to laugh at these things and don't take anything seriously because if you do you will not be able to liveit's weird how you feel about it. Sometimes you have so much passion that things can be so much better. And sometimes it's like, you have one life to live and everyone knows that it's the fault of so many people and it's not going to be fixed by one or two people.

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