The Siege (1998) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • After the abduction by the US military of an Islamic religious leader, New York City becomes the target of escalating terrorist attacks. Anthony Hubbard, the head of the FBI's Counter-Terrorism Task Force in New York, teams up with CIA operative Elise Kraft to hunt down the terrorist cells responsible for the attacks. As the bombings continue, the US government responds by declaring martial law, sending US troops, led by Gen. Devereaux, into the streets of New York City.

  • The secret U.S. abduction of a suspected terrorist, leads to a wave of terrorist attacks in New York City, that lead to the declaration of martial-law.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • A U.S. military barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, is bombed by terrorists. It is determined to be the work of Sheikh Ahmed bin Talal, a known extremist. A Black Ops team works to capture the Sheikh. Posing as shepherds herding goats, they stop the Sheikh's car, kill his drivers, and extract him, blowing up the car to destroy evidence. Then, they fly him to the United States to stand trial.

    The action shifts to New York City, where one day, a call comes in that an MTA bus in Brooklyn has been taken hostage, with NYPD officers and FDNY firefighters on the scene. When the NYPD sends in the bomb squad to disarm the device, it detonates. Much to everyone's relief, it's just a paint bomb, and the passengers are escorted to safety.

    The investigation into the incident is handled by Special Agent Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) of the FBI's Counter-Terrorism Task Force and his partner Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub). As the investigation gets under way, Hubbard is told that someone is flashing a government badge at the warehouse where the bus is being processed. Hubbard drives out to the warehouse to investigate. The employee in question is a CIA officer named Elise Kraft (Annette Benning). Though she's cordial and asks to liaise with the FBI, Hubbard brushes her off. Thinking she's hiding something, Hubbard gives orders for Elise to be tailed.

    The next morning, Hubbard and Haddad are summoned to John F. Kennedy International Airport, where a man named Khalil Saleh (Assif Mandvi) has just arrived carrying a briefcase that's packed with $10,000 in small bills. Customs has detained him for further questioning in light of the heightened terror alert. In questioning, he claims that the money is dowry for a wedding. Nonetheless, Hubbard and Haddad tail him to a suburban street in Brooklyn. They follow Khalil as he has a meeting with another unidentified man on the street. Unfortunately, the stakeout is blown when another agent, Mike Johanssen (Mark Valley), inadvertently gives himself away, and Khalil flees on foot. Hubbard and Haddad attempt to give chase in their car, but lose him when he scales a fence and then hops into a passing red van.

    The van is eventually recovered, and is found to have been reported stolen and carrying bogus plates. While they're on scene, Hubbard and his team get word from another agent, Floyd Rose (Lance Reddick), about the whereabouts of their missing individual: he's shown up at a CIA safehouse in Staten Island, with Elise Kraft. The FBI team proceeds to raid the safehouse, capturing all of the CIA personnel, including Elise. Hubbard and Haddad personally take Elise, and put her into their car to be taken into custody.

    As Hubbard and Haddad drive Elise back to Manhattan for further questioning, they try asking her for more information about the bus that was paint-bombed. Elise, however, dodges the questions, instead, bringing up conversation about Haddad's background.

    While they're driving across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Hubbard's and Haddad's individual cell phones ring almost simultaneously. It's disturbing news: three men armed with rifles and wearing explosives have just taken an MTA bus hostage at Broadway and Bedford Avenues in Brooklyn. When Hubbard, Haddad and Elise arrive on scene, the NYPD and FDNY have already set up a perimeter and the NYPD Emergency Services Unit is getting snipers into position. Hubbard is patched through to the bus's driver, who agrees to hand the phone over to the hostage taker. Having learned from another officer that there are six children on the bus, Hubbard decides to use that to his advantage. He begins addressing the hostage takers (with Haddad supplying a running translation in Arabic), and makes a plea for them to release the children.

    Much to everyone's surprise, the hostage-takers acquiesce to Hubbard's requests and release a group of children from the bus. They are quickly escorted by police back behind the perimeter. Hubbard then resumes negotiations with the hostage-takers, trying to get as many hostages as possible released. It takes a while, but eventually, he convinces them to release the elderly passengers. After another tense moment, the bus doors slide open and some senior citizens begin to exit the bus. However, just moments later, the terrorists suddenly renege on their promise and detonate their explosives, causing the bus to explode in a huge fireball. The explosion instantly kills the 25 civilians and suicide bombers still on board and injures numbers of NYPD officers, FBI agents, and FDNY firefighters due to the shockwave and debris raining down everywhere within several hundred feet of the bus. Hubbard is among the FBI agents injured when the explosion throws him off his feet and temporarily deafens him during the process.

    An investigation is quickly launched by a somewhat agitated Hubbard into the bombing. In time, the FBI is able to identify one of the bombers as a young individual named Ali Wasiri. In a turn of events, Wasiri is revealed to have been on a State Department watchlist, leading them to wonder how he got into the country. This is answered when they find a student visa in Wasiri's name, and this leads them to Samir Nazhde, a professor of Arab studies at Brooklyn College who sponsored the application. Hubbard wants to arrest Samir, but Elise insists that Samir is not a terrorist and that his continued freedom is vital to the investigation, even striking up a sexual relationship with him (while Hubbard and Haddad watch from afar). Hubbard also learns from Elise about the possibility that the terrorists behind these attacks might be followers of the Sheikh who are exacting revenge against the United States.

    A day or so later, Hubbard gets a surprise visit from General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis) of the 101st Airborne Division. While they converse, Hubbard asks Devereaux if he knows anything about the Sheikh. Devereaux claims that the Sheikh is old news, and the bombers' demands for the U.S. to release the Sheikh are impossible to meet because the Sheikh is dead (which we can see is false given the opening sequence).

    Acting on another lead, the FBI team eventually uncovers an apartment recently leased to three young Arab men. According to the landlord, they spend their days watching TV and eating pizza. This gives Hubbard an idea when they carry out the raid. He sends one of his agents, Danny Sussman (David Proval), up to the apartment disguised as a pizza deliveryman, and carrying a pizza box, in which they have planted a smoke grenade. Right behind Danny is a fully armed SWAT team. Danny drops the pizza box off and it is carried into the apartment. When it explodes in the face of one of the occupants, the SWAT team breaches the door and storms the apartment. Two of the men are killed when they try to shoot back with assault rifles, and the third (the guy who picked up the pizza box) is killed in the crossfire. Haddad finds bombmaking equipment under one windowsill that includes many of the elements used on the bus.

    Some time later, the FBI team is shown knocking off after work at a midtown Manhattan bar. Hubbard is coerced into slow-dancing with Elise. As they dance, Hubbard asks Elise if she thinks her friend Samir is in league with the terrorists. Elise doesn't seem to think so. The dance is interrupted though when the bar is suddenly rocked by a shockwave, which momentarily knocks out some of the lights and sets off the panic alarms on some cars outside. As it turns out, a bomb has been set off at the New Victory Theatre on 42nd Street. Hubbard, Haddad and Elise race to the scene, and are forced to abandon their car at the north end of Times Square due to emergency vehicles obstructing traffic. When they reach the theatre, they find FDNY firefighters and NYPD officers at work handling triage and evacuating injured or panicked civilians as smoke billows out from the theatre's façade. Numerous civilians have been killed, and many more critically wounded (at one point, Hubbard's attention momentarily falls upon a young woman coming down the staircase missing part of her left arm, before collapsing halfway down into the arms of a firefighter).

    The terrorist attacks on two buses and the New Victory Theatre has led to an increased sense of urgency and fear amongst New Yorkers. Hubbard holds a strategy meeting with senior law enforcement officials, but things don't go successfully. The meeting is furthermore interrupted when they get a call that a lone gunman has taken kids in an elementary school classroom hostage and planted what appears to be a radio-controlled bomb. While waiting behind the barricade, Hubbard sees the news helicopters hovering around outside. Not willing to let innocent lives be lost, he barges through the artificial police barricade of chairs and furniture, bursts into the classroom, and shoots the gunman.

    The events in New York City have drawn increased scrutiny from officials in Washington, D.C. Hubbard, General Devereaux and Elise, now going by the name Sharon Bridger, are among those summoned to a meeting of the top heads to discuss how to resolve the terrorist situation. During the conversation, Devereaux is asked about the feasibility of imposing martial law on Brooklyn until the terrorist cells are flushed out. He explains that it would be the worst possible decision to deploy the military as it would not help them find the cells. Furthermore, Hubbard argues that deploying the military will only drive the terrorists underground. However, what's clear, as Sharon explains, is that the terrorist cells aren't working like a traditional terrorist network. In most cells, cutting off the head of the network causes the other cells to die off. In the current situation, each terror cell seems to be operating independent of each other: the bus was the work of the first cell. Once that cell was taken out, the second cell carried out the attack on the theatre gala. There are possibly three or four cells at most in Brooklyn, but the timetable until they are found is impossible to determine without knowing who to look for.

    While this meeting is underway, another terrorist attack happens in Manhattan as a lone individual crashes a stolen van full of explosives into the lobby of One Federal Plaza, the location of the FBI's Counter-Terrorism Task Force. The blast partially demolishes the building, killing 600 people, including Hubbard's own agents, Johanssen and Tina Osu.

    In spite of objections, the President declares martial law and elements of the 101st Airborne Division, under Devereaux (Willis), occupies and seals off Brooklyn in an effort to find the remaining terrorist cells. Subsequently all young males of Arab descent, including Haddad's son Frank, Jr., are rounded up and detained in Yankee Stadium. Haddad resigns in protest, while civilians stage violent demonstrations against the Army and the racial profiling of the Arabs and the Army fights to maintain control. There are reports of Army killings.

    Hubbard and Sharon continue their investigation and capture a suspect, Tariq Husseini, although it isn't without incident as the Army is tipped off to the raid and decides to crash it. In the resulting confusion, the chop shop that Tariq runs is blown up. Husseini is tortured for information, but when he doesn't reveal anything, Devereaux has him shot. Afterward, Bridger tells Hubbard that Husseini knew nothing of value because of the principle of compartmentalized information and, sickened, she finally tells Hubbard what she knows. It is revealed that she herself provided training and support to militants opposed to Saddam Hussein's regime. After the funding was cut, she took pity on the few of them who had not yet been taken out by Hussein's forces, and arranged for them to escape to the United States, ultimately leading to the present situation. She and Hubbard compel Samir to arrange a meeting with the final terrorist cell. Hubbard convinces Haddad that he needs his help and Haddad returns to the FBI.

    A multi-ethnic peace march demonstrates against the occupation of Brooklyn. As the march is getting under way Hubbard and Haddad arrive at the meeting place, but Bridger and Samir have already left. Once inside a bathhouse, Samir reveals to Bridger that he is the final cell, and boasts that "there will never be a last cell." He straps a bomb to his body which he intends to detonate amongst the marchers. Hubbard and Haddad arrive in time to stop him leaving but just as they show up, Samir shoots Sharon in the stomach after a struggle. Hubbard shoots Samir but despite their best efforts he and Haddad can only watch as Bridger bleeds to death, saying the first half of the lords prayer and then in arabic "Inch Allah".

    Hubbard, Haddad, and other FBI agents, raid Devereaux's headquarters to arrest him for Husseini's death. Deveraux insists that under the War Powers Resolution the authority vested in him by the President supersedes that of the court which issued the arrest warrant. A Mexican standoff ensues, but it's broken when Hubbard reminds Devereaux that the civil liberties and human rights which he took from Husseini are what all his predecessors have fought and died for. Devereaux finally submits, and is detained. Martial law ends and the detainees are freed, including Haddad's son.

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