The United States of America and, in fact, the world, would not be the same after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The term 9/11 was added to the U.S. vocabulary, symbolizing armed aggression holding humankind for ransom. American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93 were hijacked by al-Qaeda, a group owing allegiance to the militant Islamic leader Osama bin Laden.
The aircraft, respectively, were crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center (WTC), the south tower of the WTC, the Pentagon headquarters, and a field near Shanks Ville, Pennsylvania. About 3,000 people died, and property worth billions of dollars was lost.
Bin Laden, the son of Saudi Arabian construction tycoon Mohammed Awad bin Laden, was the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks. Bin Laden had a deep hatred of the U.S policy in the Middle East and called for the liberation of the region from the United States.
The United States had previously been the target of terrorist attacks such as the World Trade Center bombing (February 1993), a truck bomb at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (April 1995), bomb attacks on U.S. barracks in Dhahran (June 1996), the bombing of U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi (August 1998), a bomb attack on the USS Cole (October 2000), and year 2000 millennium attack plots. But these were not like September 11 in magnitude and precision. Bin Laden was linked with many terrorist attacks all over the world. The successful execution of the attack inside U.S. territory by 19 Islamic militants was a demonstration of the failure of U.S. intelligence. The terrorists dispatched by al-Qaeda passed through security checkpoints of airports easily and performed their mission. It was one of the greatest failures of U.S. intelligence since Pearl Harbor.
The militants had visited the United States and stayed there. Targets, as well as the type of aircraft, were being modified until the final decision. The plan had begun with Operation Bojinka, which was conceived by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Yousef as early as 1995 in Manila. While Khalid was in Afghanistan, he presented al-Qaeda with the argument that instead of using aircraft loaded with explosives, commercial planes could be used to hit the targets. Nine planes were to be crashed into different targets such as the WTC, the Pentagon, the White House, and the Capitol. A 10th plane was to be hijacked by Khalid himself. It would be landed in the United States after all the male passengers were killed. Bin Laden decided to use four planes. The WTC, the Pentagon, and the United States Capitol were to be the targets. A new terrorist cell was established in Hamburg, Germany, and militants were chosen by bin Laden.
Bin Laden was eager to carry out the plan. At a January 2000 meeting held in Kuala Lumpur, militants discussed the USS Cole bombing and the September 11 attacks. Some of the members had already been to the United States, renting apartments and undergoing training as students at flight schools. By June 2000 al-Mihdhar, al-Hazmi, Mohammed Atta, and Marwan al-Shehhi were already in the United States. Omar alBayoumi had been in San Diego, California, since 1995. The terrorists often changed their places of residence, spent money on airline tickets, and got driver’s licenses by obtaining mailboxes. In the final preparations, four teams were chosen and airline tickets were purchased.
The first plane, AA Flight 11, crashed into the north tower of the WTC and had on board the hijackers Walid Al-Shehri, Wail Alsheri, Mohammad Atta, Aabdul Alomari, and Satam Sugami. UA Flight 175 hit the south tower of the WTC and had on board Marawn Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed, Mohald Alshehri, Hamza Al-Ghamdi, and Ahmed Al Ghamdi. The Pentagon was hit by AA Flight 77, this third plane carrying Khalid al-Mihdhar, Majed Moqued, Nawaf Al Hazmi, and Salem Al Hazmi. Ahmed Al Haznawi, Ahmed Alnami, Ziad Jarrah, and Saeed Alghamdi had overpowered the fourth plane, UA Flight 93, which eventually crashed into the ground in Shanksville. Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46:40 a.m. local time and at 9:03:11 a.m. Flight 175 crashed into the south tower. Millions of people watched the live collapse of the north and south towers. The casualty figure was 2,986.
Shock Around The World
The whole world was shocked by the attacks. Some European countries observed three minutes of silence. Messages of sympathy poured in to the administration and the people of the United States. The United Nations, in Resolution 1368, expressed its support to the United States in defending its homeland. The member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) declared that the attack on the United States was an attack against all NATO members. The immediate reaction of shock and fear gave way to anger and vengeance afterward in the United States. President George W. Bush addressed the nation on the evening of September 11, saying that the United States was not going to be cowed by the acts of mass murder. The United States declared al-Qaeda the prime suspect, and bin Laden became a wanted man.
Patriotism reached a new height, and sales of the U.S. flag soared. Donations to charitable organizations topped half a billion dollars within two weeks after September 11. Blood donations increased. A $40-billion emergency fund was granted by the U.S. Congress to tackle terrorism and help in recovery operations in New York and Washington after the attack.
Counterterrorism laws were introduced by the Bush administration infringing on the personal liberty of citizens. A Council for Homeland Security was established for internal counterterrorism efforts. The USA Patriot Act empowered federal authorities to prosecute terrorism suspects and detain them without charges. The Information Awareness Office (IAO), created in 2002, initiated measures for collecting information pertaining to Internet activity, credit card purchase histories, air- line ticket purchases, medical records, driver’s licenses, and personal information.
The Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, released its final report in December 2002. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission), the bipartisan commission created by Congressional legislation, made its report public on July 22, 2004.
The attacks also had significant economic repercussions, pushing the United States deeper into a recession. U.S. stocks lost $1.2 trillion in value in a week, after the stock market was reopened six days after the attack. Recovery operations took months to complete, and the WTC fire was extinguished after burning for three months. The September attack led to the “War on Terror,” with the United States increasing it military operations, putting pressure on terrorist groups, threatening governments sheltering the militants, and waging war in Afghanistan and afterward in Iraq.
Operation Enduring Freedom, which lasted for two months, began on October 7, 2001, against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Although a cooperative government was installed in Afghanistan, bin Laden was not captured. But initial support for the War on Terror waged by the United States began to drop significantly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
- Bernstein, Richard, and the staff of the New York Times. Out of the Blue: The Story of September 11. New York: Times Books, 2002;
- Carlisle, Rodney P., ed. One Day in History: September 11, 2001. New York: HarperCollins, 2007;
- Clarke, Richard A. Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror. New York: Free Press, 2004;
- Graham, Bob, and Jeff Nussbaum. Intelligence Matters. New York: Random House, 2004;
- Posner, Gerald. Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11. New York: Random House, 2003.
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