9/11 Terrorist Attacks

9/11 Terrorist Attacks: An Unforgettable Tragedy in American History

9/11 is a day to remember! A tragic day for Americans and a significant turning point in the history of the world. It was the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks! The day the World Trade Center was razed to the ground, the highest security infrastructure, the Pentagon got a hit and Americans lost their loved ones. It was also the day that the hunt for the most wanted terrorist on the planet (also the most hunted down person on earth, probably), Osama Bin Laden, also began!

As the United States of America and the World remember and commemorate the historic 9/11 terrorist attacks on its 20th anniversary, let us look at the chronicle of events, the planning, the attack, aftermath and everything about 9/11.

Fire in World Trade Center
Credit: AP


On September 11, 2001, 19 al-Qaeda-affiliated militants hijacked four planes and conducted suicide assaults on U.S. targets. Two planes attacked the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City, a third plane struck the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane landed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which sparked massive U.S. counter-terrorism programs and marked George W. Bush’s presidency.

The assaults on New York City and Washington, D.C. resulted in a large amount of death and destruction, as well as a massive U.S. counter-terrorism campaign. The attacks badly hit New York’s police and fire agencies: hundreds of police and firefighters died on their way to the scene of the attacks.

The Planning Behind the Attack

The 9/11 terrorist attacks were sparked in part by Osama bin Laden, the head of the militant Islamic group al-Qaeda, harbouring erroneous views of the United States in the months leading up to the strikes. Bin Laden became increasingly convinced that America was weak in the years leading up to the attacks, according to Abu Walid al-Masri, an Egyptian who was a bin Laden associate in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s.

What triggered this entire attack was America’s withdrawal from Lebanon, Somalia, and Vietnam. Bin Laden structured his belief that the United States was a weak country because they fled Somalia after the marine barracks bombing. Again in 1993, following the deaths of 18 American service members in Mogadishu, they left Somalia. The cherry on top was when they withdrew their forces from Vietnam in the 1970s as well. This paved the way to give structure to his plan to diminish the power of the United States further.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, commonly referred to as “KSM”, spent his childhood in Kuwait and was a critical operational planner of the September 11 attacks. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood when he was 16 years old and subsequently went to college in the United States, graduating from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 1986. He went to Pakistan and then Afghanistan to conduct jihad against the Soviet Union, which had invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

Khalid Sheikh always had extremist ideas that could never take shape. But his goals never faded either. Yosri Fouda, an Al Jazeera journalist, met Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2002 and learned about his conspiracy known as “Bojinka”, where he wished to blow up a dozen American planes in Asia in the mid-1990s. Retaining his goal, meeting bin Laden and joining hands with him was the best opportunity for him to accomplish his long-awaited dream.

In Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in 1996, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed met Bin Laden. According to the 9-11 Commission (formally the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States), this was established in 2002 by President George W. Bush and the United States Congress to investigate the 2001 attacks. The commission explains in detail that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed presented a proposal for an operation that would involve training pilots who would crash planes into buildings in the United States at that time.

Al-Qaeda Leaders
Credit: History


The 9/11 terrorist attacks proved Al-Qaeda’s global reach. The plot unfolded across the globe, with planning meetings in Malaysia, and operatives learning to fly in the United States. Also, there were plot leaders in Hamburg, Germany, money transfers from Dubai, and the recruitment of suicide operatives from across the Middle East. The al-Qaeda’s leaders in Afghanistan constantly closely supervised each of the activities.

Although Afghanistan was crucial to al-Qaeda’s emergence, the experience gained in the West made some of the plotters both more ardent and capable of carrying out the attacks. Mohammed Atta and the other Hamburg gang members arrived in Afghanistan in 1999, just as the September 11 plot began to take shape. Bin Laden and his military commander, Muhammad Atef, decided that Atta and his fellow Western-educated jihadists were far better qualified to conduct the attacks on Washington and New York than the troops they had already recruited. Thus, Atta was named the operation’s commander.

The hijackers, most of whom were Saudi nationals, had already established themselves in the United States well before the attacks. They travelled in small groups and obtained commercial flight training for some of them. During his time in the United States, Atta sent Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the key planners, e-mail updates on the plot’s advancement. On August 29, 2001, Atta called Binalshibh early in the morning and claimed he had a puzzle to solve: “Two sticks, a dash, and a cake with a stick down—what is it?” Binalshibh recognized that Atta was telling him that the attacks would happen in two weeks—the two sticks being the number 11 and the cake with a stick down the number 9. Thus, when all pieces were put together, the attacks would occur on 11-9 or 11 September.

9/11 Terrorist Attack on Pentagon
Credit: Blog

The 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

On September 11, 2001, assailants boarded four domestic planes at three East Coast airports. They disabled the crews shortly after takeoff. The hijackers then took possession of the planes, all huge and loaded with gasoline and destined towards the West Coast. After departing from Boston, the first plane, American Airlines flight 11, piloted into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City at 8:46 AM. Most people assumed it was an accident involving a tiny commuter jet at first. However, United Airlines flight 175, which originated in Boston, impacted the south tower 17 minutes later. There was no doubt that the United States was under attack at that moment.

At 9:37 AM, American Airlines flight 77, which had taken off from Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., collided with the southwest side of the Pentagon (just outside the city), setting fire to that area of the building. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a nationwide ground stop minutes later. The fourth plane, United Airlines flight 93 from Newark, New Jersey, crashed near Shanksville in the Pennsylvania countryside an hour later (at 10:03 AM). Its passengers attempted to overpower their assailants after being informed of the events via cellular phone.

The highly damaged south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed at 9:59 AM. The north tower collapsed 29 minutes later. The streets of Lower Manhattan were inundated with clouds of smoke and debris. As they attempted to outrun the billowing debris clouds, office employees and residents panicked. Then, as the world tried to comprehend the magnitude of the casualties, rescue activities started. Nearly 3,000 people died, including 2,750 in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania, and all 19 terrorists. Additionally, more than 400 police officers and firefighters lost their lives in New York City.

The Aftermath of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

The emotional toll of the attacks, especially the collapse of the twin towers, New York City’s most visible landmark, was enormous. Unlike the comparatively isolated site of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, the World Trade Centre was in the heart of New York. Hundreds of thousands of people observed the attacks firsthand (many bystanders photographed or videotaped the events). Additionally, millions more watched the catastrophe unfold on television. The footage of the attacks and scenes of crowds of people, some with photos of missing loved ones, gathering at “Ground Zero” was visioned in the media countless times in the days following September 11.

Furthermore, global markets rocked. Damage to Lower Manhattan’s infrastructure and worries of a stock market panic, forced New York markets to close for four trading days. Following that, the stock market saw record losses. In addition, tens of thousands of travellers were stranded across the United States due to the attacks. It was as authorities blocked U.S. airspace to commercial aircraft until September 13. Regular service, with more stringent security procedures, too, did not return for many days.

Al-Qaeda scored a substantial tactical victory with the September 11 attacks. The well-coordinated  attacks hit many sites deep within the enemy’s heartland. Televised visions of the attacks amplified the attacks to an audience of unfathomable millions. The September 11 “propaganda of the deed” took place in the world’s media capital. It ensured that the tragedy received the broadest possible attention. A large worldwide audience had not observed a terrorist attack evolve in real-time since the kidnapping and murder of Israeli sportspeople at the Munich Olympics in 1972. If al-Qaeda was a relatively unknown organization before September 11, it became immensely popular following the attacks.

US Army in Afghanistan
Credit: Reuters

9/11 Terrorist Attacks Aftermath

The evidence acquired by the U.S. quickly persuaded most governments that the Islamic militant group al-Qaeda conducted the terrorist attacks. Previous terrorist attacks against Americans were also linked to the group, and bin Laden had made numerous anti-American comments. Moreover, Al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan and developed a close relationship with the country’s ruling Taliban militia. It later rebuffed U.S. requests for bin Laden’s extradition and the end of al-Qaeda activities.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) invoked Article 5. It aims to empower its members to respond collectively in self-defence for the first time in its history. On October 7, the U.S. and allied military forces launched an operation against Afghanistan. Thousands of militants were killed or captured in a matter of months. It made Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders go into hiding.

Furthermore, the U.S. administration launched a concerted effort to seek additional al-Qaeda members and sympathizers worldwide. It made counter-terrorism a priority in U.S. foreign policy. Meanwhile, security measures in the United States have significantly increased in locations like airports, government buildings, and sports venues. The USA PATRIOT Act significantly but temporarily increased the search and surveillance powers of the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies. The Congress promptly passed it to aid the domestic response. In addition, authorities formed the Department of Homeland Security at the cabinet-level.

Bin Laden miscalculated the possible U.S. responses to the September 11 attacks. He thought it would take one of two forms:

  • an eventual withdrawal from the Middle East along the lines of the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia in 1993
  • or ineffective cruise missile attacks like al-Qaeda’s bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Neither of these situations came to pass.

Osama bin Laden Mastermind of 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
Credit: Britannica

The Hunt for Osama bin Laden

President Bush said in September 2001 that he wanted Osama bin Laden arrested, dead or alive. A  $25 million reward came up for information leading to bin Laden’s death or capture. Bin Laden eluded arrest several times. Once was in December 2001, when U.S. forces traced him to the Tora Bora mountains in eastern Afghanistan. Bin Laden’s trail went cold after that, and authorities believed he hid somewhere in the Afghan-Pakistan tribal areas. Then, on orders from U.S. President Barack Obama, a small team of U.S. Navy SEALs invaded bin Laden’s compound in the early morning hours of May 2, 2011. They shot and killed the al-Qaeda leader in Pakistan, where he was staying in the garrison city of Abbottabad. Justice for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and for the United States of America!

World Trade Center 9/11 Terrorist Attacks Memorial
Credit: Blog

The Present Scenario

On November 3, 2014, One World Trade Center, a 1,776-foot skyscraper, became a dramatic new icon on the Manhattan skyline. It filled the physical and symbolic hole left by the fall of the Twin Towers. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum exists next to One World Trade Center. Twin 1-acre reflecting pools occupy the footprints of the Twin Towers within the 8-acre memorial plaza. The pools include North America’s largest man-made waterfalls. They have bronze panels inscribed with the names of the victims of the September 11 attacks. Additionally, there are names of the six people killed in the World Trade Center vehicle bombing in February 1993.

The museum comprises a glass-encased pavilion. There is an atrium that features two 80-foot (24-meter) trident-shaped steel columns on the North Tower’s face. Each of the 2:983 tiles in the museum’s Memorial Hall (representing the victims of the September 2001 and February 1993 attacks) is a blue watercolour painted by artist Spencer Finch to mimic the colour of the sky on September 11, 2001.

The Foundation Hall of the museum is a nearly 15,000-square-foot (1,400-square-metre) room with high ceilings. It includes part of a surviving World Trade Center retaining wall and displays the “Last Column”. It is a 36-foot (11-meter) steel beam to which workers attached messages and posters during Ground Zero cleanup operations. In addition, there is a multimedia installation depicting the global impact of the September 9/11 terrorist attacks. It runs the length of the ramp leading into the museum. It includes recorded reminiscences from people from 43 nations in 28 languages.

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