September 11, 2001 attacks

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The view of the burning towers of the World Trade Center from Staten Island, New York City, September 11, 2001
The damage to the Pentagon, Washington D.C., September 11, 2001

The Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred when al Qaeda, Islamic extremists hijacked four transcontinental airliners and used them to strike targets in the United States; two aircraft destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City; the third crashed into a portion of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; and the fourth aircraft - in which the hijackers are believed to have targeted the White House or the Capitol Building - crashed into an empty field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers fought back to re-take control.

The sheer audacity of the attack and the heavy loss of life that resulted from it caused the U.S. government to declare a War on Terror with the determination to hunt down terrorists world-wide; within two months of September 11, Afghanistan was completely occupied by Coalition forces, driving the ruling Islamo-fascist Taliban from power and causing the head of al Qaeda and the man who personally approved the attacks - Osama bin Laden - to flee into hiding.


The Hijacking

All 19 hijackers boarded the planes on the morning of September 11, having carefully chosen flights whose routes would be transcontinental. Two planes flew out of Boston's Logan Airport, one flew from Washington's Dulles International Airport, and the fourth left an airport in Newark, New Jersey.

New York City

American Airlines Flight 11 left Logan Airport around 8 AM, carrying 11 crew and 81 passengers; its destination was Los Angeles, California. United Airlines Flight 175 left Logan a few minutes later, carrying 9 crew and 56 passengers, and also on a flight to Los Angeles. Both aircraft were the 767-200, manufactured by the Boeing Company.

At 8:25 AM Boston air traffic controllers heard a strange voice from Flight 11: "We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you will be OK. We are returning to the airport." The plane then headed south toward New York City; at 8:46 AM the plane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center between the 93 and 99th floors. Sixteen minutes later, at 9:03 AM, Flight 175 crashed into the south tower - at a greater speed and more oblique angle - between the 77th and 85th floors.

The impact of the crashes took out any hope of getting to victims and survivors on the affected floors and the floors above; many people desperate to get away from the smoke and fire jumped. Both towers were designed to survive the impact of a 1960s-era jet, but the Boeing 767 was larger and carried more fuel; it was determined later that the heat from the burning fuel weakened the central steel structure and supports. At 9:59 am the south tower collasped; the upper floors had lost support in the damaged area and fell - pancake style - to the ground. At 10:29 AM the north tower fell in a similar manner. The death toll was around 2,750, including more than 300 firefighters and 100 police officers and other rescue workers.

The building at 7 World Trade Center, commonly abbreviated as WTC7, also collapsed in the attacks. This collapse is frequently cited in various conspiracy theories.

Washington, D.C.

American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757-200, left Dulles at 8:20 AM, carrying 6 crew and 58 passengers on a flight to Los Angeles. Forty minutes later the aircraft had turned back toward Washington; at 9:37 it crashed at high-speed into the west side of the Pentagon, killing a total of 184 people. Despite being built of reinforced concrete, the aircraft was able to penetrate to the third concentric ring of the building.

Shanksville, Pennsylvania

Val McClatchey snapped this photo moments after Flight 93 hit the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757-200, left Newark at 8:40 AM, with a destination of San Francisco. Unlike the other planes which had four hijackers each, Flight 93 had three; it also had passengers who, through onboard phone calls, learned of the previous hijackings and crashes and determined to wrest control of the aircraft back from the terrorists. Turned towards Washington, the plane ended up crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 AM, the only one of the aircraft which failed to reach its target. Among the recorded conversations between the passengers and phone operators was the phrase "Let's roll" by Todd Beamer, made just before he set down his phone and took action with the other passengers involved; Beamer's last phrase would become a rallying cry in the coming war on terrorism.

Ground Casualties

The total loss of life is constantly being reevaluated to account for wrongly reported missing persons and, in some cases, occurrences of fraud. Estimates of more than 6,000 deaths were announced following the attacks. The current estimate is 2,996 fatalities as a direct result of the attacks. About 500 foreign nationals from over 90 countries are believed to have died in the attack.[1]

The Department of Defense reported the deaths of 125 people at The Pentagon. The aftermath of the World Trade Center towers collapsing created a good deal of confusion and has been the main source of discrepancies in casualty estimates. As of October 29, 2003, New York City reported 2605 deaths in the attacks, not counting the passengers and crew of the planes. [2]

As a matter of course, the deaths of the 19 hijackers are not included in these casualty totals.

Economic Impact

The material costs of the attacks are well in excess of one hundred billion US dollars. Factoring in stock market losses, loss of revenue in New York City, loss of jobs, impact on air travel, and heightened security, some estimate the cost approaches two trillion dollars.[3]

Some estimates of the cost of executing the plan place it in the $400,000-$500,000 range, making it an extremely "profitable" operation for al-Qaeda. [4]

The Suspects

Suspicion fell on Osama bin Laden and his Islamic extremist al-Qaeda organization almost immediately. Known to have harbored hatred for the United States since the basing of U.S. fighters and other military personnel in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, bin Laden has tried "To kill Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it," [5], and often succeeding. In four previous attacks, bin Laden's operatives

  • killed 6 in a bomb explosion in the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993;
  • killed 19 soldiers in 1996 at a military housing complex in Saudi Arabia;
  • killed more than 200 people in the simultaneous bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania;
  • killed 17 sailors by putting an explosives-laden boat next to USS Cole while that destroyer was refueling in Yemen in 2000.

His personal fortune, estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, has enabled him to finance well-coordinated operations, including the training of the hijackers in close-quarter fighting, commandeering of aircraft, and ironically to bankroll their education in American flight schools.

Social Impacts

Following the attacks there was a strong surge of patriotism in virtually all facets of American society. The government, being aware that the most deadly attack ever on American soil could stir up animosity against the ethnic or religious group of the perpetrators, went out of its way along with the media to separate Islam from the actions taken by its more radical adherents, referring to it at multiple times as a "religion of love". While people of Middle Eastern decent and adherents of Islam were concerned at first, the overall effect of hostility towards these groups was barely noticeable. Although there were literally millions of Muslims in America out of a total population of 300 million who could have sought out reprisals, in an entire year less than 500 cases of aggression of verbal hostility were reported. Muslims responded to the magnanimous treatment they received from Americans by seeking to construct an insulting and offensive Ground Zero Mosque.

Consequences of the Attacks on U.S. Policy

Domestic Policy

The attacks were a direct or indirect cause of massive changes in United States domestic policy. Most notably, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 "established a Department of Homeland Security, as an executive department of the United States" [6], a cabinet level position. One of the tools implemented by the Department is the Homeland Security Advisory System, a color coded advisory system meant to "establish a comprehensive and effective means to disseminate information regarding the risk of terrorist acts to Federal, State, and local authorities and to the American people." [7]

Another notable result of the attacks was the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism). The act was written to expand the authority of law enforcement and the justice system in the pursuit of terrorism suspects.[8]

Foreign Policy

In response to the attacks, the United States declared a War on Terror, which comprises United States military action in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as a significant increase in intelligence gathering and a new outlook on foreign relations.

Conspiracy Theories

Main article: 9/11 conspiracy theories

Remains of the South Tower, September 13, 2001.

Many conspiracy theories have sprouted up from the events of September 11, 2001, including the "Loose Change" movies seen on YouTube.[9] These movies have been comprehensively disproven by independent experts.[10] Prominent endorsers of such theories include talk show host Rosie O'Donnell as well as actor Charlie Sheen. A third of the American public has bought into the idea of some sort of role by federal officials.[11] This view is much more common among those who get their news solely from the internet and is rare for those who read newspapers or watch the news on regular television.

See Also


External Links

Additional Information


  1. "New York Reduces 9/11 Death Toll by 40" at, Phil Hirschkorn, 10/29/03
  2. "New York Reduces 9/11 Death Toll by 40" at, Phil Hirschkorn, 10/29/03
  3. The Cost of September 11 Institute for the Analysis of Global Security
  4. The 9/11 Commission Report
  5. [1]
  6. H.R. 5005 The Homeland Security Act
  7. DHS Laws and Regulations Department of Homeland Security
  8. The USA PATRIOT Act Library of Congress
  9. Lying About 9/11? Easy as ABC, Eric Alterman, The Nation, September 14, 2006 (October 2, 2006 issue).
  10. "Debunking The 9/11 Myths" Popular Mechanics, Mar. 2005 Cover Story
  11. Third of Americans Suspect 9-11 Government Conspiracy Scrippsnews, Hargrove, Thomas, 8/01/06
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