September 11 Attacks
On September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists associated with the Radical Islamic group Al Qaeda hijacked 4 planes and carried out the worst recorded suicide attacks against targets in the United States. 2 of the aircraft were flown into the twin towers of the WTO (World Trade Cente)r in New York City, a 3rd plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the fourth plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C. Almost 3,000 people died during the 11th September terrorist attacks, which triggered significant U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism.
World Trade Center (WTO)
On September 11, 2001, at around 8:45 a.m., an American Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the World Trade Center’s north tower in New York City.
The crash left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, immediately killing hundreds of people and trapping thousands more on higher floors.
As the tower’s evacuation and its twin got underway, television cameras beamed live images of what initially appeared to be an impulse accident. Then, less than 20 minutes after the first plane hit, a 2nd Boeing 767—United Airlines Flight 175—arose out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center, and sliced into the southern tower near the 60th floor.
The crash caused a massive eruption that showered burning debris over encompassing buildings and onto the streets below. It quickly became apparent that America was under attack.
Osama bin Laden
The hijackers were Radical Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia and many other Arab nations. Funded by the al Qaeda terrorist organization of Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, they were supposedly acting in retaliation for America’s support of Israel, its engagement in the Persian Gulf War, and its sustained military presence in the Middle East.
Some of the terrorists had lived in the United States for more than a year and had taken extensive flying training at American commercial flight schools. Others had moved into the nation in the months before September 11 and acted as the “muscle” in operation.
The 19 terrorists easily smuggled knives and box-cutters through security at three East Coast airports and boarded four flights bound for California, chosen because the planes were filled with fuel for the long transcontinental journey. Soon after takeoff, the terrorists seized the four planes and took the controls, remodeling ordinary passenger jets into guided missiles.
As millions saw the events unfolding in New York, American Airlines Flight 77 rolled over downtown Washington, D.C., before plunging into the Pentagon military headquarters’ west side at 9:45 a.m.
Jet fuel from the Boeing 757 caused a disastrous inferno that led to the tectonic collapse of a portion of the giant concrete building, the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters.
All told, 125 military personnel and civilians were killed in the Pentagon and all 64 people aboard the plane.
Twin Towers Collapse
Within 15 minutes after the terrorists hit the U.S. military’s nerve center, the terror in New York took a dangerous turn when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in a massive cloud of dust and smoke.
The skyscraper’s structural steel, manufactured to withstand winds over 200 miles per hour and a massive conventional fire, could not resist the tremendous heat produced by the burning jet fuel.
At 10:30 a.m., the north building of the twin towers fell. Only six people in the World Trade Center towers at the time of their destruction survived. Almost 10,000 others were treated for severe burns, wounds, and injuries.
A fourth California-bound plane—United Flight 93—was hijacked after leaving Newark Liberty International Airport in N.J. (New Jersey.) Because the flight delayed in taking off, passengers on board heard of events in Washington and New York via Airfone calls to the ground.
Knowing that the aircraft was not rendering to an airport as the hijackers claimed, a group of travelers and flight attendants prepared a revolt.
One of the travelers, Thomas Burnett, Jr., told his wife over the phone that “I know we’re all going to die. There are three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.” Another tourist—Todd Beamer—was heard saying, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll” over an open line.
Sandy Bradshaw, a flight assistant, called her husband and revealed that she had slid into a galley and was packing pitchers with boiling water. Her last words to him were, “Everyone’s running to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.”
The tourists fought the four hijackers and are presumed to have attacked the cockpit with a fire extinguisher. The plane suddenly flipped over and rushed toward the ground at over 500 miles per hour, smashing in a rural field near Shanksville in western Pennsylvania at 10:10 a.m.
All 44 people were killed. Its proposed target is unknown, but theories include the White House, the U.S. Capitol, or nuclear power plants on the eastern seaboard.
The American response to 9/11 Terrorist Attack:
At 7 p.m., the then-President George W. Bush, who was in Florida at the time of the terrorist attack and had spent the day being alternated around the nation because of security concerns, came back to the White House.
At 9 p.m., he gave a televised address from the Oval Office, announcing, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch America’s foundation. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”
About the inevitable U.S. military reply, he declared, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
Operation Enduring Freedom, the American-led global effort to oust the Taliban administration in Afghanistan and slaughter Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network based there, started on October 7. Within two months, U.S. forces had completely removed the Taliban from operational power. Still, the war continued, as U.S. and coalition forces strived to defeat a Taliban insurgency campaign based in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader behind the September 11 attacks, remained largely until May 2, 2011, when he was eventually tracked down and killed by U.S. forces at a shelter in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In June 2011, then-President Barack Obama declared the start of large-scale troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.