September 11, 2001 attacks

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September 11, 2001 attacks

September 11, 2001 attacks
The towers of the World Trade Center burn shortly after United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower on the right. To its left is the still smoking North Tower, struck earlier by American Airlines Flight 11.


New York City, U.S. (1st & 2nd)

Arlington Co, VA, U.S. (3rd)
Near Shanksville, PA, U.S.(4th)


World Trade Center and The Pentagon (fourth target is unknown, but suspected to be a location in Washington, D.C.; Al-Qaeda claims it was to be the United States Capitol)[1]


Tuesday, September 11, 2001
8:46 am – 10:28 am (UTC-4)

Attack type

Suicide attack, Aircraft hijacking


2,993 (including 19 terrorists)




al Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden, see also Responsibility and Organizers on the right hand column


The September 11, 2001 attacks (often referred to as 9/11) consisted of a series of coordinated terrorist[2] suicide attacks by Islamic extremists on that date upon the United States of America.

On that morning nineteen terrorists[3] affiliated with al-Qaeda[4] hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners. Each team of hijackers included a trained pilot. The hijackers intentionally crashed two of the airliners (United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11) into the World Trade Center in New York City, one plane into each tower (1 WTC and 2 WTC), resulting in the collapse of both buildings soon afterward and extensive damage to nearby buildings. The hijackers crashed a third airliner (American Airlines Flight 77) into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. Passengers and members of the flight crew on the fourth aircraft (United Airlines Flight 93) attempted to retake control of their plane from the hijackers;[5] that plane crashed into a field near the town of Shanksville in rural Somerset County, Pennsylvania. In addition to the 19 hijackers, 2,974 people died as an immediate result of the attacks, and the death of at least one person from lung disease was ruled by a medical examiner to be a result of exposure to WTC dust.[6] Another 24 people are missing and presumed dead. The victims were predominantly civilians.

A sequential look at United Flight 175 crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center

Four commercial airliners were hijacked en route to California from Logan International, Dulles International, and Newark airports. Each of the airliners had a jet fuel capacity of nearly 24,000 U.S. gallons (91,000 liters).[7] Two of the airliners were flown into the World Trade Center, one each into the North and South towers, one was flown into the Pentagon, and the fourth crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.


           American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767-200[8] wide-body aircraft, crashed into the northern side of the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC) at 8:46:30 a.m. local time (Eastern Daylight Time, 12:46:30 UTC), hitting at the 94-98th floors.

The attacks

A sequential look at United Flight 175 crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center


.United Airlines Flight 175, a Boeing 767-200,[10] crashed into the 78-84th floors of the South Tower at 9:02:59 a.m. local time (13:02:59 UTC), an event covered live by television broadcasters and amateur filmers from around the world who had their cameras trained on the buildings after the earlier crash.[11]

  • American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757-200,[12] crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37:46 a.m. local time (13:37:46 UTC).
  • United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757-200,[13] crashed in a field in southwest Pennsylvania just outside of Shanksville, about 150 miles (240 km) northwest of Washington, D.C., at 10:03:11 a.m. local time (14:03:11 UTC). The crash in Pennsylvania resulted from the passengers of the airliner attempting to regain control from the hijackers.[14]

Three buildings in the World Trade Center Complex collapsed due to structural failure on the day of the attack. The south tower (2 WTC) fell at approximately 9:59 a.m., after burning for 56 minutes in a fire caused by the impact of United Airlines Flight 175, and the north tower (1 WTC) collapsed at 10:28 a.m., after burning for approximately 102 minutes. A third building, 7 World Trade Center (7 WTC) collapsed at 5:20 p.m., after being heavily damaged by debris from the Twin Towers when they fell.[15][16]

During the hijacking some passengers and crew members were able to make phone calls using the cabin GTE airphone service.[17][18] They reported that several hijackers were aboard each plane.

The terrorists reportedly took control of the aircraft by using knives and box-cutter knives to kill flight attendants and at least one pilot or passenger, including the captain of Flight 11, John Ogonowski.[19]

Some form of noxious chemical spray, such as tear gas or pepper spray, was reported to have been used on American 11 and United 175 to keep passengers out of the first-class cabin.[20] Bomb threats were made on three of the aircraft, but not on American 77. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the bombs were probably fake. The 9/11 Commission established that two of the hijackers had recently purchased Leatherman multi-function hand tools.

Above, a taxicab was hit by a lightpole as American Airlines Flight 77 passed over Washington Boulevard and crashed into the Pentagon.


Above, a taxicab was hit by a lightpole as American Airlines Flight 77 passed over Washington Boulevard and crashed into the Pentagon.


On United Airlines Flight 93, black box recordings revealed that crew and passengers attempted to seize control of the plane from the hijackers after learning through phone calls that similarly hijacked planes had been crashed into buildings that morning. According to the transcript of Flight 93's recorder, one of the hijackers gave the order to roll the plane once it became evident that they would lose control of the plane to the passengers. Soon afterward, the aircraft crashed into a field near Shanksville in Stonycreek Township, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, at 10:03:11 a.m. local time (14:03:11 UTC). Al-Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed mentioned in a 2002 interview with an Al Jazeera journalist that Flight 93's target was the United States Capitol,[1] which was given the code name "the Faculty of Law."[21]

The attacks created widespread confusion across the United States. All international civilian air traffic was banned from landing on US soil for three days; aircraft already in flight were either turned back or redirected to airports in Canada or Mexico. Unconfirmed and often contradictory reports were aired and published throughout the day. One of the most prevalent of these reported that a car bomb had been detonated at the U.S. State Department's headquarters, the Truman Building in Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C. This erroneous report, picked up by the wire services, was reported on CNN and in a number of newspapers published that day. Soon after reporting for the first time on the Pentagon crash, CNN and other media also briefly reported that a fire had broken out on the Washington Mall. Another report went out on the AP wire, claiming that a Delta 767—Flight 1989—had been hijacked. This report, too, turned out to be in error; the plane was briefly thought to represent a hijack risk, but it responded to controllers and landed safely in Cleveland, Ohio.[22]

The Emergency Alert System was never activated in the terrorist attacks.[23]


Fatalities (excluding hijackers)

New York City

World Trade Center

2,603 died and another 24 remain listed as missing[24][25]

American 11


United 175





American 77



United 93



2,974 died and another 24 remain listed as missing.

There were 2,974 fatalities, not including the 19 hijackers: 246 on the four planes (no one on board any of the hijacked aircraft survived),[31] 2,603 in New York City in the towers and on the ground, and 125 at the Pentagon.[32] Lieutenant General Timothy Maude was the highest ranking person killed at the Pentagon[33] and John P. O'Neill was a former assistant director of the FBI who assisted in the capture of Ramzi Yousef and was the head of security at the World Trade Center when he was killed trying to rescue people from the South Tower.[34] An additional 24 people remain listed as missing.[25]

1366 people died who were at or above the floors of impact in the North Tower (1 WTC). According to the Commission Report, hundreds were killed instantly by the impact while the rest were trapped and died after the tower collapsed.[35] As many as 600 people were killed instantly or were trapped at or above the floors of impact in the South Tower (2 WTC). Only about 18 managed to escape in time from above the impact zone and out of the South Tower before it collapsed. At least 200 people jumped to their deaths from the burning towers (as depicted in the photograph "The Falling Man"), landing on the streets and rooftops of adjacent buildings hundreds of feet below.[36] To witnesses watching, a few of the people falling from the towers seemed to have stumbled out of broken windows.[37] Some of the occupants of each tower above its point of impact made their way upward toward the roof in hope of helicopter rescue, but no rescue plan existed for such an eventuality. The roof access doors were locked and thick smoke and intense heat would have prevented rescue helicopters from landing.[38]

Cantor Fitzgerald L.P., an investment bank on the 101st–105th floors of One World Trade Center, lost 658 employees, considerably more than any other employer.[39] Marsh Inc., located immediately below Cantor Fitzgerald on floors 93–101 (the location of Flight 11's impact), lost 295 employees, and 175 employees of Aon Corp. were killed.[40] The New York City Fire Department lost 341 New York City Fire Department firefighters and 2 paramedics, while 23 New York Police Department, 37 Port Authority Police Department officers, and 8 private ambulance personnel were killed.[41][42] The dead included 8 children: 5 on American 77 ranging in age from 3 to 11, 3 on United 175 ages 2, 3, and 4.[43] The youngest victim was a 2 year-old child on Flight 175, the oldest an 82 year-old passenger on Flight 11. In the buildings, the youngest victim was 17 and the oldest was 79.[44] After New York, New Jersey was the hardest hit state, with the town of Hoboken sustaining the most fatalities.[45] All of the fatalities were civilians except for some of the 125 victims in the Pentagon.[46]

According to the Associated Press, the city identified over 1,600 bodies but was unable to identify the rest (about 1,100 people). They report that the city has "about 10,000 unidentified bone and tissue fragments that cannot be matched to the list of the dead."[47] Bone fragments were still being found in 2006 as workers prepared the damaged Deutsche Bank Building for demolition. The average age of all the dead in New York City was 40.[45]


The aerial view of the destroyed World Trade Center taken on September 23, 2001.


The aerial view of the destroyed World Trade Center taken on September 23, 2001.

In addition to the 110-floor Twin Towers of the World Trade Center itself, numerous other buildings at the World Trade Center site were destroyed or badly damaged, including 7 World Trade Center, 6 World Trade Center, 5 World Trade Center, 4 World Trade Center, the Marriott World Trade Center and St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.[48] The Deutsche Bank Building across Liberty Street from the World Trade Center complex was later condemned due to the uninhabitable, toxic conditions inside the office tower,[49] with deconstruction once scheduled for completion in September 2007.[50] The Borough of Manhattan Community College's Fiterman Hall at 30 West Broadway was also condemned due to extensive damage in the attacks, and is slated for deconstruction.[51] Other neighboring buildings including 90 West Street and the Verizon Building suffered major damage, but have since been restored. World Financial Center buildings, One Liberty Plaza, the Millenium Hilton, and 90 Church Street had moderate damage.[52] Communications equipment, such as broadcast radio, television and two-way radio antenna towers, were damaged beyond repair. In Arlington County, a portion of the Pentagon was severely damaged by fire and one section of the building collapsed.[53]


According to the 9/11 Commission, approximately 16,000 people were below the impact zones in the World Trade Center complex at the time of the attacks. A large majority of those below the impact areas survived, evacuating before the towers collapsed.[54]


Ground zero on September 11, 2001, mid-day. Emergency vehicles of the first responders have been destroyed, and fires can be seen in the immediate area.


Ground zero on September 11, 2001, mid-day. Emergency vehicles of the first responders have been destroyed, and fires can be seen in the immediate area.

Damage and fires at Ground zero on September 11.


Damage and fires at Ground zero on September 11.

Al Qaeda's origins date back to 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.[55] Soon after the invasion, Osama bin Laden traveled to Afghanistan and helped organize Arab mujahadeen, creating Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK), to resist the Soviets.[55] In 1989, as the Soviets withdrew, MAK was transformed into Al Qaeda, as a "rapid reaction force" in jihad against governments across the Muslim world.[56] Under guidance of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama became more radical.[57] In 1996, Bin Laden issued his first fatwa which called for "American soldiers to get out of Saudi Arabia".[58] A second fatwa, issued by bin Laden in 1998, "directed his followers to kill Americans anywhere".[59] In the fatwa, bin Laden outlined his objections to American foreign policy towards Israel, as well as the continued presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War.[60]

As media covered the 9/11 attacks unfolding, many quickly speculated that Bin Laden was behind the attacks.[61] Within hours of the attacks, the FBI was able to determine the names and in many cases details such as dates of birth, known and/or possible residences, visa status, and specific identity of the suspected pilots and hijackers.[62][63] Few had made any attempt to disguise their names on flight and credit card records, and they were some of the few people of Arabic descent on the flights. Mohamed Atta's luggage, which did not make the connection from his Portland flight onto American Airlines Flight 11, contained papers that revealed the identity of all 19 hijackers, and other important clues about their plans, motives, and backgrounds.[64] On the day of the attacks, the National Security Agency intercepted communications that pointed to Osama bin Laden,[65] as did German intelligence agencies.[66]

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States was formed by the United States government and was commonly called the 9/11 Commission. It released its report on July 22, 2004, concluding that the attacks were conceived and implemented by members of al-Qaeda. The Commission stated that "9/11 plotters eventually spent somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 to plan and conduct their attack, but that the specific origin of the funds used to execute the attacks remained unknown."[46] To date, only peripheral figures have been tried or convicted in connection with the attacks. Bin Laden has not yet been formally indicted for the attacks.[67]

The hijackers

Nineteen men boarded the four planes, five each on American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 77, four on United Airlines Flight 93. Fifteen of the attackers were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon.

The group consisted of six core organizers, which included the four pilots, and thirteen others. Unlike many stereotypes of hijackers or terrorists, most of the attackers were educated and came from well-to-do backgrounds.[68]

Other potential hijackers

27 members of al-Qaeda attempted to enter the United States to take part in the September 11 attacks, but only 19 participated. Other would-be hijackers are often referred to as the 20th hijacker:



Zacarias Moussaoui

Zacarias Moussaoui was reportedly considered as a replacement for Ziad Jarrah, who at one point threatened to withdraw from the scheme because of tensions amongst the plotters. Plans to include Moussaoui were never completed because the al-Qaeda hierarchy allegedly had doubts about his reliability. He was arrested on August 16, 2001, about four weeks before the attacks, ostensibly for an immigration violation, but FBI agents suspected he had violent intentions after receiving flight training earlier that year. In April 2005, Moussaoui pleaded guilty to conspiring to hijack planes, and to involvement with al-Qaeda, but he denies foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Moussaoui, at his sentencing hearing in March 2006, claimed that, upon the personal directive of Osama bin Laden, he and Richard Reid were due to hijack a fifth plane and fly it into the White House.[69]

His defense lawyers dismissed this as fantasy on the part of Moussaoui, saying that he was not an operative in al Qaeda, but only a "hanger-on." In a video tape released in May 2006, Osama bin Laden claimed that Moussaoui had "no connection whatsoever with the events of September 11" and that he knows this because "he was responsible for entrusting the 19 brothers" who carried out the attacks.[70] On May 3, 2006, a federal jury rejected the death penalty and sentenced Moussaoui to 6 life terms in prison without parole.[71]

Buildings surrounding the World Trade Center were heavily damaged by the debris and massive force of the falling twin towers


Buildings surrounding the World Trade Center were heavily damaged by the debris and massive force of the falling twin towers

At Moussaoui's sentencing trial, FBI agent Greg Jones testified that prior to the attacks, he urged his supervisor, Michael Maltbie, "to prevent Zacarias Moussaoui from flying a plane into the World Trade Center." Jones said it had been a "lucky guess." Maltbie had refused to act on 70 requests from another agent, Harry Samit, to obtain a warrant to search Moussaoui's computer.[72]


Potential hijackers denied entry into U.S.

Ramzi Binalshibh allegedly meant to take part in the attacks, but he was repeatedly denied a visa for entry into the U.S.[73] Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi Arabian citizen, may also have been planning to join the hijackers, but U.S. Immigration authorities at Orlando International Airport refused his entry into the U.S. in August 2001. He was later captured in Afghanistan and imprisoned at the U.S. military prison known as Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.[74]

Other names of potential hijackers

Other al-Qaeda members who may have attempted, but were unable, to take part in the attacks include Saeed al-Ghamdi (not to be confused with the successful hijacker of the same name), Mushabib al-Hamlan, Zakariyah Essabar, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Tawfiq bin Attash. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the attack's mastermind, wanted to remove at least one member—Khalid al-Mihdhar—from the operation, but he was overruled by Osama bin Laden.[75]

Osama bin Laden

On September 27, 2001, the FBI released photos of the 19 hijackers, along with information about the possible nationalities and aliases of many.[76] The FBI investigation into the September 11, 2001 attacks, code named operation PENTTBOM, was the largest and most complex investigation in the history of the FBI, involving over 7,000 special agents.[77] The United States government determined that al-Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden, bore responsibility for the attacks, with the FBI stating that evidence linking Al-Qaeda and bin Laden to the attacks of September 11 is clear and irrefutable.[78] The Government of the United Kingdom reached the same conclusion, regarding Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden's culpability for the September 11, 2001 attacks.[79]

Osama bin Laden's declaration of a holy war against the United States, and a Fatwa signed by bin Laden and others calling for the killing of American civilians in 1998, are seen by many as evidence of his motivation to commit such acts.[80]

Bin Laden initially denied, but later admitted involvement in the incidents.[81] On September 16, 2001, bin Laden denied any involvement with the attacks by reading a statement which was broadcast by Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite channel: "I stress that I have not carried out this act, which appears to have been carried out by individuals with their own motivation."[82] This denial was broadcast on U.S. news networks and worldwide.

In November 2001, U.S. forces recovered a videotape from a destroyed house in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in which Osama bin Laden is talking to Khaled al-Harbi. In the tape, bin Laden admits foreknowledge of the attacks.[83] The tape was broadcast on various news networks from December 13, 2001.

Taken from the bin Laden video of December 27, 2001


Taken from the bin Laden video of December 27, 2001

On December 27, 2001, a second bin Laden video was released. In the video, he stated "Terrorism against America deserves to be praised because it was a response to injustice, aimed at forcing America to stop its support for Israel, which kills our people," but he stopped short of admitting responsibility for the attacks.[84]

Shortly before the U.S. presidential election in 2004, in a taped statement, bin Laden publicly acknowledged al-Qaeda's involvement in the attacks on the U.S, and admitted his direct link to the attacks. He said that the attacks were carried out because, "We are a free people who do not accept injustice, and we want to regain the freedom of our nation."

In a videotape aired on Al Jazeera, on October 30, 2004, bin Laden said he had personally directed the 19 hijackers.[85] Another video obtained by Al Jazeera in September 2006 shows Osama bin Laden with Ramzi Binalshibh, as well as two hijackers, Hamza al-Ghamdi and Wail al-Shehri, as they make preparations for the attacks.[86]

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

The idea for the September 11 plot came from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who first presented the idea to Bin Laden in 1996.[87] At that point, Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were in a period of transition, having just relocated back to Afghanistan from Sudan.[88] The 1998 African Embassy bombings marked a turning point, with Bin Laden intent on attacking the United States.[88] In late 1998 or early 1999, Bin Laden gave approval for Mohammed to go forward with organizing the plot.[88] A series of meetings occurred in spring of 1999, involving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Osama bin Laden, and his deputy Mohammed Atef.[88] Bin Laden provided leadership for the plot, along with financial support.[88] Bin Laden was also involved in selecting people to participate in the plot, including choosing Mohamed Atta as the lead hijacker.[89] Mohammed provided operational support, such as selecting targets and helping arrange travel for the hijackers.[88] Bin Laden overruled Mohammed, rejecting some potential targets such as the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles.[90]

In a 2002 interview with Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed admitted his involvement, along with Ramzi Binalshibh, in the "Holy Tuesday operation".[91] Mohammed was arrested on March 1, 2003 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.[92] Mohammed ultimately ended up at Guantanamo Bay. During US hearings in March 2007, which have been "widely criticised by lawyers and human rights groups as sham tribunals",[93] Mohammed again confessed his responsibility for the attacks, "I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z."[94]

Other Al-Qaeda members

In "Substitution for Testimony of Khalid Sheik Mohammed" from the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, five people are identified as having been completely aware of the operations details. They are: Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, Abu Turab Al-Urduni and Mohammed Atef.[95]

On September 26, 2005, the Spanish high court directed by judge Baltazar Garzon sentenced Abu Dahdah to 27 years of imprisonment for conspiracy on the 9/11 attacks and as part of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. At the same time, another 17 Al Qaeda members were sentenced to penalties of between 6 and 12 years.[96][97] On February 16, 2006, the Spanish Supreme Court reduced the Abu Dahdah penalty to 12 years because it considered that his participation in the conspiracy was not proven.[98]


The September 11 attacks were consistent with the overall mission statement of al-Qaeda, as set out in a 1998 fatwa issued by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu-Yasir Rifa'i Ahmad Taha, Shaykh Mir Hamzah, and Fazlur Rahman.[99] In the fatwa, Bin Laden directed his followers "to kill Americans anywhere".[100] He also outlined his objections to American foreign policy towards Israel, as well as U.S. aggression against the Iraqi people, the ensuing sanctions against Iraq, as well as the continued presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia after the Persian Gulf War. The fatwa also specifically condemns the U.S. for "plundering" the resources of the region, oppressing the people by supporting abusive regimes in the region, and dictating policy to legitimate leaders. It also opposes the presence of U.S. military bases and installations in the region, especially on Muslim holy land, which are used to "threaten" Muslim countries, while fomenting disunity and strife. By a similar token, it decries the continued refusal to address the "occupation of Palestine".[101] The fatwa uses Islamic texts to exhort violent action against American military and citizenry until the alleged grievances are reversed, stating "ulema have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries."

Aerial photo taken 27 April 2004 of the area of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA (USGS)


Aerial photo taken 27 April 2004 of the area of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA (USGS)

Statements of al-Qaeda recorded after 9/11 add weight to the U.S account of who was responsible for the attacks. In a 2004 video, apparently acknowledging responsibility for the attacks, bin Laden states that he was motivated by the 1982 Lebanon War, for which he held the U.S. partially responsible. In the video, bin Laden also claims that he wants to "restore freedom to our nation," to "punish the aggressor in kind," and to inflict economic damage on America. He declared that a continuing objective of his holy war was to "bleed America to the point of bankruptcy."[102] Bin Laden said, "We swore that America would not live in security until we live it truly in Palestine. This showed the reality of America, which puts Israel's interest above its own people's interest. America will not get out of this crisis until it gets out of the Arabian Peninsula, and until it stops its support of Israel."

The 9/11 Commission Report determined that the animosity towards the United States felt by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the "principal architect" of the 9/11 attacks, stemmed "not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel."[103] The same motivation was shared by the two pilots who flew into the WTC: Mohamed Atta was described by Ralph Bodenstein—who traveled, worked and talked with him—as "most imbued actually about... U.S. protection of these Israeli politics in the region." "When someone asked why he and Atta never laughed, Shehhi retorted,"How can you laugh when people are dying in Palestine?"[46] Abdulaziz al-Omari, a hijacker aboard Flight 11 with Mohammed Atta, said in his video will, "My work is a message those who heard me and to all those who saw me at the same time it is a message to the infidels that you should leave the Arabian peninsula defeated and stop giving a hand of help to the coward Jews in Palestine."[104]

Statements by others

The motives of al-Qaeda have also been extensively analyzed by other parties, including politicians, academics, and media commentators. In a 2001 speech, U.S. President Bush explained the general motivations of the perpetrators as "They hate ... a democratically elected government. ... They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."[105] However, this view has been criticized by experts such as Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer, who explain that "politicians really are at great fault for not squaring with the American people. We're being attacked for what we do in the Islamic world, not for who we are or what we believe in or how we live."[106]

Many of the eventual findings of the 9/11 Commission with respect to motives have been supported by other experts. For instance, Counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke, explains that foreign policy decisions including "confronting Moscow in Afghanistan, inserting the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf," and "strengthening Israel as a base for a southern flank against the Soviets" contributed to al-Qaeda's motives.[107] Others, such as Jason Burke, focus on a more political aspect to the motive, stating that "Bin Laden is an activist with a very clear sense of what he wants and how he hopes to achieve it. Those means may be far outside the norms of political activity [[..]] but his agenda is a basically political one."[108]

A variety of scholarship has also focused on bin Laden's overall strategy as a motive for the attacks. For instance, Peter Bergen argues that the attacks were part of a plan to cause the United States to increase its military and cultural presence in the Middle East, thereby forcing Muslims to confront the "evils" of a non-Muslim government and establish conservative Islamic governments in the region.[109] Michael Scott Doran further emphasizes the "mythic" use of the term "spectacular" in bin Laden's response to the attacks, explaining that he was attempting to provoke a visceral reaction in the Middle East and ensure that Muslim citizens would react as violently as possible to an increase in U.S. involvement in their region.[110]


A solitary firefighter stands amid the rubble and smoke in New York City. Days after the Sept. 11 attack, fires still burned at the site of the World Trade Center.

International reaction

A solitary firefighter stands amid the rubble and smoke in New York City. Days after the Sept. 11 attack, fires still burned at the site of the World Trade Center.


The attacks had major global political ramifications. They were denounced by mainstream media and governments worldwide, with the headline of France's Le Monde newspaper summing up the international mood of sympathy: "We Are All Americans" (Nous sommes tous Américains).[111] The most publicized exception was that some Palestinians celebrated jubilantly upon hearing about 9/11.[112] There was a report by a journalist about public demonstrations of enthusiasm for the attacks conducted by Chinese students in Beijing, China during the night after the attacks. Although the journalist was not in China on the day of 9/11, he reported the event on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 based on accounts he had learned from his sources.[113] Leaders in most Middle Eastern countries, including Afghanistan, condemned the attacks. Iraq was a notable exception, with an immediate official statement that "the American cowboys are reaping the fruit of their crimes against humanity."[114]

Approximately one month after the attacks, the United States led a broad coalition of international forces in the removal of the Taliban regime for harboring the al-Qaeda organization.[115] The Pakistani authorities moved decisively to align themselves with the United States in a war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Pakistan provided the U.S. a number of military airports and bases for its attack on the Taliban regime and arrested over 600 supposed al-Qaeda members, whom it handed over to the U.S.[116]

Numerous countries, including the UK, India, Australia, France, Germany, Indonesia, China, Canada, Russia, Pakistan, Jordan, Mauritius, Uganda and Zimbabwe introduced "anti-terrorism" legislation[117] and froze the bank accounts[118] of businesses and individuals they suspected of having al-Qaeda ties.

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies in a number of countries, including Italy, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines arrested people they labeled terrorist suspects for the stated purpose of breaking up militant cells around the world.[119][120] In the U.S., this aroused some controversy, as critics such as the Bill of Rights Defense Committee argued that traditional restrictions on federal surveillance (e.g. COINTELPRO's monitoring of public meetings) were "dismantled" by the USA PATRIOT Act;[121] civil liberty organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Liberty argued that certain civil rights protections were also being circumvented.[122][123]

The United States set up a detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to hold what they termed "illegal enemy combatants". The legitimacy of these detentions has been questioned by, among others, the European Parliament,[124] the Organization of American States,[125] and Amnesty International.[126]

In the United Kingdom, outrage swelled in the media when Jo Moore, a special adviser to Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, sent an email to staff an hour after the attacks, but before the towers had collapsed, suggesting that "It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses?"[127] Moore faced calls for her resignation, but after apologising and receiving backing from Byers and Downing Street, she remained in her job until February 2002, when a further 'burying bad news' scandal finally led to her resignation.[128]

Public response

The 9/11 attacks had immediate and overwhelming effects upon the United States population. Gratitude toward uniformed public-safety workers (dubbed "first responders"), and especially toward firefighters, was widely expressed in light of both the drama of the risks taken on the scene and the high death toll among the workers. Many police officers and rescue workers elsewhere in the country took leaves of absence to travel to New York City to assist in the grim process of recovering bodies from the twisted remnants of the Twin Towers. Blood donations also saw a surge in the weeks after 9/11.[129]

Numerous incidents of harassment and hate crimes were reported against Middle Easterners and other "Middle Eastern-looking" people, particularly Sikhs, due to the fact that Sikh males usually wear turbans, which are stereotypically associated with Muslims in the United States. There were reports of verbal abuse, attacks on mosques and other religious buildings (including the firebombing of a Hindu temple) and assaults on people, including one murder; Balbir Singh Sodhi was fatally shot on September 15. He, like others, was a Sikh who was mistaken for a Muslim.[130]

Following the attacks, George W. Bush's job approval rating soared to 86%.[131] On September 20, 2001, the U.S. president spoke before the nation and a joint session of the United States Congress, regarding the events of that day, the intervening nine days of rescue and recovery efforts, and his intent in response to those events. In addition, the highly visible role played by New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani won him high praise nationally and in New York.[132]

Muslim American reaction

Top Muslim organizations in the United States were swift to condemn the attacks on 9/11 and called "upon Muslim Americans to come forward with their skills and resources to help alleviate the sufferings of the affected people and their families". Top organizations include: Islamic Society of North America, American Muslim Alliance, American Muslim Council, Council on American-Islamic Relations, The Islamic Circle of North America, and the Shari'a Scholars Association of North America. In addition to massive monetary donations, many Islamic organizations launched blood drives and provided medical assistance, food, and residence for victims.[133]

Conspiracy theories

Various conspiracy theories have emerged as a reaction to the attacks suggesting that individuals outside of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda knew of, planned, or carried out the attacks.[134] These theories are not accepted as credible by most mainstream journalists, scientists, and political leaders, who have concluded that responsibility for the attacks and the resulting destruction rests with Al Qaeda.[135][136][137][138]

U.S. Government response

Rescue, recovery, and compensation

September 13, 2001: A New York City firefighter looks up at what remains of the South Tower.

September 13, 2001: A New York City firefighter looks up at what remains of the South Tower.


The FDNY deployed 200 units (half of the department) to the site, whose efforts were supplemented by numerous off-duty firefighters.[139][140] NYPD Emergency Service Units (ESU) and other police personnel,[141] along with numerous EMTs rushed to the scene.[142] NYPD helicopters were soon at the scene, reporting on the status of the burning buildings.[141] Though, FDNY commanders lacked communication with the NYPD, as well as with 9-1-1 dispatchers to provide good situational awareness.[142] FDNY commanders also had difficulties communicating evacuation orders to firefighters inside the towers due to malfunctioning repeater systems in the World Trade Center.[139]

Within hours of the attack, a massive search and rescue (SAR) operation was launched. Initially, only a handful of wounded people were found at the site, and in the weeks that followed it became evident that there were no survivors to be found. Rescue and recovery efforts took months to complete. It took several weeks to simply put out the fires burning in the rubble of the buildings, although there was smoldering and smoke for 99 days, before the fire was completely out. The clean-up was not completed until May 2002. Temporary wooden "viewing platforms" were set up for tourists to view construction crews clearing out the gaping holes where the towers once stood. All of these platforms were closed on May 30, 2002.

Many relief funds were immediately set up to assist victims of the attacks, with the task of providing financial assistance to the survivors and the families of victims. By the deadline for victim's compensation, September 11, 2003, 2,833 applications had been received from the families of those killed.[143]



Immediate national response

For the first time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States and several other countries including Canada were immediately grounded, stranding tens of thousands of passengers across the world.[144]

Contingency plans for the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders were also implemented almost immediately after the attacks.[144] Congress, however, was not told that the US was under a continuity of government status until February 2002.[145]

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the Bush administration declared a war on terrorism, with the stated goals of bringing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to justice and preventing the emergence of other terrorist networks. These goals would be accomplished by means including economic and military sanctions against states perceived as harboring terrorists and increasing global surveillance and intelligence sharing. Immediately after the September 11 attacks U.S. officials[146] speculated on possible involvement by Saddam Hussein; although unfounded, the association contributed to public acceptance for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The second-biggest operation of the U.S. Global War on Terrorism outside of the United States, and the largest directly connected to terrorism, was the overthrow of the Taliban rule from Afghanistan, by a U.S.-led coalition. The U.S. was not the only nation to increase its military readiness, with other notable examples being the Philippines and Indonesia, countries that have their own internal conflicts with Islamist terrorism.[147][148]

Because the attacks on the United States were judged to be within the parameters of its charter, NATO declared that Article 5 of the NATO agreement was satisfied on September 12, 2001.[149]

Domestic response

Within the United States, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, creating the Department of Homeland Security, representing the largest restructuring of the U.S. government in contemporary history. Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, stating that it would help detect and prosecute terrorism and other crimes. Civil liberties groups have criticized the PATRIOT Act, saying that it allows law enforcement to invade the privacy of citizens and eliminates judicial oversight of law-enforcement and domestic intelligence gathering. The Bush Administration also invoked 9/11 as the reason to initiate a secret National Security Agency operation, "to eavesdrop on telephone and e-mail communications between the United States and people overseas without a warrant."[150]

Following the attacks, 80,000 Arab and Muslim immigrants were fingerprinted and registered under the Alien Registration Act of 1940. 8,000 Arab and Muslim men were interviewed, and 5,000 foreign nationals were detained under Joint Congressional Resolution 107-40 authorizing the use of military force "to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States."[151]


9/11 Commission

9/11 Report

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission), chaired by former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, was formed in late 2002 to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the attacks, including preparedness for, and the immediate response to, the attacks. On July 22, 2004, the 9/11 Commission issued the 9/11 Commission Report. The Commission has been subject to criticism.

Collapse of the World Trade Center

An illustration of the World Trade Center 9-11 attacks with a vertical view of the impact locations. Many architects and structural engineers have analyzed the collapse of the Twin Towers


An illustration of the World Trade Center 9-11 attacks with a vertical view of the impact locations. Many architects and structural engineers have analyzed the collapse of the Twin Towers

A federal technical building and fire safety investigation of the collapses of the Twin Towers and 7 WTC has been conducted by the United States Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The goals of this investigation, completed on April 6, 2005, were to investigate the building construction, the materials used, and the technical conditions that contributed to the outcome of the WTC disaster. The investigation was to serve as the basis for:

  • Improvements in the way in which buildings are designed, constructed, maintained, and used
  • Improved tools and guidance for industry and safety officials
  • Revisions to building and fire codes, standards, and practices
  • Improved public safety

The report concludes that the fireproofing on the Twin Towers' steel infrastructures was blown off by the initial impact of the planes and that, if this had not occurred, the towers would likely have remained standing. The fires weakened the trusses supporting the floors, making the floors sag. The sagging floors pulled on the exterior steel columns to the point where exterior columns bowed inward. With the damage to the core columns, the buckling exterior columns could no longer support the buildings, causing them to collapse. In addition, the report asserts that the towers' stairwells were not adequately reinforced to provide emergency escape for people above the impact zones. NIST stated that the final report on the collapse of 7 WTC will appear in a separate report.[152]This was confirmed by an independent study by Purdue University.[153]

Internal review of the CIA

The Inspector General of the CIA conducted an internal review of the CIA's pre-9/11 performance, and was harshly critical of senior CIA officials for not doing everything possible to confront terrorism, including failing to stop two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, as they entered the United States and failing to share information on the two men with the FBI.[154]

Senators from both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in May, 2007 drafted legislation that would openly present an internal CIA investigative report. One of the backers, Senator Ron Wyden stated "The American people have a right to know what the Central Intelligence Agency was doing in those critical months before 9/11.... I am going to bulldog this until the public gets it." The report investigates the responsibilities of individual CIA personnel before and after the 9/11 attacks. The report was completed in 2005, but its details have never been released to the public.[155]

Long-term effects

Economic aftermath

The attacks had a significant economic impact on the United States and world markets. The Federal Reserve temporarily had reduced contact with banks because of outages of switching equipment in the lower NY financial district. Contact and control over the money supply, including immediate liquidity for banks, was restored within hours. The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the American Stock Exchange and NASDAQ did not open on September 11 and remained closed until September 17. NYSE facilities and remote data processing sites were not damaged by the attack, but member firms, customers and markets were unable to communicate due to major damage to the telephone exchange facility near the World Trade Center. When the stock markets reopened on September 17, 2001, after the longest closure since the Great Depression in 1929, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (“DJIA”) stock market index fell 684 points, or 7.1%, to 8920, its biggest-ever one-day point decline. By the end of the week, the DJIA had fallen 1369.7 points (14.3%), its largest one-week point drop in history. U.S. stocks lost $1.2 trillion in value for the week. As of 2007, Wall and Broad Streets near the New York Stock Exchange remained barricaded and guarded to prevent a physical attack upon the building.

September 11 from space: Manhattan spreads a large smoke plume


September 11 from space: Manhattan spreads a large smoke plume

The economy of Lower Manhattan, which by itself is the third-largest business district in the United States (after Midtown Manhattan and the Chicago Loop) was devastated in the immediate aftermath. Thirty percent (31.2 million sq ft, 2.7 million m³) of Lower Manhattan office space was either damaged or destroyed. The 41-story Deutsche Bank Building, neighboring the World Trade Center, was subsequently closed because extensive damage made it unfit for habitation or restoration and it was scheduled for demolition. Power, telephone, and gas were cut off in much of Lower Manhattan. People were not permitted to enter the SoHo and Lower Manhattan area without extensive inspection. Much of what was destroyed was valuable Class-A space. The pre-2001 trend of moving jobs out of Lower Manhattan to Midtown and New Jersey was accelerated. Many questioned whether these lost jobs would ever be restored, and whether the damaged tax base could ever recover.[156] Economic studies of the effects of 9/11 have confirmed that the impact of the attacks on the Manhattan office market as well as on office employment was more limited than initially expected because of the strong need for face-to-face interaction in the financial services industry[157][158]

The rebuilding has been inhibited by a lack of agreement on priorities. For example, Mayor Bloomberg had made New York's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics the core of his capital development plan from 2002 until mid-2005, and Governor Pataki largely delegated his role to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation which has been widely criticized for doing little with the enormous funding directed to the rebuilding efforts.[159][160] On the sites of the totally destroyed buildings, one, 7 World Trade Center, has a new office tower which was completed in 2006. The Freedom Tower is currently under construction at the site and at 1,776 ft (541 m) upon completion in 2010, will become the tallest building in North America and one of the tallest in the world. Three more towers are expected to be built between 2007 and 2012 on the site, and will be located one block east of where the original towers stood.

North American air space was closed for several days after the attacks and air travel decreased significantly upon its reopening. The attacks led to nearly a 20% cutback in air travel capacity, and severely exacerbated financial problems in the struggling U.S. airline industry.[161]

Potential health effects

The thousands of tons of toxic debris resulting from the collapse of the Twin Towers consisted of more than 2,500 contaminants,[162] more specifically: 50% nonfibrous material and construction debris; 40% glass and other fibers; 9.2% cellulose; and 0.8% asbestos,[163] lead, and mercury. There were also unprecedented levels of dioxin and PAHs from the fires which burned for three months.[164] Some of the dispersed substances (crystalline silica, lead, cadmium, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are carcinogenic; other substances can trigger kidney, heart, liver and nervous system deterioration.[165]

This has led to debilitating illnesses among rescue and recovery workers, which many claim to be directly linked to debris exposure. For example, NYPD Officer Frank Macri died of lung cancer that spread throughout his body on September 3, 2007; his family contends the cancer is the result of long hours on the site and they have filed for line-of-duty death benefits, which the City has yet to rule on. [166] Health effects have also extended to some residents, students, and office workers of Lower Manhattan and nearby Chinatown.[167]

On May 24, 2007, for the first time a death was linked to the toxic dust caused by the World Trade Center's collapse. Felicia Dunn-Jones died of lung disease five months after Sept. 11. Dunn-Jones will be listed on the Sept. 11 memorial when it opens in 2009. The death of a retired police detective, James Zadroga, who died in January 2006, has been ruled by the New Jersey medical examiner to be "directly related" to his work at ground zero on and after Sept. 11. His name, as of yet, has not been added to the list of the attack victims.[168]

Legal disputes over the attendant costs of illnesses related to the attacks are still in the court system. On October 17, 2006, federal judge Alvin K. Hellerstein rejected New York City's refusal to pay for health costs for rescue workers,[169] allowing for the possibility of numerous suits against the city.

There is also scientific speculation that exposure to various toxic products and the pollutants in the air surrounding the Towers after the WTC collapse may have negative effects on fetal development. Due to this potential hazard, a notable children's environmental health center is currently analyzing the children whose mothers were pregnant during the WTC collapse, and were living or working near the World Trade Center towers. The staff of this study assesses the children using psychological testing every year and interviews the mothers every six months. The purpose of the study is to determine whether there is significant difference in development and health progression of children whose mothers were exposed, versus those who were not exposed after the WTC collapse.[170]

Government officials have been faulted for urging the public to return to lower Manhattan in the weeks shortly following the attacks. U.S. President Bush has been faulted for interfering with the EPA interpretations and pronouncements regarding air quality. Mayor Giuliani has also been criticized for urging financial industry personnel to return to the greater Wall Street area.[171]


Main article: September 11, 2001 attack memorials and services

The Tribute in Light viewed from Jersey City on the anniversary of the attacks in 2004


The Tribute in Light viewed from Jersey City on the anniversary of the attacks in 2004

In the days immediately following the attacks, many memorials and vigils were held, including candlelight vigils in New York on September 12 and September 14,[172] and a candlelight procession in Washington on September 14.[173] In Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, over 100,000 people attended a memorial service on Parliament Hill,[174] while all across Europe a three-minute silence was held at noon, Paris time.[175] The UK paid special homage on September 13, 2001, pausing the changing of the guard for two minutes in silence, then playing the American national anthem.[175]

Temporary memorials were quickly erected at the three sites, with permanent memorials in the planning stages, or under construction. One of the first was the Tribute in Light, an installation of 88 searchlights at the footprints of the World Trade Center towers which projected two vertical columns of light into the sky.[176] It initially ran from March 11 to April 14, 2002, but has since been re-lit every year on the anniversary of the attacks. In New York, the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition was held to design an appropriate memorial on the site. The winning design, Reflecting Absence, was selected in August 2006, and consists of a pair of reflecting pools in the footprints of the towers, surrounded by a list of the victims' names in an underground memorial space.[177] Plans for a museum on the site have been put on hold, following the abandonment of the International Freedom Center after criticism from the families of many victims.[178]

At the Pentagon, an outdoor memorial is currently under construction, which will consist of a landscaped park with 184 benches facing the Pentagon.[179] When the Pentagon was rebuilt in 2001-2002, a private chapel and indoor memorial were included, located at the spot where Flight 77 crashed into the building.[180] A temporary memorial is located 500 yards (500 m) from the Flight 93 crash site near Shanksville.[181] A permanent Flight 93 National Memorial is in planning stages, which will include a sculpted grove of trees forming a circle around the crash site, bisected by the plane's path, while wind chimes will bear the names of the victims.[182] Many other permanent memorials are being constructed around the world and a list is being updated as new ones are completed.[183]

In addition to physical monuments, scholarships and charities have been established by the victims' loved ones, along with many other organizations and private figures.[184] Numerous public benefits and concerts have been held to raise money for the families of victims. In addition, the Raoul Wallenberg Award was given to New York City in 2001 "For all of its citizens who searched for the missing, cared for the injured, gave comfort to loved ones of the missing or lost, and provided sustenance and encouragement to those who searched through the rubble at ground zero."[185]

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