September 11, 2001 attacks

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September 11, 2001 attacks
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In Memoriam Wiki
Lower Manhattan as seen from New Jersey, shortly after the attacks
Lower Manhattan as seen from New Jersey, shortly after the attacks

The September 11, 2001 attacks were a series of coordinated terrorist suicide attacks against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in the United States on September 11, 2001.

The attacks were the first highly lethal attack by a foreign force on the U.S. mainland since 1814. With a death toll of nearly 3,000, the attacks exceeded the toll of approximately 2,400 dead following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in the territory of Hawaii, which provoked U.S. entrance into World War II in 1941. However, unlike the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was an attack on a military base by a sovreign state, this attack primarily targeted civilians. Although the Pentagon was attacked, the terrorists used a hijacked civilian airliner to attack it.

They involved the hijacking of four commercial airliners. With some nearly 24,000 US gallons equal about 91 cubic metres of jet fuel aboard, the aircraft were turned into flying bombs. Two aircraft were flown into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, with a final aircraft crashing into a Pennsylvania field. In addition to the loss of nearly 3,000 lives, a number of important buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. The most notable buildings were the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC), although five other buildings and a subway station under the WTC were wholly or partly destroyed.

Also on Manhattan Island, 23 additional nearby buildings were damaged. Some debate continues over the reasons the buildings collapsed, particularly WTC 7 which was not hit by the planes. In Arlington, a portion of the Pentagon was severely damaged by fire and one section of the building collapsed.


Shortly after the attacks, the United States government blamed the attacks on Al-Qaida, a fundamentalist Islamic organization widely held responsible for numerous terrorist acts. This led to a "War on Terrorism" that included the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and had a major influence on the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In the aftermath of the attacks, the U.S. government increased pressure on groups accused of being terrorists, as well as governments and countries accused of harboring them. The attacks also precipitated a focus on domestic security issues and the creation of a new cabinet-level federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security.

The attacks are often referred to as September 11th or 9/11. The latter is from the U.S. style for writing short dates, and is pronounced "nine-eleven." Within the United States, the typographic styling of the 9/11 designation alludes to 9-1-1, the emergency telephone number used by the USA and Canada, while the two "ones" are seen by some as representative of the two towers of the World Trade Centers. For these symbolic reasons and convenience, the 9/11 designation has become the predominant domestic term for the attacks. The attacks are also referred to as 11-S (11 September).

Table of contents


Photo of lower Manhattan, showing fires still burning at the WTC site, taken by Landsat 7 satellite at 11:30 a.m. local time, September 12, 2001. Courtesy of NASA.
Photo of lower Manhattan, showing fires still burning at the WTC site, taken by Landsat 7 satellite at 11:30 a.m. local time, September 12, 2001. Courtesy of NASA.

The combined attack of September 11 on the World Trade Center was the deadliest act of terrorism against the United States and one of the deadliest attacks of asymmetric warfare in history. On the morning of September 11, 2001, four passenger jets were hijacked over the United States. American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north side of the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 EDT (12:46 UTC). At 9:03 AM EDT, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower. American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 AM EDT. Both 110-story towers of the World Trade Center collapsed along with several neighboring buildings, and part of the Pentagon was destroyed by fire.

The fourth hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania in Somerset County. The evidence suggests that it crashed after passengers and crew tried but failed to retake control of the plane from the hijackers.

There were no survivors from any of the hijacked aircraft.

Casualties were in the thousands: 265 on the planes; at least 2,602 people, including 343 firefighters, at the World Trade Center; and 125 at the Pentagon. This adds up to a total of at least 2,992 people dead. At least another 3,000 people filed claims for compensation because of injuries and trauma caused in the attacks.

Some passengers and crew were able to make phone calls from the doomed flights. They reported that there was more than one hijacker on each plane (a total of 19 were later identified) and that they took control of the planes using box-cutter knives. Additionally, some form of noxious chemical spray, such as tear gas or pepper spray, were reported to have been used on at least one flight. There were also reports from at least two of the flights that hijackers claimed to be carrying bombs.


The attacks of September 11th, 2001 had immediate and overwhelming effects upon the United States population and prompted numerous memorials and services all over the world, as well as support and/or tolerance for the US retaliation upon those accused of supporting the attacks. Gratitude toward uniformed public-safety workers (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 them. The number of casualties among the emergency services was exceptional compared to typical disasters, with an unprecedented fraction of the emergency personnel involved being killed.

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 digits of "9/11" (the American shorthand for the date) corresponded to those of the U.S.-wide phone number for emergency services, 911 (usually pronounced "nine-one-one"). There was some initial speculation that this correspondence was intentional, to communicate something along the lines "Starting now, life in America is about emergencies rather than ease". It was also suggested, but apparently never confirmed, that the number may have had some religious significance to the hijackers. Most Americans seemed to quickly accept press commentators' opinion that mere coincidence would be more in keeping with Islamist radicals' practice. The coincidence in any case has emotional resonance, and may contribute as much as slips of the tongue to Americans sometimes saying "911" when they mean "9/11". Subconscious awareness of it may also contribute to the enhanced identification with public-safety personnel.

Others speculated that the date of 9/11 was chosen because on that date many New York fire and rescue vehicles were out of the state for training purposes. It was also the day of the New York City mayoral primary, which was postponed to a later date after the attacks.

The highly visible role played by Rudolph Giuliani, the Mayor of New York City, won him unprecedented popularity among the residents of New York and the entire nation. He was named Person of the Year by Time Magazine for 2001, and temporarily even seemed to steal the spotlight from George W. Bush at times.

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the United States and other countries around the world were placed on a high state of alert against potential follow-up attacks. Civilian air travel across the United States was - for the first time ever - suspended totally for several days, with numerous locations and events affected by closures, postponements, cancellations, and evacuations. Other countries imposed similar security restrictions: in the United Kingdom, for instance, civilian aircraft were forbidden to fly over London for several days after the attacks.

The attacks also had a major and long-lasting political effect on the United States and worldwide. Many countries introduced tough anti-terrorism legislation - in the US, the USA PATRIOT Act - and took action to cut off terrorist finances (including the freezing of bank accounts suspected of being used to fund terrorism). Law enforcement and intelligence agencies stepped up cooperation to arrest terrorist suspects and break up terrorist cells around the world. This was a highly controversial process, as many critics regarded governments as having gone too far in restricting civil rights. The imprisonment of suspected terrorists at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, caused particular concern.

The reaction to the attacks in the Muslim world was mixed. While the great majority of Muslim political and religious leaders condemned the attacks - virtually the only significant stand-out was Saddam Hussein, the then president of Iraq - the US media reported popular celebrations in some communities hostile to US policies in the Middle East. Scores of Muslims were also killed in the attacks, an action strictly forbidden by the Qur'an, which prohibits Muslims from killing Muslims.

Rescue and recovery

Fires burned amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center for weeks after the attack.
Fires burned amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center for weeks after the attack.

Rescue and recovery efforts took months to complete. It took weeks simply to quench the fires burning in the rubble of the World Trade Center and the clean-up was not completed until May. Many relief funds were immediately set up to assist victims (personally and financially) of the attacks. The task of providing assistance to the survivors and the families of victims is still ongoing.

Very few survivors, and a surprisingly small number of bodies, were found in the rubble of the WTC. The forces unleashed by the towers' disintegration were so great that many of those trapped in the buildings were simply shredded in the collapse. Some victims had to be identified by as little as a few scraps of flesh or individual teeth. Most bodies were never found at all, presumably because the heat of the fires had completely incinerated them.

On January 18, 2002, the last hospitalized survivor of the World Trade Center attack was released from hospital.

Over 1.5 million tons of debris was produced by the collapse of the WTC, which posed unique problems for the cleanup effort: there had never previously been an instance of a fully occupied skyscraper collapsing in a city center and the environmental and health consequences of such an event were wholly unknown. About 100 tons of asbestos were used in the construction of the WTC and had not yet been fully removed [1] ( The attacks released dense clouds of dust into the air of Manhattan, and samples of the residue have shown small percentages of asbestos. As the incubation period for asbestos-related diseases is up to 30 years after inhalation, some citizens living in affected areas may suffer long term effects.

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.

Six months after the attack, the 1.5 million tons of debris had been removed from the WTC site and work continued below ground level, despite concerns that the slurry wall encompassing the site foundation (known as the Bathtub) might collapse. Ceremonies marking the end of the debris removal took place at the end of May 2002.

Why did the WTC collapse?

Main article: Collapse of the World Trade Center

The extremely rapid collapse of the World Trade Center surprised many people, not least the emergency personnel caught in the buildings. The reason lay in the way that the WTC had been designed, held together by vertical steel columns, bound to each other using ordinary steel trusses. The strength of the steel drops markedly with prolonged exposure to fire, and it becomes more elastic the higher the temperature. In both cases this eventually weakened the structure to the point of collapse. However, the two towers collapsed in markedly different ways, indicating that there were in fact two modes of failure. See main article for details.

Larry Silvertstein, who held a seven-week-old lease on One and Two World Trade Center, claimed in a documentary that aired on PBS, that he, jointly with the New York Fire Department, made the decision to deliberately demolish Seven World Trade Center, also known as the Solomon Building, which he also owned, and which was then the headquarters of the crisis and disaster command center for the mayor of New York City. FEMA's report on the demolition contradicts this public admission by Silverstein.


Though no group has explicitly claimed responsibility, the Al-Qaida organization has praised the attacks and the organization's leaders have hinted of their involvement in the incidents. The U.S. government immediately launched a response, stating its intentions to go to war against those it deemed responsible.

Recent statements and revelations

Additional information about the planning and execution of the attacks by Al-Qaida came to light following the capture of two of its members - Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh - in separate raids in 2003 and 2002, and an exclusive interview with al Jazeera journalist Yosro Fauda in September 2002.

Amongst the things that were said to be revealed in these interogations was that Khalid Mohammed was the instigator and prime organizer of the attacks. The first hijack plan that Mohammed presented to the leadership of Al-Qaida called for several airplanes on both east and west coasts to be hijacked and driven into targets. Mohammed's plan came from an earlier foiled terrorist plot called Operation Bojinka, which called for multiple airliners to be hijacked.

Osama bin Laden was said to have been aware of these plans, and used his authority to gradually scale them down to an operation with four planes.

According to the captured al-Qaida members, six of the hijackers played active parts in the planning, including the four who became the pilots. The other two were Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. CIA operatives monitored these two when they made visits to the USA, but did not notify the FBI or gain any inkling of what the hijackers were up to.

The targets ultimately chosen were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United States Capitol. Flight 93 was apparently meant to crash into the capitol. The White House was considered as a target, but was dismissed as being too hard to spot from the air. In the communications that developed as the scheme took form, the Pentagon was known as the Faculty of Arts, Capitol Hill was referred to as the Faculty of Law, and the World Trade Center was referred to as the Faculty of Town Planning.

There were early plans to have 20 hijackers, but the final list always did consist of 19 hijackers. Binalsibh was meant to be the 20th, but he was repeatedly denied entry into the US. Zacarias Moussaoui was considered for the role of the 20th hijacker, but plans to include him were never finalized, as the al-Qaeda hierarchy had doubts about his reliability. He may have been included in a series of proposed followup attacks that never eventuated, and he may have been involved in some way with Nick Berg, whose college email password was found in Moussaoui's possession [2] (

September 17, 2001 - A small portion of the scene where the World Trade Center collapsed following the September 11 attacks.
September 17, 2001 - A small portion of the scene where the World Trade Center collapsed following the September 11 attacks.

His capture by the US authorities did, however, accelerate the plans of the hijackers. It was hijacker Mohammed Atta who notified Binalsibh after Moussaoui's capture in a coded telephone message, "two sticks, a dash, and a cake with a stick down", meaning that the September 11 was the day for which the attack would happen on.

Earlier revelations

In late September, British Prime Minister Tony Blair released information compiled by Western intelligence agencies connecting Osama bin Laden to the Afghan Taliban leadership, and Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida organisation.

The Taliban refused to extradite Osama bin Laden and all other Al-Qaida leaders based in Afghanistan to the United States without conclusive evidence, although they proposed to extradite to an Islamic country. (Previously, the Taliban had refused to extradite bin Laden without conclusive evidence that he was involved in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the bombing of the USS Cole in a harbor in Yemen.) The setting of that open-ended standard was treated as a refusal based on sympathy with and dependence on Al Qaida, and a coalition led by the United States launched an invasion of Afghanistan on October 7.

After the U.S. attack removed the Taliban from power in many parts of Afghanistan, a videotape was discovered abandoned in Kabul, the Afghan capital, which showed bin Laden discussing the attacks in which he claims foreknowledge of the attacks.

U.S. Investigators have nearly a decade of statements directly from bin Laden that state the motives for the attacks on the US and US interests. Bin Laden has been interviewed by western journalists and has for several years repeatedly broadcast a common list of grievances, which he cites as the reason for his jihad. Most of these statements have been confirmed as those from bin Laden but at least one hasn't, a letter (,3858,4552895,00.html), purporting to be written by bin Laden, which appeared on the Internet in Arabic. It was reported in a November 24, 2002 article in The Observer, in an article that cites no intelligence-agency estimates about the likelihood of its authenticity, only using journalists' beliefs that it is really a letter from bin Laden explaining the motivations for the attacks.

Reasons to question the authenticity of this particular letter include

  • a style different from all the interviews
  • a strange intro to the letter that acts like the motives have not been stated before.
  • lack of any other source that includes as motives either

There have been many interviews with bin Laden, all of them listing specific foreign policies of the US as the reasons for attacks on the US.

An audio tape said to be from bin Laden stated in part:

"... the Mujahideen saw the black gang of thugs in the White House hiding the Truth, and their stupid and foolish leader, who is elected and supported by his people, denying reality and proclaiming that we (the Mujahideen) were striking them because we were jealous of them (the Americans), whereas the reality is that we are striking them because of their evil and injustice in the whole of the Islamic World, especially in Iraq and Palestine and their occupation of the Land of the Two Holy Sanctuaries. Upon seeing this, the Mujahideen decided teach them a lesson and to take the war to their heartland. On the blessed Tuesday 11 September 2001, while the Zionist-American Alliance was targeting our children and our people in the blessed land of Al-Aqsa, with American tanks and planes in the hands of the Jews, and our people in Iraq were suffering from the America's sanctions upon them, and the Islamic world was very far away from establishing Islam properly." -Osama Bin Laden, February 14, 2003

In the paragraph before that he again recaps motives that he has claimed for years:

" ... in 1995, the explosion in Riyadh took place, killing four Americans, in a clear message from the people of that region displaying their rejection and opposition to the American policy of bankrolling the Jews and occupying the Land of the Two Holy Sanctuaries. The following year, another explosion in Al-Khobar killed 19 Americans and wounded more than 400 of them, prompting them to move their bases from the cities to the desert. Then in 1998, the Mujahideen warned America to cease their support to the Jews and to leave the Land of the Two Holy Sanctuaries, but the enemy refused to heed this warning, so the Mujahideen, with the ability from Allah, smashed them with two mighty smashes in East Africa. Then again America was warned, but she refused to pay attention to the warnings, so the Mujahideen destroyed the American Destroyer, the USS Cole, in Aden, in a martyrdom operation, striking a solid blow to the face of the American military and at the same time, exposing the Yemeni Government as American agents, similar to all the countries in the region." -Osama bin Laden February 14, 2003

For many years bin Laden stated motives. He said in an interview in 1999, "The International Islamic Front for Jihad against the U.S. and Israel has issued a crystal-clear fatwa calling on the Islamic nation to carry on jihad aimed at liberating holy sites. The nation of Muhammad has responded to this appeal. If the instigation for jihad against the Jews and the Americans in order to liberate Al-Aksa Mosque and the Holy Ka'aba Islamic shrines in the Middle East is considered a crime, then let history be a witness that I am a criminal."

"We swore that America wouldn't 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 won't get out of this crisis until it gets out of the Arabian Peninsula, and until it stops its support of Israel." -Osama bin Laden, October 2001

"The Pile", Manhattan
"The Pile", Manhattan

A German friend of Mohammed Atta is quoted as describing him as "most imbued actually about Israeli politics in the region and about US protection of these Israeli politics in the region. And he was to a degree personally suffering from that."

The FBI testified that Al-Qaeda had specific goals. "One of the primary goals of Sunni extremists is the removal of U.S. military forces from the Persian Gulf area, most notably Saudi Arabia."

Terrorism expert Richard E. Rubenstein writes that Bin Laden has made clear in previous remarks that he is seeking to force a U.S. withdrawal from the Arabian peninsula.

The shoe bomber (Richard Reid) has said: "The reason for me sending you (a document he calls his "will") is so you can see that I didn't do this act out of ignorance nor did I just do it because I want to die, but rather because I see it as a duty upon me to help remove the oppressive American forces from the Muslim land and that this is the only way for us to do so as we do not have other means to fight them."

These statements suggest a motive for attacking the WTC in 2001 that is consistent with the motive expressed by terrorists in a letter sent to the New York Times after the 1993 bombing attack of the WTC, "We declare our responsibility for the explosion on the mentioned building. This action was done in response for the American political, economical, and military support to Israel the state of terrorism and to the rest of the dictator countries in the region." It is also the same motive that Mir Aimal Kasi had for killing CIA employees Frank Darling and Lansing Bennett outside CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia in 1993. Mir Aimal Kasi said, "What I did was a retaliation against the US government for American policy in the Middle East and its support of Israel."

The Bush Administration and others have stated that terrorists are motivated to attack by "hatred of America". President Bush said: "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." The purported statements of bin Laden in the disputed 2002 letter include depravity of Western civilization as a motive for attacks. The letter says that the motive for attacking is because they have been wronged. It starts with a quote talking about them being wronged: "Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those [believers] who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is Able to give them (believers) victory" Quran 22:39 The letter also states, "Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple: (1) Because you attacked us and continue to attack us." The letter goes on to points never raised in anything that has actually been verified as coming from Osama bin Laden.

Following the attack, the United States government has been on heightened alert for new attacks.


The U.S. Government released, on April 10, 2004, the text of a previously top secret President's Daily Briefing "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.". See U.S. White House briefing on terror threats of August 6, 2001.

Another prediction came from The Wall Street Journal:

Just four months before the attack on the twin towers, he (Daniel Pipes) and Steven Emerson wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Al Qaeda was "planning new attacks on the US" and that Iranian operatives "helped arrange advanced ... training for Al Qaeda personnel in Lebanon where they learned, for example, how to destroy large buildings." Boston Globe ( 22 June 2003 (emphasis added).

The attacks as war crimes

The September 11 attacks involved a number of war crimes, as specified the Hague Convention and Fourth Geneva Convention. Despite the fact that Al Queda or others who may be shown to have been behind the attacks may not be parties to these conventions, those who perpetrated them could be prosecuted under those statutes. "If unlawful combatants furthermore commit serious violations of international humanitarian law, they may be prosecuted for war crimes." [R. R. Baxter, British Yearbook of International Law, 1951 "Unprivileged Belligerency," , p. 344.]

The offences would include:

  • Bombardment of an Undefended Place [Annex to Hague Convention No. IV embodying the Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land] (18 October 1907), Article 25;
  • Unnecessary Killing and Devastation (a "grave breach" under Geneva Conventions of 1949) [Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War] (12 August 1949), Article 147;
  • Lack of Notice of Bombardment Where Civilian Population Exists [Annex to Hague Convention No. IV embodying the Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land] (18 October 1907), Article 26

See also Camp X-Ray for a related discussion on the war-criminal status of Al-Qaida detainees.


A joint Congressional committee concluded its investigation in July 2003. While the events show inadequacies in some parts of the United States government, in terms of both the way the attacks may have been prevented with better use and gathering of intelligence and in the way that defense forces reacted to the attacks, not a single public official was removed from office.

As well as the invasion of Afghanistan, claims of a strong link between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and the argument that the attack demonstrated the need to preemptively strike at forces hostile to US and western interests, were used by the US Administration as justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, though such links were hotly questioned at the time and little evidence of such links has since emerged.

In May 2003, a ten-member group was formed, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, chaired by former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean. Among other requests, the Commission requested information from the Federal Aviation Administration on air traffic control tracking of hijacked aircraft and the FAA's communication with NORAD. By October, the information had not been handed over, provoking the Commission to subpoena the FAA for the information and accuse it of slowing the probe. On November 7, the Commission subpoenaed the military's North American Aerospace Defense Command records for information NORAD promised but never delivered. The Commission also threatened to subpoena the White House if information regarding intelligence reports given to the president was not turned over.

There were many access limitations encountered by the Joint Inquiry. Of particular interest are concerns about the President's Daily Brief (PDB). This is reflected in the declassified yet heavily censored publication (see Appendix: Access Limitations Encountered by the Joint Inquiry):



H. Rept No. 107-792 S. Rept. No. 107-351

107th Congress 2d Session

Arab and Muslim denials of Responsibility

Since the attacks, Arab and Muslim newspapers have repeatedly denied the involvement of either Arabs or Muslims in the attacks of September 11, 2001. Rather these sources propose a variety of actors including, the United States Government, the Israeli Government, the Israeli intelligence agencies, and the Jews collectively. A recent example from the Egyptian government weekly Al-Ahram April 1-7, 2004 (translation ( provided by MEMRI)

The claim that the Greater Middle East Initiative aims, wholly or partly, to eliminate terror of the type seen on September 11, 2001 is unconvincing, for several reasons. One is that there is still doubt that the September attacks were the outcome of Arab and Islamic terror. No conclusive proof to this effect is yet available. Many writers, American and European, as well as Arab, suspect that the attacks were carried out by Americans, or with American assistance, or that Americans knew about them and kept silent.

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