It is that date and month of the year when the world first saw what global terror was meant to be. The twin towers of the World Trade Centre which dominated the New York skyline got demolished in the process, the Pentagon was hit and Capitol Hill narrowly escaped the fourth attack due to the bravery of the passengers.
It was the first time that the word ‘Al-Qaeda’ gained global recognition and its leader Osama Bin Laden became the cynosure of all eyes.
It was a Tuesday and to many Americans it is still ‘the worst Tuesday’ of their lives. Nineteen Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four aircraft and took control of those. Two of the planes (American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175) crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Centre, the third one (American Airlines Flight 77) hit the Pentagon while the fourth (United Airlines Flight 93) crashed into a field en route to the Washington DC. Nobody till date knows what the target was, but investigators have said that it could have hit Capitol Hill.
In all 2,996 lives were lost due to the attacks, the unofficial figures may be many more. More than 6,000 people were injured and many in the years to come died of respiratory diseases and cancer that happened because of the attacks. Most of those who perished were civilians, with the exception of 343 firefighters, 72 law enforcement officers, 55 military personnel, and the 19 terrorists who died in the attacks.
The twin towers perished within 100 minutes of getting hit. The fire and the debris also caused huge damage to the other buildings of the World Trade Centre. Property damage was estimated to the tune of 10 billion US dollars. But then the attacks also gave birth to a large number of heroes also.
Detective Luis Alvarez 53 was one of them. He passed away July 2, this year after contracting colorectal cancer, a disease he attributed to three months of digging at the destruction site searching for clues. The man who was one of the first police officials on the site when the planes hit the twin towers before his death told ‘CNN’, that ‘he wanted to save as many people’ as he could. “It was gory no doubt, there were burnt bodies and flesh everywhere. But I wanted to save as many people I could. As human beings we need to take care of each other… more so with terrorists on the prowl now,” Alvarez said.
The attacks were conceived by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who first presented the idea it to Bin Laden in 1996. At that time, Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were in a period of transition. So Bin Laden did not straightaway act on it. The 1998 African Embassy bombings and Bin Laden’s February 1998 ‘fatwā’ marked a turning point of Al-Qaeda’s terrorist operation. It was then Bin Laden became intent on attacking the United States.
In late 1998 or early 1999, Bin Laden gave approval for Khalid to go forward with organising the attacks. Khalid, Bin Laden, and another senior leader of the Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Atef held a series of meetings in early 1999. Atef provided operational support, including target selections and helping arrange travel for the hijackers. Bin Laden provided leadership and financial support, and was involved in selecting participants.
Bin Laden initially selected Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, both experienced jihadists who had fought in Bosnia. Hazmi and Mihdhar arrived in the United States in mid-January 2000. Both took flying lessons in San Diego, California. However, they could not speak English properly and hence were relegated to the role of ‘muscle’ hijackers. Bin Laden wanted people who could easily mix with the American flow of life.
In late 1999, a group of men from Hamburg, Germany arrived in Afghanistan; the group included Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Bin Laden selected these men because they were educated, could speak English, and had experience living in the West. New recruits were routinely screened for special skills and Al-Qaeda leaders consequently discovered that Hani Hanjour already had a commercial pilot’s license. Khalid later said that he helped the hijackers blend in the US by teaching them how to order food in restaurants and dress in Western clothing.
Hanjour arrived December 8, 2000 in San Diego, joining Hazmi. They soon left for Arizona, where Hanjour took refresher training. Marwan al-Shehhi arrived at the end of May 2000, Atta landed on US soil June 3, 2000, and Jarrah came in June 27, 2000.:6 Bin al-Shibh applied several times for a visa to the United States.
In the spring of 2001, In July 2001, Atta met with Bin al-Shibh in Spain, where they coordinated details of the plot, including final target selection. Bin al-Shibh also passed along Bin Laden’s wish for the attacks to be carried out as soon as possible. Some of the hijackers received passports from corrupt Saudi officials who were family members, or used fraudulent passports to gain entry.
The move to attack the US had truly begun. On their part, the US authorities were really lax. People in the US, prior to the 9/11 attacks had never been hit hard by terror. They thought that with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Pacific Ocean on the other, the chances of aerial attacks were remote and even ‘impossible’. Little did they know that something was cooking on their own soil.
The hijackers also bought tickets for long-distance flights for one simple reason. It would contain more fuel leading to widespread destruction. And then came September 11… the world would never be same again.
Yes, the US finally caught up with Osama Bin Laden at his Abbottabad hideout in Pakistan and killed him May 2, 2011. The Commandos attached with ‘Operation Neptune Spear’ then took the body of Bin Laden to Afghanistan for identification and then buried him in the sea within 24 hours. But then Bin Laden has inflicted such a scar on the face of the US that it will take centuries to heal… may be more