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Diplomacy and Conflict • Guerrilla Warfare

On September 11, 2001, the worst act of terrorism in the history of the United States destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and part of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people. In an intricate plot, terrorists hijacked four planes and crashed two into each tower of the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed into a field in western Pennsylvania after its passengers attempted to overtake the hijackers. All aboard were killed. Officials believe that the fourth aircraft was headed for the White House or the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Events of 9/11

American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston was the first plane to crash, hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 a.m. At 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston hit the south tower. At 9:40 a.m., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stopped all air traffic nationwide for the first time in history. The FAA also diverted all incoming international flights to Canada. However, the order came too late. At 9:43 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 from Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. crashed into the Pentagon, and at 10:10 a.m., United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. All were cross-country flights carrying full loads of fuel. Both towers of the World Trade Center eventually collapsed.

The chaotic day included evacuations at the White House, U.S. State Department, and Capitol Building. President George W. Bush was flown from Florida to a bunker at a U.S. Air Force base in Nebraska. In addition, the Canadian and Mexican borders were put on the highest state of alert, and all U.S. military personnel around the world were placed on high alert.

Immediate Aftermath of Attacks

In the initial days after the attacks, the full extent of the damage was still unclear. Rescue crews continued their search and rescue missions at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, digging through millions of tons of rubble. The stock market remained closed until September 17, sending the already lagging U.S. economy into further distress. Airlines began announcing lay-offs, as consumers expressed fears of flying. Nevertheless, the world rallied in support, and donations to such charities as the Red Cross and the United Way reached unprecedented heights.

On September 20, Bush became the first president to address an emergency joint session of the U.S. Congress since Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his War Message to Congress on December 8, 1941. Bush pledged that justice would be done to those responsible and announced the creation of the Office of Homeland Security. He appointed Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge as the first director of the cabinet-level office responsible for combating domestic terrorism (the office later became part of the Department of Homeland Security). Bush also used the speech to condemn domestic hate crimes against Arab Americans, who suffered from scattered violence throughout the United States after the attacks.

The U.S. government also called for the implementation of an overall strategy of vigilance to deter terrorism. Bush underlined the particular need for international cooperation. Indeed, the tragedy had not only claimed American lives. The victims originated from more than 100 different countries. The international response showed that many countries understood the tragedy was theirs as well.

U.S. Responses to Terrorism

Unlike most previous terrorist attacks, there were no credible claims of responsibility. However, Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, was named the prime suspect. Soon after the attacks, most nations cut diplomatic ties with Afghanistan's Taliban government, said to be harboring bin Laden. Many demanded that he be handed over as a war criminal. On October 7, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM was launched against the Taliban. U.S.-led forces quickly toppled the regime, and Afghanistan began a new government with the support of the United States and United Nations. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) quickly identified 19 alleged hijackers, all Muslims from Middle Eastern countries. Hundreds of people believed to be linked to or have information about the hijackers were detained or arrested in the United States and throughout the world.

In September 2002, Bush created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. It was charged with investigating the events leading up to the attacks, including any intelligence failures that might have occurred. After more than a year of hearings and inquiries, the commission concluded that the U.S. intelligence community was poorly organized and the country was ill prepared to react to the attacks. In light of the failures of the intelligence and defense communities, the commission recommended several sweeping reforms. These included creating a national counterterrorism center and "unifying the intelligence community with a new National Intelligence Director." In addition, the commission recommended enhancing diplomatic relationships in the Middle East, particularly with certain Islamic groups that may have been alienated by the War on Terror. The overhaul of the intelligence and defense communities took years to accomplish, though Congress quickly created legislation based on the September 11 commission's report.

For nearly a decade, Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the attacks, eluded capture. On May 2, 2011 (local time), he was killed in Pakistan in a raid by U.S. Navy Seals.

Longer Term Effects of Attacks

The airborne debris caused by the September 11 attacks is now believed to have directly led to many adverse health effects for residents and, particularly, first responders. The attacks also underscored the need for community disaster preparedness.

For months after the attacks, U.S. airlines suffered huge financial losses. To help offset this, and to prevent airlines from going bankrupt, the Bush administration approved a $15 billion bailout package. This effort helped stabilize the airline industry, and within a year or two of the attacks most airlines were on solid financial footing.

The September 11 attacks also necessitated huge expenditures for various antiterrorism measures in the United States. This included stronger border control measures, revised port and transportation network security measures, and a major overhaul of airport and airline safety. The U.S. government took over virtually all security measures involving airline passenger screenings, with thousands of people hired to staff the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

"unifying Director."

Further Reading

Dudley, William, ed. The Attack on America, September 11, 2001. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2002; Halliday, Fred. Two Hours That Shook the World. September 11, 2001: Causes and Consequences. London: Saqi Books, 2002; Jess, Sara, et al. America Attacked: Terrorists Declare War on America. San Jose, CA: University Press, 2001; Sullivan, Robert, ed. One Nation: America Remembers September 11, 2001. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 2001.

MLA Citation

MacFarlane, Philip J. "September 11 Attacks." World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO, 2019, worldhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/377141. Accessed 21 Apr. 2019.

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Entry ID: 2180538

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