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|“||The target of the terrorists was not only New York and Washington but the very values of freedom, tolerance and decency which underpin our way of life.||„|
|~ British Prime Minister Tony Blair|
No end of conspiracy theories have been spawned by the attacks, the most common being that the United States government itself carried it out as a false flag operation and pinned it on Islamic terrorists to justify invading the Middle East for its oil.
9/11 is often stated as being amongst the most devastating terrorist attacks on America, claiming many lives and sparking the international "War on Terror" campaign that continues to play an important role in the world. It is also regarded as one of the most important events of the 21st century.
American Airlines Flight 11
United Airlines Flight 175
American Airlines Flight 77
United Airlines Flight 93
The origins of al-Qaeda can be traced to 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden travelled to Afghanistan and helped to organize Arab mujahideen to resist the Soviets. Under the guidance of Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden became more radical. In 1996, bin Laden issued his first fatwā, calling for American soldiers to leave Saudi Arabia.
In a second fatwā in 1998, bin Laden outlined his objections to American foreign policy with respect to Israel, as well as the continued presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War. Bin Laden used Islamic texts to exhort Muslims to attack Americans until the stated grievances were reversed. Muslim legal scholars "have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries", according to bin Laden.
Osama bin Laden
Bin Laden orchestrated the attacks and initially denied involvement but later recanted his false statements. Al Jazeera broadcast a statement by bin Laden on September 16, 2001, stating, "I stress that I have not carried out this act, which appears to have been carried out by individuals with their own motivation." In November 2001, U.S. forces recovered a videotape from a destroyed house in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. In the video, bin Laden is seen talking to Khaled al-Harbi and admits foreknowledge of the attacks. On December 27, 2001, a second bin Laden video was released. In the video, he said:
|“||It has become clear that the West in general and America in particular have an unspeakable hatred for Islam. ... It is the hatred of crusaders. 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. ... We say that the end of the United States is imminent, whether Bin Laden or his followers are alive or dead, for the awakening of the Muslim umma (nation) has occurred||„|
but he stopped short of admitting responsibility for the attacks.
Shortly before the U.S. presidential election in 2004, bin Laden used a taped statement to publicly acknowledge al-Qaeda's involvement in the attacks on the United States. He admitted his direct link to the attacks and said they were carried out because:
|“||we are free ... and want to regain freedom for our nation. As you undermine our security, we undermine yours.||„|
Bin Laden said he had personally directed his followers to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Another video obtained by Al Jazeera in September 2006 shows bin Laden with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, as well as two hijackers, Hamza al-Ghamdi and Wail al-Shehri, as they make preparations for the attacks. The U.S. never formally indicted bin Laden for the 9/11 attacks, but he was on the FBI's Most Wanted List for the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. After a 10-year manhunt, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that bin Laden was killed by American special forces in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 1, 2011.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Journalist Yosri Fouda of the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera reported that in April 2002, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed admitted his involvement in the attacks, along with Ramzi bin al-Shibh. The 2004 9/11 Commission Report determined that the animosity towards the United States felt by Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks, stemmed from his "violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel". Mohammed was also an adviser and financier of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the uncle of Ramzi Yousef, the lead bomber in that attack.
Mohammed was arrested on March 1, 2003, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, by Pakistani security officials working with the CIA. He was then held at multiple CIA secret prisons and Guantanamo Bay detention camp he was interrogated and tortured with methods including waterboarding. During U.S. hearings at Guantanamo Bay in March 2007, Mohammed again confessed his responsibility for the attacks, stating he "was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z" and that his statement was not made under duress.
A letter presented by the lawyers of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in the U.S. District Court, Manhattan on 26 July 2019 indicated that he was interested in testifying about Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks and helping the victims and families of the victims of 9/11 in exchange for the United States not seeking the death penalty against him. James Kreindler, one of the lawyers for the victims, raised question over the usefulness of Mohammed.
Other Al-Qaeda members
In "Substitution for Testimony of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed" from the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, five people are identified as having been completely aware of the operation's details. They are bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Turab al-Urduni, and Mohammed Atef. To date, only peripheral figures have been tried or convicted for the attacks.
On September 26, 2005, the Spanish high court sentenced Abu Dahdah to 27 years in prison for conspiracy on the 9/11 attacks and being a member of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. At the same time, another 17 al-Qaeda members were sentenced to penalties of between six and eleven years. 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.
Also in 2006, Moussaoui—who some originally suspected might have been the assigned 20th hijacker—was convicted for the lesser role of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and air piracy. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole in the United States. Mounir el-Motassadeq, an associate of the Hamburg-based hijackers, served 15 years in Germany for his role in helping the hijackers prepare for the attacks. He was released in October 2018, and deported to Morocco.
The Hamburg cell in Germany included radical Islamists who eventually came to be key operatives in the 9/11 attacks. Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Said Bahaji were all members of al-Qaeda's Hamburg cell.
Motives behind the attack
Osama bin Laden's declaration of a holy war against the United States, and a 1998 fatwā signed by bin Laden and others, calling for the killing of Americans, are seen by investigators as evidence of his motivation. In bin Laden's November 2002 "Letter to America", he explicitly stated that al-Qaeda's motives for their attacks include:
- U.S. support of Israel
- support for the "attacks against Muslims" in Somalia
- support of Philippines against Muslims in the Moro conflict
- support for Israeli "aggression" against Muslims in Lebanon
- support of Russian "atrocities against Muslims" in Chechnya
- pro-American governments in the Middle East (who "act as your agents") being against Muslim interests
- support of Indian "oppression against Muslims" in Kashmir
- the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia
- the sanctions against Iraq
After the attacks, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri released additional videotapes and audio recordings, some of which repeated those reasons for the attacks. Two particularly important publications were bin Laden's 2002 "Letter to America", and a 2004 videotape by bin Laden.
Bin Laden interpreted Muhammad as having banned the "permanent presence of infidels in Arabia". In 1996, bin Laden issued a fatwā calling for American troops to leave Saudi Arabia. In 1998, al-Qaeda wrote, "for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples."
In a December 1999 interview, bin Laden said he felt that Americans were "too near to Mecca", and considered this a provocation to the entire Muslim world. One analysis of suicide terrorism suggested that without U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda likely would not have been able to get people to commit to suicide missions.
In the 1998 fatwā, al-Qaeda identified the Iraq sanctions as a reason to kill Americans, condemning the "protracted blockade" among other actions that constitute a declaration of war against "Allah, his messenger, and Muslims." The fatwā declared that "the ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque of Mecca from their grip, and in order for their the Americans' armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim."
In 2004, Bin Laden claimed that the idea of destroying the towers had first occurred to him in 1982, when he witnessed Israel's bombardment of high-rise apartment buildings during the 1982 Lebanon War. Some analysts, including Mearsheimer and Walt, also claimed that U.S. support of Israel was one motive for the attacks. In 2004 and 2010, bin Laden again connected the September 11 attacks with U.S. support of Israel, although most of the letter expressed bin Laden's disdain for President Bush and bin Laden's hope to "destroy and bankrupt" the U.S.
Other motives have been suggested in addition to those stated by bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Some authors suggested the "humiliation" that resulted from the Islamic world falling behind the Western world – this discrepancy was rendered especially visible by the globalization trend and a desire to provoke the U.S. into a broader war against the Islamic world in the hope of motivating more allies to support al-Qaeda. Similarly, others have argued that 9/11 was a strategic move with the objective of provoking America into a war that would incite a pan-Islamic revolution.
The attacks were conceived by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who first presented it to Osama bin Laden in 1996. At that time, bin Laden and al-Qaeda were in a period of transition, having just relocated back to Afghanistan from Sudan. The 1998 African Embassy bombings and bin Laden's February 1998 fatwā marked a turning point of al-Qaeda's terrorist operation, as bin Laden became intent on attacking the United States.
In late 1998 or early 1999, bin Laden gave approval for Mohammed to go forward with organizing the plot. Mohammed, bin Laden, and bin Laden's deputy 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 overruled Mohammed, rejecting potential targets such as the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles for lack of time.
Bin Laden provided leadership and financial support, and was involved in selecting participants. He initially selected Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, both experienced jihadists who had fought in the Bosnian War. Hazmi and Mihdhar arrived in the United States in mid-January 2000. In early 2000, Hazmi and Mihdhar took flying lessons in San Diego, California, but both spoke little English, performed poorly in flying lessons, and eventually served as secondary – or "muscle" – hijackers.
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. Mohammed later said that he helped the hijackers blend in by teaching them how to order food in restaurants and dress in Western clothing.
Hanjour arrived in San Diego on December 8, 2000, joining Hazmi. They soon left for Arizona, where Hanjour took refresher training. Marwan al-Shehhi arrived at the end of May 2000, while Atta arrived on June 3, 2000, and Jarrah arrived on June 27, 2000. Bin al-Shibh applied several times for a visa to the United States, but as a Yemeni, he was rejected out of concerns he would overstay his visa. Bin al-Shibh stayed in Hamburg, providing coordination between Atta and Mohammed. The three Hamburg cell members all took pilot training in South Florida.
In spring of 2001, the secondary hijackers began arriving in the United States. 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.
There is some idea that 9/11 was selected by the hijackers as the date of the attack because of its resemblance to 9-1-1, the phone number to report emergencies in the U.S. However, Lawrence Wright wrote that the hijackers chose it because September 11, 1683 is when the King of Poland began the battle that turned back the Muslim armies from the Ottoman Empire that were attempting to capture Vienna. For Osama bin Laden, this was a date when the West gained some dominance over Islam, and by attacking on this date, he hoped to make a step in Islam "winning" the war for worldwide power and influence.
Early on the morning of September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers took control of four commercial airliners (two Boeing 757s and two Boeing 767s) en route to California (three headed to LAXin Los Angeles and one to SFO in San Francisco) after takeoffs from Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts; Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey; and Washington Dulles International Airport in Loudoun and Fairfax counties in Virginia. Large planes with long flights were selected for hijacking because they would be full of fuel.
The four flights were:
- American Airlines Flight 11: a Boeing 767 aircraft, departed Logan Airport at 7:59 a.m. en route to Los Angeles with a crew of 11 and 76 passengers, not including five hijackers. The hijackers flew the plane into the northern facade of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City at 8:46 a.m.
- United Airlines Flight 175: a Boeing 767 aircraft, departed Logan Airport at 8:14 a.m. en route to Los Angeles with a crew of nine and 51 passengers, not including five hijackers. The hijackers flew the plane into the southern facade of the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City at 9:03 a.m.
- American Airlines Flight 77: a Boeing 757 aircraft, departed Washington Dulles International Airport at 8:20 a.m. en route to Los Angeles with a crew of six and 53 passengers, not including five hijackers. The hijackers flew the plane into the western facade of the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, at 9:37 a.m.
- United Airlines Flight 93: a Boeing 757 aircraft, departed Newark International Airport at 8:42 a.m. en route to San Francisco, with a crew of seven and 33 passengers, not including four hijackers. As passengers attempted to subdue the hijackers, the aircraft crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 10:03 a.m.
Media coverage was extensive during the attacks and aftermath, beginning moments after the first crash into the World Trade Center.
The four crashes
At 8:46 a.m., five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the northern façade of the World Trade Center's North Tower (1 WTC). At 9:03 a.m., another five hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the southern façade of the South Tower (2 WTC). Five hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. A fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh, at 10:03 a.m. after the passengers fought the four hijackers. Flight 93's target is believed to have been either the Capitol or the White House. Flight 93's cockpit voice recorder revealed crew and passengers tried to seize control of the plane from the hijackers after learning through phone calls that Flights 11, 77, and 175 had been crashed into buildings that morning. Once it became evident that the passengers might gain control, the hijackers rolled the plane and intentionally crashed it.
Some passengers and crew members who called from the aircraft using the cabin air phone service and mobile phones provided details: several hijackers were aboard each plane; they used mace, tear gas, or pepper spray to overcome attendants; and some people aboard had been stabbed. Reports indicated hijackers stabbed and killed pilots, flight attendants, and one or more passengers. According to the 9/11 Commission's final report, the hijackers had recently purchased multi-function hand tools and assorted Leatherman-type utility knives with locking blades, which were not forbidden to passengers at the time, but were not found among the possessions left behind by the hijackers. A flight attendant on Flight 11, a passenger on Flight 175, and passengers on Flight 93 said the hijackers had bombs, but one of the passengers said he thought the bombs were fake. The FBI found no traces of explosives at the crash sites, and the 9/11 Commission concluded that the bombs were probably fake.
Three buildings in the World Trade Center collapsed due to fire-induced structural failure. The South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m. after burning for 56 minutes in a fire caused by the impact of United Airlines Flight 175 and the explosion of its fuel. The North Tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m. after burning for 102 minutes. When the North Tower collapsed, debris fell on the nearby 7 World Trade Center building (7 WTC), damaging it and starting fires. These fires burned for hours, compromising the building's structural integrity, and 7 WTC collapsed at 5:21 p.m. The west side of the Pentagon sustained significant damage.
At 9:42 a.m., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all civilian aircraft within the continental U.S., and civilian aircraft already in flight were told to land immediately. All international civilian aircraft were either turned back or redirected to airports in Canada or Mexico, and were banned from landing on United States territory for three days. The attacks created widespread confusion among news organizations and air traffic controllers. Among the unconfirmed and often contradictory news reports aired throughout the day, one of the most prevalent said a car bomb had been detonated at the U.S. State Department's headquarters in Washington, D.C. Another jet—Delta Air Lines Flight 1989—was suspected of having been hijacked, but the aircraft responded to controllers and landed safely in Cleveland, Ohio.
In an April 2002 interview, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who are believed to have organized the attacks, said Flight 93's intended target was the United States Capitol, not the White House. During the planning stage of the attacks, Mohamed Atta, the hijacker and pilot of Flight 11, thought the White House might be too tough a target and sought an assessment from Hani Hanjour (who hijacked and piloted Flight 77). Mohammed said al-Qaeda initially planned to target nuclear installations rather than the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but decided against it, fearing things could "get out of control". Final decisions on targets, according to Mohammed, were left in the hands of the pilots.
The attacks caused the deaths of 2,996 people (including all 19 hijackers) and injured more than 6,000 others. The death toll included 265 on the four planes (from which there were no survivors), 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon. 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. After New York, New Jersey lost the most state citizens, with the city of Hoboken having the most New Jersey citizens who died in the attacks. More than 90 countries lost citizens in the September 11 attacks; for example, the 67 Britons who died were more than in any other terrorist attack anywhere as of October 2002. The attacks killed about 500 more people than the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and are the deadliest terrorist attacks in world history.
There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the attacks. The most prominent conspiracy theory is that the collapse of the Twin Towers and 7 World Trade Center were the result of controlled demolitions rather than structural failure due to impact and fire.
Another prominent belief is that the Pentagon was hit by a missile launched by elements from inside the U.S. government or that a commercial airliner was allowed to do so via an effective stand-down of the American military.
Possible motives claimed by conspiracy theorists for such actions include justifying the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (even though the U.S. government concluded Iraq was not involved in the attacks) to advance their geostrategic interests, such as plans to construct a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan. Other conspiracy theories revolve around authorities having advance knowledge of the attacks and deliberately ignoring or assisting the attackers.
Some far-right theorists, particularly those within the "Truther Movement", claim that the attacks were a false flag operation masterminded by the U.S. government itself as an excuse to force new laws on the American people to exert more oppression and control over the country. Other factions of the Truther Movement claim that the attacks were secretly staged by the "New World Order/Illuminati" to serve as a prelude for the emergence of a totalitarian one-world government.
Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists such as David Duke and Smoloko News have claimed that the attacks were actually carried out by Israel/Jews as an excuse for America to be used as Israel's pawns and for subjugating the Middle East to create a "Greater Israel".
- The youngest victim of the attack was two-year old Christine Hanson, who was a passenger of Flight 175.
- The event is considered "The Day That Changed America".
- Ted Olsen, whose wife died during the attack, was born on September 11, 1940.
- Pornograpic actor Lexington Steele (real name: Clifton Britt) worked as a stock broker before entering pornography and was employed by Oppenheimer Financial, which operated out of the Twin Towers. Steele first entered pornography in 2001, and says that, had he not decided to change careers and kept working as a stock broker, he would have been killed in the attack.
- Another celebrity who was almost killed in the attacks was Seth MacFarlane, best known as the creator of the adult cartoon Family Guy. MacFarlane was supposed to return to Los Angeles on American Airlines Flight 11 - one of the four planes hijacked - from Boston after giving a speech at the Rhode Island School of Design the previous day, but his travel agent got departure time for the flight mixed up, causing him to arrive ten minutes late; by that time, the gate had closed.
- The attack occured on the 28th anniversary of Augusto Pinochet's coup d'etat in Chile.
- The attacks surpassed the Oklahoma City Bombing as the deadliest terrorist attack to occur on American soil.