September 11 attacks
Series of airline hijackings and suicide bombings against U.S. targets perpetrated by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda.The attacks were planned well in advance; the militantsmost of whom were from Saudi Arabiatraveled to the U.S. beforehand, where a number received commercial flight training. Working in small groups, the hijackers boarded 4 domestic airliners in groups of 5 (a 20th participant was alleged) on Sept. 11, 2001, and took control of the planes soon after takeoff. At 8:46 AM (local time), the terrorists piloted the first plane into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. A second plane struck the south tower some 15 minutes later. Both structures erupted in flames and, badly damaged, soon collapsed. A third plane struck the southwest side of the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., at 9:40, and within the next hour the fourth crashed in Pennsylvania after its passengersaware of events via cellular telephoneattempted to overpower their assailants. Some 2,750 people were killed in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania. All 19 terrorists died.
* * *▪ United States series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks committed by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda (Qaeda, al-) against targets in the United States. The attacks caused extensive death and destruction and triggered an enormous U.S. effort to combat terrorism.The hijackers, most of whom were from Saudi Arabia, established themselves in the United States, many well in advance of the attacks. They traveled in small groups, and some of them received commercial flight training. On September 11, 2001, groups of attackers boarded four domestic aircraft (a 20th suspected militant had been detained by U.S. authorities) at three East Coast airports and soon after takeoff disabled the crews and took control of the planes. The aircraft, all large and bound for the West Coast, had full loads of fuel.At 8:46 AM (local time) the terrorists piloted the first plane, which had originated from Boston, into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. A second plane, also from Boston, struck the south tower roughly 15 minutes later. Each structure was badly damaged by the impact and erupted into flames. A third plane, from the Washington, D.C. (Washington), area, struck the southwest side of the Pentagon just outside the city at 9:40, touching off a fire in that section of the structure. Within the next hour the fourth aircraft (from Newark, New Jersey) crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside after its passengers—informed of events via cellular phone—attempted to overpower their assailants.At 9:59 the World Trade Center's heavily damaged south tower collapsed; the north tower fell about a half hour later. A number of other buildings adjacent to the twin towers suffered serious damage, and several subsequently fell. Fires at the World Trade Center site smoldered for more than three months.Rescue operations began almost immediately, as the country and the world sought to come to grips with the enormity of the losses. Some 2,750 people were killed in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania; all 19 terrorists died (see Researcher's Note: September 11 attacks). Police and fire departments in New York were especially hard hit: hundreds had rushed to the scene of the attacks, and more than 400 police officers and firefighters were killed.The emotional distress caused by the attacks—particularly the collapse of the twin towers, New York City's most visible landmark—was overwhelming. Unlike the relatively isolated site of the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941, to which the September 11 events were soon compared, the World Trade Center lay at the heart of one of the world's largest cities. Hundreds of thousands of people witnessed the attacks firsthand (many onlookers photographed events or recorded them with video cameras), and millions watched the tragedy unfold live on television. In the days that followed September 11, the footage of the attacks was replayed in the media countless times, as were the scenes of throngs of people, stricken with grief, gathering at “ground zero”—as the site where the towers once stood came to be known—some with photos of missing loved ones, seeking some hint of their fate.Moreover, world market (stock exchange)s were badly shaken; the towers were at the heart of New York's financial district, and damage to Lower Manhattan's infrastructure, combined with fears of stock market panic, kept New York markets closed for four trading days. Markets afterward suffered record losses.Countries allied with the United States rallied to its support. Evidence gathered by the United States soon convinced most governments that the Islamic militant group al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks. The group had been implicated in previous terrorist strikes against Americans, and its leader, Osama bin Laden (bin Laden, Osama), had made numerous anti-American statements. Al-Qaeda was headquartered in Afghanistan and had forged a close relationship with that country's ruling Taliban militia, which subsequently refused U.S. demands to extradite bin Laden and to terminate al-Qaeda activity there. In early October, U.S. and allied military forces launched an attack that, within months, killed or captured thousands of militants and drove Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders into hiding.After September 11 the U.S. government exerted great effort to track down other al-Qaeda agents and sympathizers throughout the world, and it made combating terrorism the focus of U.S. foreign policy. Meanwhile, security measures within the country were tightened considerably at such places as airports, government buildings, and sports venues.
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