The world was shocked by the graphic imagery that beamed out of New York City on 11 September 2001, showing two large domestic jets flying across a clear blue sky and smashing into the World Trade Center Towers at high speed. To the disbelief of a huge global audience, the towers collapsed soon after, with massive skyscrapers telescoping surrealistically into the ground, amid clouds of dust and debris that surged through the streets below.
This was the worst terror attack in history, orchestrated by the group Al-Qaeda and led by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden. He had organised the hijacking of four passenger jets, two of which had hit the World Trade Center, another which hit the Pentagon and a fourth that crashed in Pennsylvania before reaching its intended target, possibly the White House.
The audacity of the event astounded security experts. The hijackers had previously paid for pilot training in the United States and had taken over the aircraft in-flight armed with knives and box cutters. After killing the pilots and several passengers, the airplanes were then directed at high speed into the target buildings, killing all on board and producing immense damage, both in New York and at the Pentagon, where another direct hit was achieved. Over 3000 people died, including the aircraft passengers, office workers in the buildings, police, firefighters and the 19 terrorists themselves.
The suicide attacks changed the face of terror awareness and resulted in a massive ramping up of international security. It brought home the fact that terrorism was not confined to the Middle East, but was within reach of every country. A general climate of uncertainty and fear settled across the globe.
Osama bin Laden was relentlessly tracked and hunted by international forces, and was finally killed by the US military at a hideout in Pakistan on 2 May 2011.
“Something is wrong. We are in a rapid descent… we are all over the place. … I see water. I see buildings. We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low. … Oh my God, we are way too low…
– Flight attendant Madeline Amy Sweeney describing the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11 on her mobile phone just before impact.
Image: 9/11 World Trade Center, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.