September 11 Terrorist Attack


In the past few decades, terrorism has become a major threat to international security. Although terrorism is a global security challenge, terrorists have mainly targeted the U.S. and European countries. In 2001, the U.S. suffered a serious terrorist attack (Halberstam 3).

This was the worst terrorist incident in the U.S. because it was inimitable in nature and magnitude. This attack had devastating social, economic, and political ramifications in the U.S. This essay discusses how the September 11 attack occurred, the government’s response to it and how to avoid a similar occurrence in future.

How the Attack Occurred

Origin of the Attack

The origin of this attack has been linked to the extremist activities of Osama Bin Laden against the U.S. and its allies. Nonetheless, “the underlying motives for the terrorist attack began after the Cold War” (Bolton 125).

In 1979, Osama bin Laden organized a group of militants to resist the invasion of Afghanistan by foreign troops deployed by the Soviet Union. In 1996, bin Laden warned the U.S. troops to vacate Saudi Arabia. In 1998, the al Qaeda condemned the American relationship with Israel. It also condemned the prolonged presence of the U.S. military in the Middle East after the Gulf War.

According to bin Laden, Prophet Muhammad proscribed permanent settlement of infidels in the Mille East. In 1999, bin Laden claimed that the Americans were intruders in Mecca. Therefore, he organized retaliatory attacks against Americans.

He also criticized the U.S. sanctions in Iraq. After the attack, “bin Laden asserted that the plan to bomb the World Trade Centre (WTC) had initially occurred to him in 1982 when the Israeli troops destroyed huge buildings in Lebanon” (Fielding and Fouda 234). Therefore, the close relationship between the U.S. and the government of Israel motivated bin Laden to retaliate.

Preparation of the Attack

In 1996, “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed came up with an idea to attack the WTC and presented his plan to bin Laden” (Caraley 12-14). In 1998, the al Qaeda group executed many attacks on American embassies in Africa successfully. These attacks acted as litmus tests for huge terrorist attacks. Thus, Bin Laden endorsed Mohammed’s plan to attack WTC and fully supported his mission. Mohammed and senior al Qaeda leaders made strategic arrangements to attack WTC. The attack was organized between 1999 and early 2001.

The al Qaeda shipped many attackers to the U.S. to facilitate the attack. Some of the suicide skyjackers pursued refresher aviation courses in the U.S. as part of the preparations. Most of the terrorists arrived in the U.S. in the spring of 2001. In July 2001, final plans for the attack were made including identification of areas to attack.

In addition, big aircraft was chosen for skyjacking because they would contain a lot of fuel. During the organizing of the attack, the terrorists felt that the White House was a difficult target.

Hence, they chose alternative targets in New York. Initially, the terrorists had planned to destroy nuclear plants, but they changed their plan because they would cause serious trouble in the entire world. The hijackers had to make final decisions on the targets to hit. After detailed preparations, bin Laden ordered his terrorists to execute the attacks as soon as possible (Fielding and Fouda 145).

Events during the Attack

The September 11 attack refers to a sequence of four organized radical attacks carried out by al Qaeda terrorists in America in 2001. “The attacks were carried out in the city of New York and Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001” (Pillar 34). In this case, nineteen terrorists skyjacked four commercial airplanes, which were fuelled fully for long flights across the American Continent. Two of these aircraft hit the WTC situated in the city of New York.

“At 8:45 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 transporting ninety-two people from Boston to Los Angeles crashed into the North Tower of the WTC” (Goldberg 21-22). After about twenty minutes, “the United Airlines Flight 175 with sixty-five passengers and crew also heading toward California ripped through the South Tower” (Fielding and Fouda 54).

Two hours later, the two buildings caved in with debris and destroyed adjacent buildings. At nine o’clock in the morning, the third aircraft hit the Pentagon building, which accommodated the Department of Defense (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks 18). The fourth aircraft was meant to hit Washington, D.C. However, it crashed into an open ground close to Shanksville.

A couple of minutes after the crash, it was reported that passengers in the fourth aircraft tried to frustrate the terrorists’ ambitions. Some crewmembers called from the airplane and provided information about the hijacking incident. According to them, several terrorists were aboard the aircraft. The terrorists used pepper spray to choke passengers and crewmembers.

The hijackers stabbed some passengers and killed the pilots before taking control of the aircraft. Some flight attendants reported that the terrorists had carried explosives. Nonetheless, findings of the investigations at the crime scene did not reveal any presence of explosives.

Three structures at the WTC complex crushed due to inferno-induced structural malfunction. The South Tower caved in at 10.00 a.m. after blazing for approximately 55 minutes in an inferno triggered by the impact of the aircraft. At 10.30 a.m., the North Tower caved in after burning for approximately two hours.

Debris of the North Tower destroyed other buildings at the WTC. The Pentagon was destroyed extensively. This incident caused serious bewilderment among media organizations and flight traffic regulators. For instance, some media organizations alleged that a bomb had exploded at the WTC.

“About three thousand people died, including the 19 terrorists and 246 passengers” (Halberstam 334). Most of the victims were hurt at the WTC. At the Pentagon, about 125 individuals died including 55 military officers. This was the most gruesome occurrence for the U.S. Security Division and for the firefighters. Majority of the individuals who perished at the WTC were trapped inside the buildings (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks 45-46). It is believed that toxic gases inside the tower choked many people.

Some individuals also died when they attempted to jump from the buildings. Majority of the people inside the tower were unable to escape since the staircases were destroyed. Moreover, some individuals could not escape since the emergency exits failed to open due to power blackouts (Goldberg 89-91).

It is estimated that 630 individuals died inside the North Tower. Many individuals in the South Tower managed to escape since they started vacating the building when the airplane hit the North Tower. This incident was marred with a lot of confusion. Hence, no arrangements were made to rescue people at the rooftop.

Unfortunately, helicopters were unable to rescue the victims at the rooftop because a huge dark smoke engulfed the tower. The rescue mission was hazardous. Hence, four hundred and eleven rescuers died as they attempted to save people and distinguish the inferno (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks 72).

Three hundred and forty firefighters from the Fire Department and two paramedics died during the rescue mission. Some security officers at the crime scene also died. Majority of the casualties were residents of New York, Hoboken, and New Jersey. Over ninety nations lost their citizens during the tragedy.

A few weeks after the tragedy, the death toll escalated to over six thousand, which was double the number of those who died during the incident. Medical experts also recovered dozens of body parts that could not be identified. The cadavers are still preserved at the Memorial Park located a few miles from New York City. Through scientific tests, some individuals were able to identify the bodies of their relatives.

The response of the Government

The U.S. government responded swiftly to this attack. However, due to the complicated nature of the incident, it was difficult to coordinate the rescue mission. Immediately after the attack, all flights from the U.S. were cancelled (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks 99-101). Most of the flights from the U.S. were diverted to airports in Canada.

For about three days, “intercontinental aircraft were not allowed to land in America” (Caraley 35). “The Federal Aviation Administration shut down the American airspace for the first time, and many non-emergency flights were grounded” (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks 61).

Government officials in New York coordinated the rescue mission, which was undertaken mainly by firefighters. Rescue workers, paramedics and security officers from various parts of the U.S. participated in the rescue activities. The government urged American citizens to donate blood to save the lives of the victims. Shepherd dogs were used to facilitate identification of survivors who had been trapped inside the debris of the collapsed tower.

Immediately after the attack, the U.S. authorities mobilized resources to facilitate the rescue activities. Relief funds were allocated to help the casualties of the tragedy. Families of those who perished during the attack were given financial assistance. Emergency plans for stability of the U.S. government and rescue of officials were executed immediately after the incident. The Pentagon was stabilized a few hours after the attack.

Three days after the tragedy, the American Congress approved the use of armed force against radical groups. In addition, it authorized the president to take serious measures against those who participated in the attacks. Thus, “the U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan in October 2001” (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks 110). British troops carried out air strikes that targeted al Qaeda military installations. The U.S. troops managed to destroy the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (Nacos 112-115).

Thorough investigations began soon after the tragedy to find out how the attack ensued. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was able to point out the personal details of the terrorists a few hours after the attacks.

By noon, “the American National Security Agency had identified communications between the hijackers and al Qaeda leaders” (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks 56). The investigations revealed that fifteen hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia. Two hijackers were citizens of the United Arab Emirates. The two remaining terrorists were citizens of Egypt and Lebanon.

A commission was set up to carry out intensive research on the possible causes and impacts of the attacks. “Findings of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States revealed that al Qaeda terrorists were responsible for the attack” (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks 112).

After the tragedy, serious reforms were initiated in the security organ of the U.S. government. In 2002, “the Homeland Security legislation was passed, which led to the formation of the Department of Homeland Security” (Nacos 167). In addition, Congress increased the powers of the National Security to enable it to fight terrorism effectively.

Recommendations to Mitigate Terrorism

The following strategies can be used to prevent occurrence of terrorism in the U.S. in future. Democracy is the direct opposite of terrorist oppression. This is the reason why radicals condemn democracy and are eager to kill the blameless to prevent it. Democracy is rooted in empowerment. Conversely, the ideology of radicals is anchored in enslavement. Effective democracies should be instituted in developing countries to discourage abuse of human rights, which may lead to the radicalization of some individuals.

For instance, all citizens in the world should have freedom of worship, freedom of speech, and freedom of conscience (Bolton 222). People should be allowed to participate in national decision-making processes. Encouragement of democracy and human rights is the lasting solution to terrorism. Therefore, the U.S. should encourage development of democratic systems of government in various parts of the world.

The U.S. government should enhance security within its territory to restrain terrorists from accessing America. For instance, serious security checks should be undertaken in major transport terminals such as airports to detect terrorists. The government should also disrupt terrorist networks and punish individuals who carry out terror attacks. Since intransigent terrorists are not willing to change their ideology, they should be arrested and killed.

Security should be improved in areas vulnerable to attacks because terrorists like targeting insecure places. In most cases, public areas are targeted because they attract many people and can produce many casualties if attacked. Therefore, security must be improved in all parts of the U.S. For instance, security must be improved in learning institutions, public places and areas of worship.

Moreover, the U.S. government should ensure that strategic installations such communication and transport infrastructure, public health faculties and industries are secured properly because they are important (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks 113).

The government should control the production of dangerous weapons that can cause mass destruction of property and human beings. Thus, the U.S. government should disarm terrorists by destroying their training camps. Additionally, countries that supply terrorists with dangerous weapons should be penalized through serious economic sanctions (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks 123).


This discussion has revealed that the terrorist attack led to serious social and economic losses in the U.S. Since 2001, the government of the U.S. has taken drastic measures to improve security within its borders. Moreover, the U.S. has been trying to weaken terrorists’ activities in the Middle East. Terrorism is multifaceted challenge that cannot be handled by the U.S. government alone. Consequently, all nations must work hard to eradicate terrorism because it is affecting world peace.

Works Cited

Bergen, Peter. Holy War, Inc. Inside the secret world of Osama bin Laden. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. Print.

Bolton, Kent. U.S. National Security and Foreign Policymaking After 9/11: Present at the Re-creation. New York: Rowman & Littlefield , 2007. Print.

Caraley, Demetrios. September 11, Terrorist Attacks, and U.S. Foreign Policy. London: Sage, 2002. Print.

Fielding, Nick and Yosri Fouda. Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001. Print.

Goldberg, Alfred. Pentagon 9/11. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2007. Print.

Halberstam, David. New York September 11. New York: Prentice Hall, 2001. Print.

Nacos, Brigitte. Terrism and Counterterrorism. New York: Pearson, 2012. Print.

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011. Print.

Pillar, Paul. Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform. London: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

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