Q. 86: What Happened On September 11th, 2001?

September 11th 2001
On September 11th, we remember the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and all of the people who died.

To pass the US citizenship test, you will have to answer 10 of a possible 100 questions. The following question is from the USCIS test.

What Major Event Happened On September 11th, 2001, in the United States?

Acceptable Answer:

Terrorists attacked the United States.

The following is a full explanation of the USCIS question:

What Were the 9-11 Attacks?

When terrorists crashed hijacked civilian aircraft into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, thousands of Americans were killed. 2,740 people died in the New York World Trade Center Twin Towers and the planes that hit them. An additional 184 people were killed in the Pentagon attack. And another 40 in a plane that failed to reach its target.

The attacks led to lengthy wars, including the Afghanistan war, which did not end until 2021. The attacks were committed by the terrorist group Al Qaeda, who kept the plot secret and trained 19 militants to carry it out.

world trade center
Construction of the World Trade Center in 1970s.

How the Attacks Played Out

Early in the morning, attackers boarded four planes headed toward Los Angeles, California, from different airports. Then, armed only with knives and not guns, the attackers quickly took control of the planes and flew them towards their planned attack targets.

The long-range airliners they hijacked (757s and 767s) had plenty of fuel to reach their far-away targets. The four planes the hijackers took were:

  • American Airlines flight 11, with 76 passengers and 11 crew, was taken by five hijackers and headed to the north tower of the World Trade Center.
  • United Airlines flight 175, with 51 passengers and nine crew, was taken by five hijackers and headed towards the south tower of the World Trade Center.
  • American Airlines flight 77, with 53 passengers and six crew, was taken by five hijackers and headed towards the Pentagon.
  • United Airlines flight 93, with 33 passengers and seven crew, was taken by four hijackers but unable to reach its target.

Unfortunately, three of the four planes reached their targets. The first plane struck the North Twin Tower at 8:46 am, 47 minutes after it took off. The second struck the South Tower at 9:37, and the third struck the pentagon at 10:03.

What Happened to the Fourth Plane?

The fate of the fourth hijacked plane was also tragic but also heroic. The passengers became aware that the planes were being crashed into buildings like the Twin Towers and that the hijackers intended to kill them and many others.

They fought back against the hijackers, who then intentionally crashed the plane to prevent the crew from taking control. The movie Flight 93 (2006) tells the story of the United Flight. Probably, the fourth plane was headed to Washington DC to destroy government buildings like the White House.

Effectiveness of the Terrorist Attacks

United States media coverage of the terrorist attacks didn’t start until the first plane hit the tower. Then, after the second plane hit the Twin Towers, it was obvious to everyone watching the news that this was a deliberate act of terror and not an accident.

Ground Zero
A worker stands at Ground Zero Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2001, in New York City.

The terrorists were right to assume that the planes would be enough to knock down the towers, and both towers collapsed. New York firefighters rushed to the rescue, and 343 of them died in the debris, plus another 55 military personnel and 77 police officers. Altogether, 2996 people died in the terrorist attack on the United States.

Initial Response

A never before used emergency preparedness plan was used to ground flights, trapping many people in many countries. The air force also reacted to the event, but they did not know what was going on until it was too late.

President George W Bush, the United States President, addressed the country. President Bush described his intended response and saw his approval rate soar to 90%. Rudi Gulliani also saw his approval soar after the attacks. In addition, many people donated blood and money to the victims of the terrorist attacks and their families.

The United States government also passed the patriot act, which greatly expanded the government’s powers to collect personal information. The act was criticized, as it may be against civil liberties, but its defenders argued that it was necessary for the sake of homeland security. As a result, the patriot act was not repealed by President Barack Obama, President Donald Trump, or President Joe Biden and remains in force today.

Why Did No One Find Out About the Plot Before the 911 Attacks?

Two years after the attacks occurred, the American government issued its final report. The CIA admitted that they had failed to watch two people they should have, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. If the CIA had been watching them, the attacks against New York and the Pentagon would have been impossible.

Hazmi and Mihdhar entered the United States with their real names. The CIA knew the two future hijackers were suspicious, but they did not add them to their watch list. Some CIA officers knew the two were in the United States, but they took no action to spy on them. As a result, they could get driver’s licenses, buy a car, learn to fly, and open bank accounts under their real names as the CIA did not take their threat seriously.

The Aftermath

Osama Bin Laden saw the United States as cowardly and did not expect much of a response to the 9-11 attacks. Bin Laden thought that the American response would be limited – only some cruise missile attacks, which would achieve nothing. Bin Laden expected the United States to withdraw from the Middle East as they withdrew from Somalia in 1993.

However, the American military presence in the Middle East significantly increased. They helped the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan, followed by a full-scale invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein’s government. Saddam Hussein was captured and executed, and Osama Bin Laden was eventually shot during a raid on his residence in Pakistan.

The War on Terror

President George Bush issued an ultimatum to the Taliban, ordering them to turn over Bin Laden, but they refused. Anti-Taliban Afghan rebels plus the United States military routed the Taliban and installed a new government.

Bush also gave Iraq an ultimatum to allow inspectors to search anywhere for weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi government did not fully comply with these demands, and an invasion began, with the Iraqi government being defeated and replaced. No weapons of mass destruction were found, but the government defended the war in national security interests.

Was the Afghanistan War Successful?

The war in Afghanistan ended in what most people see as a defeat for the United States. However, while they were driven back, the Taliban was not defeated, and the presence of American troops in Afghanistan slowly became more and more unpopular over the years.

After the American military left the country, the Taliban quickly took the capital back and established a new government. The war did not achieve its aim of permanently removing the Taliban from power.

What About the Iraq War?

In Iraq, where some US troops remain today, a somewhat democratic government remains in power. The Iraq war, which to some extent continues as US troops remain to fight what is left of ISIS, was not a clear defeat.

However, it is not obvious that the Iraq war reduced the risk of terror attacks anywhere, and it claimed a huge number of lives. The number of Americans who believe that the war had been worth fighting was only 30% in 2020, compared to 70% in 2003.

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