21 years ago, 3,000 people lost their lives in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Millions of people around the world follow the dramatic events live on television. It is a turning point in world history – and the trigger for the war in Afghanistan.
At 8:14 a.m., an air traffic controller radioed the pilots of a Boeing 767 that had taken off from Boston fifteen minutes earlier: “American 11, climb to altitude three five zero.” But nobody in the cockpit reacted. What’s the matter with the pilots? Again and again “BostonCenter” tries to reach the plane.
At 8:24 the controller finally hears something. A man is talking, but he is not speaking to the pilots, but to the passengers on board. “We have a few planes,” the man says in heavily accented English. “Keep calm and nothing will happen to you.”
Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian who studied in Hamburg and became radicalized there, is probably speaking. The terrorist network al-Qaeda sent him and four other men to hijack a passenger plane and use it as a weapon. And they’re not the only terrorist crew who embarked on this morning of September 11, 2001 to attack what the United States of America calls “the Great Satan.” The kidnappers steer the machine to New York City – their destination should actually be Los Angeles.
This article first appeared in G/History.
Atta, the leader, is 33 years old, he attended a flight school in the USA and practiced flying a Boeing on flight simulators. He is accompanied by four Saudis. They stormed into the cockpit shortly after takeoff and probably killed the two pilots there. They intimidate passengers with box cutters they smuggled on board. With it they seriously wounded two stewardesses and murdered a passenger.
7:59 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 departs from Boston bound for Los Angeles8:14 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 also departs from Boston for the same destination8:20 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 departs from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles8:42 am United Airlines Flight 93 departs Newark bound for San Francisco8:46 am American Airlines Flight 11 hits the North Tower of the World Trade Center9:03 am United Airlines Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower9: 37 am American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon9:59 am The South Tower collapses10:03 am After a passenger revolt, United Airlines Flight 93 crashes10:28 am The North Tower collapses
Thousands of miles away, those behind the hijacking are following events in America. They are hiding from Western secret services in the Hindu Kush. Not all planners belong to al-Qaeda, “the base,” a network that connects various Islamist terrorist organizations. But all are under the command of Osama bin Laden.
The billionaire’s son from Saudi Arabia founded al-Qaeda in the late 1980s. He was born in 1957. His father, who came from Yemen, was the largest building contractor in Saudi Arabia, with close ties to the royal family. When Mohammed bin Laden died, his sons each inherited $80 million. Osama bin Laden studied in Jeddah. He did not join the family construction company, which was managed by older brothers. In 1980 he moved to Pakistan and Afghanistan. There he supported the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet invaders.
After the Red Army left the Hindu Kush, Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia only briefly. He had found a new enemy, the last remaining superpower: the United States. First in Sudan, then in Afghanistan, he built his base. In 1998 he declared war on America. His sympathizers followed the call. In the same year, his supporters carried out attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. This began an unprecedented series of attacks on the western world.
Two years later, suicide bombers attacked the warship USS Cole in the port of Aden. Bin Laden was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. The foreign intelligence agency CIA and the NSA, the global surveillance agency, targeted him. There are terror warnings in the summer of 2001. Bin Laden seems to be planning the next big move. But what he and his followers have planned for this Tuesday is beyond the imagination of the security authorities.
The idea of using airplanes like cruise missiles came from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He was involved in the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. At that time, Islamists detonated 540 kilograms of explosives that they had deposited in a small truck that was parked in the underground car park under the high-rise complex. Six people died, more than a thousand were injured, the towers remained standing. After that, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had to keep changing his hiding places. He is not affiliated with any group, but now works closely with bin Laden.
At 8:46 a.m. Atta steers his plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on the southern tip of Manhattan. “American 11” hits between the 93rd and 99th floors, exploding kerosene in the wings. The fire burns at more than 1000 degrees Celsius. The pillars cannot withstand this hellish heat. Dense, black smoke rises above the island. Up to 19,000 people live in the World Trade Center, spread over 110 floors.
Many still think that the plane crash was a tragic accident. At 9:03 a.m. another plane hit the World Trade Center. The world watches live on television as the machine rams into the South Tower and erupts in a fireball. Dozens of cameras have filmed everything since the North Tower was shrouded in smoke. Now both towers are burning, and it is clear that it is not an accident, but a serious, unprecedented attack.
US President George W. Bush is briefed on the act of terrorism during his visit to Booker Elementary School in Sarasota on the Florida coast. He speaks briefly with the children, then he appears in front of TV cameras. Bush promises he will “hunt down the guys who did this.” As early as September 11, the secret services and the federal police FBI assumed that al-Qaeda was behind the attack. Its experts tell Congress that there is “good evidence” that bin Laden is the mastermind.
Two more planes have been hijacked by terrorists. One hits the Pentagon near Washington. The fourth plane crashes after passengers on board tried to overpower the hijackers. More than 3,000 people die on September 11, 2001 as a result of the attacks. Among them are 19 terrorists, 15 of them are from Saudi Arabia.
None of the perpetrators come from Afghanistan, and yet the focus is immediately on the country. Because, as the Americans know, al-Qaeda runs numerous training camps there. Large parts of the country are ruled by the Taliban, self-proclaimed holy warriors who ban girls from going to school, ban concerts, force women to wear the burqa and introduce the brutal Sharia legal system. Bin Laden is their guest.
The Taliban first attracted attention in the winter of 1994. They conquered Kandahar, then moved north and took Kabul less than two years later. Many of their fighters came from refugee camps in Pakistan and were imbued with radical ideas in mosque schools, the madrassas. Taliban means “disciples of Islam”. They see themselves as the heirs of the mujahideen. The Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, want to end the civil war that has ravaged the country for more than two decades and establish an Islamic regime. To do this, they must defeat the Northern Alliance, an alliance of various warlords who are staunchly opposed to the Taliban.
Two suicide bombers kill the leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Masoud, two days before the attacks in America in order to shake the resistance of the opponents. The attackers belong to al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden has done his hosts a special favor and eliminated one of their most dangerous enemies. The head of al-Qaida probably knows only too well that in a few days he will be dependent on the goodwill of the Taliban leaders.
In fact, after 9/11, Mullah Omar refused to extradite his guest Osama bin Laden to the Americans. Now he and his men face a superpower that wants to do whatever it takes to capture bin Laden, including a war against the Taliban.
The US initially hesitated to send its own ground troops to Afghanistan. They rely on special forces working with the Northern Alliance and on air strikes. Soon, special forces from the American army and the CIA are hunting bin Laden and his followers in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
For the first time in its history, NATO declares a state of defense. On October 7th, the United States opens “Operation Enduring Freedom”, the war in Afghanistan begins and with it the costliest military operation in the history of the United States. Numerous countries are fighting alongside the USA in the “War on Terror”, first in Afghanistan and later also in Iraq. Germany is also part of this alliance.
On November 9, 2001, Northern Alliance fighters retake Mazar-i-Sharif, a key provincial capital and the fourth-largest city in Afghanistan. This is where the Bundeswehr sets up its most important camp outside of Kabul, after two years later the deployment of western troops from the capital is expanded to the area. In the future, the Bundeswehr will be responsible for the north.
They and their allies begin a ruthless guerrilla war against Western troops that has claimed the lives of around 3,600 Western Alliance military personnel by mid-July 2021. 59 German soldiers die during the missions in the Hindu Kush, the USA laments more than 2200 dead men and women in uniform.
Finally, in 2020, the United States began peace negotiations with the Taliban, which are intended to allow international troops to withdraw. Even if the talks do not bring a concrete result that both sides accept, the war effort of western troops in the Hindu Kush will end in 2021. 20 years after the 9/11 attacks, all Western troops are being withdrawn. The Bundeswehr brought its soldiers home in June 2021.
By: Hauke Friederichs
Originally posted by G/History, 4 Planes, 3000 Dead: The Horror Log of a Day That Changed the World.