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September 11: Twenty years since the day that changed the world

Deadly terrorist attacks that changed the world and changed the course of history

Kathimerini Greece Newsroom

Twenty years have passed since the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, when 19 hijackers commandeered four planes and managed to crash three of them into iconic buildings.

The terrorist attack, which shocked all of humanity and changed the balance of the world, killed nearly 3,000 people, injured many more, and caused many to suffer from chronic health problems.

The weather was fine in New York on that Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It was a wonderful day in the off-summer, which was to become one of the darkest days in the history of the United States.  Around 8:00 a.m., as many people went to their offices in the Wall Street district, which was dominated by the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, 19 al-Qaeda jihadists, most of them Saudis, had already passed security checks at Boston, Washington and Newark airports. They were armed with small knives and cutters.  They boarded four airliners departing from California on a mission to strike at the heart of a global superpower.

The first strike occurred at 8:45 a.m. on September 11, 2001, when an American Airlines plane with 92 people on board crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, causing a catastrophic explosion.

The building became engulfed in flames, hundreds of people were killed instantly, and many jumped out of the building trying to escape. Minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., millions of viewers watched a live broadcast of a second United Airlines plane with 64 people on board hitting the south tower of the World Trade Center.

There was chaos in New York and a huge cloud of smoke covered the city. Rescue crews arrived at the scene to put out the blaze and rescue the thousands of people trapped inside the buildings.

The creepy images with people jumping from the burning Twin Towers in the void and the terror in the eyes of the people who were running to be saved, haunt humanity to this day.

"It was the 30-40 worst seconds of my life, to see these huge black holes inside the building, red flames like I had never seen in my life and clouds of gray and black smoke coming out of the holes. We see furniture, papers, people falling into the void ... horrible, terrible things. "I was so scared," said Joseph Dietmar, a 44-year-old Chicago-based security expert who was scheduled to meet on the 105th floor of the South Tower on that Tuesday morning.

The time is 9:03 am. George W. Bush, who was reading a story to students in Florida, is briefed by his chief of staff. "America is under attack," she tells him.  The American president interrupts his visit.  In a brief statement, he spoke of an "obvious terrorist attack".  Then President Bush, who had taken refuge at Barcdale Air Base, put the armed forces on a "state of emergency."

At 9:43 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77, which departed from Washington bound for Los Angeles, with 64 passengers, crashes into the western facade of the Pentagon.  The attack at the Pentagon killed 125 people, including military personnel and passengers of the flight.

The White House, Capitol and other federal buildings in Washington were evacuated, as were the buildings that housed the World Bank and the United Nations.

Shortly afterwards, it became known that a fourth plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.  They seemed to be headed either to the White House, the Capitol, the Camp David's presidential residence in Maryland, or one of the many nuclear facilities in the east.


The passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 managed to thwart the terrorists' plans, as they learned from their relatives about the attacks on the World Trade Center.  

The passengers decided to invade the cockpit, but waited until the plane flew over a rural area to do so. Todd Bimmer, who was in contact with an employee of the control tower, gave the slogan: "Are you ready? OK let's go!".

The battle with the hijackers lasted six minutes: while the passengers were trying to take control of the aircraft, the hijackers tried to cut off the oxygen supply and dropped the aircraft to a lower altitude to destabilize them.

The Boeing 757, which still had fuel, crashed to the ground at a speed of about 900 kilometers per hour and exploded in a fireball in western Pennsylvania, 250 kilometers from Washington.

But the tragedy at the World Trade Center was not over, within a few minutes of each other, the Twin Towers collapsed.  According to MIT studies, the collapse was due to severe structural damage caused by the plane crashing into each tower combined with a series of fires that broke out and spread to several floors.


It is 9:59 a.m., Al Kim, a 37-year-old Brooklyn-based ambulance driver, arrived at the World Trade Center to help transport the injured to the Marriott Hotel, which was located between the towers. He manages to escape death. "I could not breathe the smoke in the air.  I remember using my shirt to cover my mouth.  I could not even see my hands in front of my eyes," he told the French Agency.

The heat wave caused by the collapse of the tower burns his nostrils and eyebrows. His whole body is covered by a thick layer of ash.

It is completely dark, but he hears the voices of two colleagues: he finds them hold hands "like students".  They begin to walk among the debris, the flames, the cries for help and the individual alarms of the firefighters who were trapped in the rubble.  These alarms are activated when firefighters remain stationary for a long time.

Under the sounds of sirens, people run to escape the huge wave of smoke that covers the neighborhood. Mayor Rudy Giuliani is urging residents to "stay calm and, if possible, leave lower Manhattan."

Dozens of ferry boats, fishing boats, yachts are mobilized to evacuate up to 500,000 people. Thousands more walked, some for hours, toward Brooklyn Bridge in the east or north of Manhattan.

Rescuers rushed to the area looking for survivors in the ruins of the smoking towers.

Rescue teams and journalists are starting to refer to the area as "Ground Zero".  No one has yet dared to report, although it already appears to be the largest coordinated terrorist attack in history.


From the outset, the United States named Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, as public enemy number one.

President George W. Bush addressed the Americans and denounced the "calculated terrorist attacks".  He vowed to identify those responsible and warned that Washington "would not discriminate" between terrorists and those who offered them shelter. "None of us will forget this day, but we will go ahead and defend freedom and all that is good and fair in our world," he concludes.

About a month later, on October 8, the United States invades Afghanistan, and in March 2003, the invade Iraq, ousting Saddam Hussein.  This was followed by attacks on the US allies, such as on March 11, 2004 on the Madrid railway network and on July 7, 2005 in the London Underground.

September 11 shocked America, eliminating its citizens' sense of security.  World leaders expressed their support and sympathy for the United States: "We are all Americans now," Le Monde wrote on its front page after the attack.  The immediate and profound effect of 9/11 on the world political scene, however, was that it called into question the beliefs and stereotypes that existed, both inside and outside America, about US power.

Today, at the site where the iconic Twin Towers once stood, Ground Zero, as it is now known, is where the Monument of September 11 has been built.  In the museum you can see more than 10,000 exhibits, 23,000 photographs, 1,900 hours of oral history and 500 hours of film and video.  Where the south tower once stood, an exhibition on the lives of the victims is displayed, while the historic exhibition on the north tower focuses on the attacks, what preceded them.


Cyprus  |  terrorist  |  9/11

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