|“||When the hour of reality approaches, the zero hour... wholeheartedly welcome death for the sake of God. Always be remembering God. Either end your life while praying, seconds before the target, or make your last words: 'There is no God but God, Muhammad is his messenger.'||”|
— Atta's "Hijackers Manual"
The September 11 Hijackers were nineteen members of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda that hijacked four American airliners on September 11, 2001 and crashed them on the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac from Washington, DC. The fourth airliner crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania while en route to its intended objective, which remains unknown. With almost 3,000 direct fatalities and over 6,000 injured accounted, the September 11 or 9/11 Attacks are the deadliest terrorist action ever perpetrated in human history.
The attacks were the brainchild of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaeda's chief of propaganda between 1999 and 2001. In 1993, Mohammed's nephew Ramzi Yousef led a terrorist cell in a failed attempt to topple the World Trade Center (WTC) with a car bomb, and in 1995, Yousef and Mohammed outlined the "Bojinka Plot", a three-phase plan to hijack airplanes in Southeast Asia and detonate them over well-populated areas in the United States. After Yousef was arrested in Pakistan and extradited to the U.S., Mohammed combined Yousef's previous plans in a single plot and presented it to al-Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden, in 1996. The first version of the plan envisioned the hijacking of twelve planes in both the East and West coasts, which would be subsequently crashed on the WTC and the Pentagon, and also on the White House, the Capitol, and several other landmarks in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Unlike Mohammed and Yousef, who had been motivated by American support to Israel, Bin Laden's main concern was the withdrawal of American troops that had been deployed in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, and this was the subject of his 1996 fatwa in which he called for attacks against the United States and its citizens. In 1998, Bin Laden put Mohammed's plan into motion and began training terrorists to fly planes in Afghanistan. Mohammed himself was tasked with studying and deciding the possible targets. He considered targeting nuclear power plants, but discarded it after deciding that the attacks "could get out of hand".
Bin Laden chose four ring-leaders for the attacks: two Saudis, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mindhar; and two Yemenis, Wallid bin Attash and Zuhail al-Sharabi. However, it soon became apparent that the Yemenis wouldn't get U.S visas due to American immigration policies of the time. The solution came in 1999 when the "Hamburg Cell" made by Mohamed Atta (Egyptian), Marwan al-Shehhi (Emirati) and Ziad Jarrah (Lebanese) among others, arrived in Afghanistan and sought training from Bin Laden with the intention of fighting against the Russian Army in Chechnya. Without consulting Mohammed, Bin Laden recruited the Hamburg Cell for the American plot instead and named Atta the sole ringleader of the operation. The members of the Hamburg Cell returned to Germany in 2000 and solicited new passports, claiming they lost their old ones. After that, they applied for U.S. visas. The members of the Cell also distanced from each other and made an effort to not appear outwardly religious. In March, Atta sent 50-60 emails to different flight schools in the U.S., requesting intensive training as professional airline pilots. In July, Atta, al-Shehhi and Jarrah enrolled at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida, and attended it until they received their pilot licenses in December. al-Hazmi and al-Mindhar also took flying lessons in San Diego, but they dropped out due to their limited English and eventually served as muscle in the attacks. The backup pilot, Hani Hanjour, joined al-Hazmi in San Diego in December. Hanjour was Saudi and he had already obtained a pilot license in the U.S. in 1996, before joining al-Qaeda. He took refreshening lessons at Arizona JetTech flight school in early 2001 and he only failed to renovate his license because his English was considered too poor. The remaining muscle hijackers began arriving in the U.S. in the spring.
The September 11 Attacks
Early in the morning of September 11, 19 terrorists divided in four groups, each with one pilot, hijacked four airliners while enroute to California:
- Atta's group seized American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 with 11 crew and 76 other passengers, after it departed Boston's Logan International Airport at 7:59 am, bound for Los Angeles. They crashed it on the northern façade of the WTC's North Tower at 8:46 am.
- al-Shehhi's group seized United Airlines Flight 175, another Boeing 767 with 9 crew and 51 other passengers, after it departed Logan Airport at 8:14 am, also to Los Angeles. They crashed it on the southern façade of the WTC's South Tower at 9:03 am.
- Hanjour's group seized American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 with 6 crew and 53 other passengers, after it departed Washington Dulles International Airport at 8:20 am, also to Los Angeles. They crashed it on the western façade of the Pentagon at 9:37 am.
- Jarrah's group seized United Airlines Flight 93, another Boeing 757 with 7 crew and 33 other passengers, after it departed Newark Liberty International Airport at 8:42 am, to San Francisco. They crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 am, without reaching their objective. The crash was not an accident but a deliberate destruction of the plane when passengers attempted to take back control.
American Airlines first learned of the hijackings from onboard calls by flight attendants, and ground control from Atta's mistakenly radioing messages that he intended for the passage. This information was relied to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) which scrambled two fighter jets to intercept Flight 11, but they could not locate it because its transponder was off and it was too low to appear on radar. Flight 11 crashed between the North Tower's 93rd and 99th floors, damaging structural elements and rendering all stairs and elevators above the 92nd floor useless. The landing gear was propelled out from the opposite wall and fell on the roof of the Marriott Hotel below, which was at full capacity (1000 guests) at the time. The plane's fuel caught fire and poured down elevator shafts, causing additional explosions on floors 77th, 22nd, and at ground level. The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) arrived within two minutes and evacuated the people under the impact. Though they knew that a plane had crashed, there was no communication with NORAD (which continued the search for the hijacked aircraft), and believed it an accident. Excluding the killed on impact, 1,344 people were trapped above the 92nd floor. Many concentrated on the rooftop or lateral windows, but could not be evacuated due to thick smoke rising and the responding services lacking helicopters capable of horizontal evacuation. As they became cornered by the fire, between 100 and 250 people jumped to their deaths. Daniel Suhr became the first firefighter killed in the attacks when a jumping woman fell on him. However, at 8:55, a PA announcement was made on the still undamaged South Tower, telling workers to return to their desks because the situation was under control. Many ignored the order and continued evacuating or concentrated on the 78th floor Sky Lobby. At 9:02, the FDNY ordered the evacuation of both buildings and a new PA announcement was made. Only one minute later, Flight 175 crashed on the South Tower between the 77th and 85th floors, killing or trapping 700 people. This plane entered the building at an angle and left one staircase still usable, but only four people descended through it due to the presence of smoke. Others used the staircase to ascend to the rooftop, hoping to be evacuated by air, but the two rooftop doors were locked.
The second impact was broadcast live by many TV stations, clearing any doubt that the incident was a terrorist attack. Some local stations that depended on the antennas of the South Tower actually became frozen on the image of the impact for several hours. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned all takeoffs bound to or from New York between 9:06 and 9:08. At 9:11, the last Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) train left the WTC Station and it was closed down; all bridges and tunnels to Manhattan were closed down at 9:21. By 9:24, FAA and NORAD started discussing flights 77 and 93 as possibly hijacked, and at 9:26, all takeoffs were banned at national level. At 9:28, ground control heard Flight 93's cockpit being hijacked; four minutes later, a similar message to Atta's was also mistakenly delivered by Jarrah. At 9:33, Flight 77 was located flying at great speed near Washington, D.C. and the White House was almost evacuated, but the plane turned south and hit the western side of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia at 9:37. 125 people in the building died. The White House and the Capitol were evacuated and closed down at 9:43. At 9:45, American airspace was shut down entirely, with all planes on air being ordered to land at the nearest airport, and foreign flights being diverted to Canada and Mexico. At 9:57, the passengers aboard Flight 93, who had been in communication with their families since 9:30, agreed to storm the cockpit and take control of the plane. Two terrorists, Ahmed al-Haznawi and Ahmed al-Nami, were overpowered and possibly killed. The remaining muscle, Saeed al-Ghamdi, held the cockpit's door from inside while the passengers rammed a food cart on it. Jarrah changed course from Washington, D.C. (which he was trying to reach manually, as Captain Jason Dahl had disabled the autopilot) and shook the plane sideways, up and down several times, in an attempt to stop them. At 10:03, the plane took a final plunge and crashed in a field of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There is still controversy over if passengers managed to enter the cockpit.
Meanwhile, the South Tower of the WTC collapsed upon itself at 9:59, 56 minutes after impact. The FDNY Battalion 1 Chief, Joseph Pfeifer, ordered the immediate evacuation of all firefighters from the North Tower, but many never received the message due to limited communications. The North Tower collapsed in turn at 10:28. Each collapse produced a white and gray cloud of pulverized concrete and gypsum that covered several Manhattan streets and was visible from space. The Marriott Hotel, already evacuated by guests but used as a staging area by firefighters, was completely destroyed when the North Tower collapsed. WTC Building 7, ironically designated New York's emergency operations center before the attacks, caught fire and was the last structure to collapse, at 17:20, producing no casualties. Only about 20 people that were inside the Towers when they collapsed survived and emerged or were rescued from the debris in September 11 and 12.
|“||We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you will be okay. We are returning to the airport. Nobody move, everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves you'll endanger yourself and the airplane.||”|
The terrorists chose large planes with long flights because they would be heavily fueled and liable to cause more damage. After fifteen to forty-six minutes on the air, two 'muscle' hijackers rose from their seats and mazed or stabbed any flight attendants and passengers that tried to stop them, using multi-function hand tools and Leatherman-type utility knives with locking blades, which were not forbidden in flights at the time. The other muscle showed a fake bomb and claimed he'd detonate it if passengers didn't remain on their seats. Meanwhile, the hijacker pilot went to the cockpit, killed or incapacitated both pilots, and took over the controls. He altered or turned off the transponder signal and told passengers that they had hijacked other planes, had a bomb onboard, and were returning to the airport to have their demands met. Passengers were told to not make moves in order to not endanger the plane. In flights 11 and 93, Atta and Jarrah mistakenly delivered this message to ground control. The pilots then made a descent and flew low to both escape radar tracking and guide themselves visually, using their very objectives as reference points before ramming the planes in them. Except in Flight 93, whose passage had been alerted of what had happened to the other planes due to being delayed, the planes crews and passages offered no resistance following what protocols of the time adviced in case of hijacking. All terrorists wore red bandanas during the hijacking, and shouted Allahu Akbar ("God is the Greatest") before impact.
|“||I come to you with men who love death just as much as you love life.||”|
- New York City, New York: The Attack on the World Trade Center:
- 76 passengers and 11 crew aboard American Airlines Flight 11
- 51 passengers and 9 crew aboard United Airlines Flight 175
- 343 members of the New York City Fire Department including:
- 1 fire marshal (counted alternatively as a FD or LE casualty)
- 70 other law enforcement officers, including:
- 23 members of the New York City Police Department
- 37 members of the Port Authority Police Department
- 5 members of the New York State Office of Tax Enforcement
- 3 officers of the New York State Office of Court Administration
- 1 member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
- 1 member of the United States Secret Service
- 8 EMTs and paramedics
- 2,186 non-responding civilians
- Arlington County, Virginia: The Attack on the Pentagon:
- 53 passengers and 6 crew aboard American Airlines Flight 77
- 125 members of the Pentagon's staff, including:
- 22 United States Army soldiers
- 47 civilian Army employees
- 6 Army contractors
- 33 United States Navy soldiers
- 6 civilian Navy employees
- 3 Navy contractors
- 7 Defense Intelligence Agency employees
- 1 Office of the Secretary of Defense contractor
- Shanksville, Pennsylvania: The Shanksville air crash:
- 33 passengers and 7 crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93
Note: In addition, over 6,000 people were directly injured by the attacks, and three died of respiratory conditions caused, or worsened by exposure to the dust cloud caused by the collapse of the WTC, in 2002, 2008 and 2011. As of August 2013, 1,140 people who resided or worked in Lower Manhattan had developed cancer because of exposure to asbestos used in the construction of the WTC in 1973, and it is expected that new cases will be diagnosed for decades after the attacks.
Full List of Identified Victims
On Criminal Minds
- Season Three
- "A Higher Power" - 9/11 was mentioned as an example of tragedies that were followed by a descent in the number of suicides.
- Season Four
- Season Six
- Season Eight
- Season Ten
- "A Thousand Suns" - The case at hand, a plot to hijack passenger planes and intentionally crash them, was compared several times to 9/11. Many elements of the terrorist's plan and the government's response seem taken directly from 9/11, including the detour of a hijacked airliner to Washington, D.C., the grounding of all national flights and the pursuit of the plane by two fighter jets with the intention of shooting it down as a last resort. In addition, Kate Callahan revealed that her sister and brother-in-law were killed in the attack against the Pentagon, and conspiracy theorist Galen Petosky included United 93 among several crashed planes that he believed were shot down by rogue U.S. military.
- "Hero Worship" - New York and Shanksville were mentioned as examples of U.S. locations attacked by terrorists.
- Season Eleven
- Season Twelve
- Season Thirteen
- "False Flag" - The idea that the government did 9/11, and also that the World Trade Center towers were brought down by explosives, were mentioned as examples of popular conspiracy theories.
On Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders