Case Study

11 September 2001

At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001, the United States became a nation transformed. An airliner travelling at hundreds of miles per hour and carrying some 10,000 gallons of jet fuel ploughed into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre in Lower Manhattan. At 9:03, a second airliner hit the South Tower. Fire and smoke billowed upward. Steel, glass, ash, and bodies fell below. The Twin Towers, where up to 50,000 people worked each day, both collapsed less than 90 minutes later.

At 9:37 that same morning, a third airliner slammed into the western face of the Pentagon. At 10:03, a fourth airliner crashed in a field in southern Pennsylvania. It had been aimed at the United States Capitol or the White House, and was forced down by heroic passengers armed with the knowledge that America was under attack.

More than 2,600 people died at the World Trade Centre; 125 died at the Pentagon; 256 died on the four planes. The death toll surpassed that at Pearl Harbour in December 1941.

This immeasurable pain was inflicted by 19 young Arabs acting at the behest of Islamist extremists headquartered in distant Afghanistan. Some had been in the United States for more than a year, mixing with the rest of the population. Though four had training as pilots, most were not well-educated. Most spoke English poorly, some hardly at all. In groups of four or five, carrying with them only small knives, box cutters, and cans of Mace or pepper spray, they had hijacked the four planes and turned them into deadly guided missiles.

Excerpt from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States taken from, accessed on 24 September 2009.