September 11, 2001: The United States is Attacked on its Own Soil

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September 11, 2001: The United States is Attackedon its Own Soil

The Conflict

On September 11, 2001, a group of 19 terrorists hijacked four passenger planes en route across the United States. Two of the planes under the hijackers' control crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City; a third plane crashed into the Pentagon building near Washington, DC. The fourth plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to retake control of the plane. The immediate death toll included 266 passengers on the four planes, 190 victims at the Pentagon, an estimated three to four thousand people at the World Trade Center disaster area, and the 19 terrorists.


• Although almost every government in the world expressed unconditional outrage over the terrorist attacks of September 11, assembling a military coalition to respond to the events was a supreme challenge for the United States government. After intense negotiations with Pakistan, the neighbor of Afghanistan and one of the only countries to recognize the legitimacy of the Taliban regime, the Bush administration secured the country's support of a military effort against Osama bin Laden and his forces. Other nations in the region also agreed to allow U.S. troops to utilize their airspace or use their air bases for humanitarian relief operations.


• The most devastating terrorist attack in history in terms of loss of life and property, the terrorist actions of September 11 also represented the largest loss of life on U.S. soil since the American Civil War. Concern over domestic security quickly became the most important topic of discussion in the United States.


• In addition to the devastating repercussion on the airline industry, other sectors of the economy were also affected by the terrorist attacks. Consumer spending dropped significantly, with the travel and tourism industries reporting some of the steepest declines. In October 2001, the first full month of reporting after the attacks, unemployment surged by a half a percentage point to 5.4 percent.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, began as an unusually clear and bright late-summer day on the East Coast of the United States; yet before the day was over, the skylines of two of the nation's largest metropolises, New York City and Washington, DC, were obscured by ash and smoke from the largest terrorist strike in the nation's history. As officials tallied a death toll reaching into the thousands, all flights were immediately grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); extra security precautions also shut down schools, shopping malls, and government buildings across the country. An attack unlike any other on American soil, the events of the day upended many common assumptions about the safety of its citizens and the ability of its government to respond to such a crisis. The day also marked a renewed scrutiny of the country's international relations; the world's lone remaining superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the United States was now the primary target of terrorist objectives.

Although the terrorist attacks of September 11 ushered in fundamental changes in America's social, economic, and political terrain, the actual strikes took place in less than an hour, beginning with the midair hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston's Logan Airport. At some point after the plane's 8:00A.M. departure as it climbed over upstate New York en route to Los Angeles, a team of five men, armed with box cutters and claiming to have a bomb on board, overpowered the 92 crew members and passengers and took control of the Boeing 767. Turning the plane south, the hijackers directed the plane toward their target: One World Trade Center (WTC) at the tip of Manhattan in New York City. At 8:45A.M., Flight 11 crashed into the skyscraper's north side in the upper reaches of its 107 stories, setting off an intense fire with the twenty thousand gallons of jet fuel that it had carried for its intended cross-country journey.

With a daily population estimated at fifty thousand workers in the World Trade Center buildings, rescue efforts took on monumental proportions from the start. As firemen raced up the floors of the WTC North Tower, thousands of office workers who escaped the effects of the initial impact poured out of the building in an orderly fashion. Workers in the tower's twin at 2 World Trade Center also began to leave their building; some took to the stairs while others waited for elevators to take them to the ground. With immediate reports suggesting that an air traffic control mistake might have sent the plane into its collision course, no one suspected that a second hijacked aircraft was set to attack the South Tower.

Also originating from Logan Airport, United Airlines Flight 175 was overpowered by a group of five terrorists as it ascended over New York State en route to Los Angeles. At 9:03A.M., as television networks began continuous coverage of the first air strike, Flight 175 crashed into the southeast corner of the upper floors of 2 WTC, killing its 65 passengers and crew members upon impact. As media commentators attempted to convey the scope of the crashes in their initial reports, emergency response teams poured into the WTC complex to locate survivors and assist in the evacuation of the area as other teams ascended into the buildings to fight the fires. Within minutes, the FAA shut down all air traffic at New York City area airports, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed all bridges and tunnels leading into the city. In an unprecedented move, the FAA also announced at 9:40A.M. that all flight traffic across the United States was suspended; all flights already in progress were ordered to land immediately at the closest airport.

Meanwhile, a third hijacked plane held hostage by a group of five terrorists directed American Airlines Flight 77—with 64 passengers and crew members aboard for a flight from Dulles International Airport in suburban northern Virginia to Los Angeles—into a collision course with the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. military, in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, DC. Upon impact at 9:43A.M., the plane ripped a 75-foot hole in the U.S. military building's west side and ignited an intense fire with its jet fuel. As an estimated twenty-three thousand Pentagon workers fled the building, staffers from the nearby White House also evacuated the area.

As the crisis on the ground unfolded, a struggle for control of a fourth hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, traveling from Newark to San Francisco, took place between a team of four terrorists and the plane's 45 crew members and passengers. In the minutes since the hijackers seized control of the plane, several of its passengers had made phone calls to relatives and emergency officials and had learned of the fates of the other hijacked planes. Determined to prevent the plane from becoming another weapon of attack, a group of the passengers took a vote to overpower the terrorists. In the struggle to retake control of the plane, Flight 93 went down at 10:10A.M., crashing into rural Somerset County in southwestern Pennsylvania. Although everyone on board died upon impact, no lives were lost on the ground.

With the nation now on high alert, the earth shook around the WTC complex as the South Tower at 2 WTC began to list shortly before ten o'clock that morning. Although the building's innovative design by architect Minoru Yamasaki—with steel pillars serving as exterior supports for each of the building's four walls—had withstood the initial impact of the airliner collision, the intense jet fuel fire in its aftermath had softened the steel supports with an inferno estimated at 2,000°F. At 10:05A.M. the South Tower collapsed, sending tons of debris into the streets of lower Manhattan and taking the lives of hundreds of rescue workers and office workers still trapped in the building. At 10:28A.M. the North Tower collapsed in similar fashion. The two tallest buildings on the New York City skyline had now disappeared in clouds of choking dust and debris.

Although the death toll fluctuated wildly as lists of victims were compiled and verified, an estimated 3,000 people died in the WTC attacks. Over 2,100 injured victims received medical treatment by emergency rescue teams in New York City. 190 victims perished at the Pentagon, as well as 266 airline passengers and crew members on the hijacked flights. For sheer loss of human life on American soil, nothing like it had been seen since the battles of the Civil War (1861-65). Adding to the physical damage of September 11, the 47-story building at 7 WTC also collapsed, joined by the 22-story Marriott Hotel at 3 WTC, two nine-story office buildings at 4 and 5 WTC, and an eight-story U.S. Customshouse at 6 WTC.

Historical Background

Emergency Measures

At the time of the attacks, President George W. Bush (2001-) was holding a media event in a Sarasota, Florida, grade school to publicize his education initiatives. With the threat of more terrorist attacks hanging in the air, the commander in chief spent most of the day traveling back to the Washington area on Air Force One with a contingent of air force fighters accompanying the plane. When he finally returned to the White House shortly before seven o'clock that evening, President Bush prepared his remarks to the nation, which he delivered at 8:30P.M.

Although initial reports linked the terrorist groups on the planes to anti-American Islamic fundamentalists—with Osama bin Laden topping the list of suspected terrorist organizers—President Bush was careful to avoid any direct accusations in his address. Referring to the immense physical damage that had dominated media reports during the day, the president said, "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve." Explaining the motivation behind such acts, Bush added, "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining." In the rest of his brief remarks, the president announced that federal offices, which had been evacuated at 10:45A.M. that day, would reopen for essential business immediately and would carry on business as usual the following day. In his resolve "to find those responsible and bring them to justice," Bush also pledged that "We will make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them."

The following day, the significance of the president's remarks became clearer as Osama bin Laden's name was firmly linked to the terrorist acts of September 11. Based in the Sudan from 1991 to 1996, the Saudi-born multimillionaire—who had his citizenship revoked by his homeland in 1994 for actively supporting global terrorist networks—was now operating out of Afghanistan. Bin Laden had previously fought with Afghan rebels in their war against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s and returned to Afghanistan in May 1996. Putting his considerable wealth and military experience behind the Taliban faction of Afghan rebels, bin Laden helped the group secure control of most of the country's territory in the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. For the next several years bin Laden conducted additional terrorist operations from the sanctuary of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Suspected in several bombings against U.S. military posts in Saudi Arabia and Somalia in addition to the U.S. embassy attacks in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, on August 7, 1998, bin Laden was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on 238 criminal counts in November 1998. In February 1999 U.S. intelligence agencies reported that bin Laden had gone into hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan; telephone intercepts indicated that his operatives were planning a series of attacks at several tourist sites, particularly places with special religious significance. Not that bin Laden hid his intentions; at a February 1998 meeting in eastern Afghanistan, bin Laden had openly called for a holy war against all Americans through the terrorist efforts of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and the Crusaders.

Security measures had reached a peak in the United States in anticipation of the millennium, which passed without any significant disruptions. The need for further domestic anti-terrorist measures remained unfulfilled, despite the obvious need for increased vigilance. Only approximately ten cities in the country had carried out any sort of drills to prepare for attacks by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction by 1999, and fewer than 50 cities had even instituted classroom training of emergency response crews to such an event. Even in the WTC twin towers—WTC 2's parking garage was the site of a bombing by Islamic terrorists in 1993, which killed six people and injured another thousand—security measures were lax. As Eric Darnton wrote in his 1999 book Divided We Stand: A Biography of New York's World Trade Center, "In the aftermath of the bombing, entry to the towers is preceded by a process of security clearance that ranges from perfunctory to elaborate … but this process is ultimately of more psychological than actual deterrent value."

Of course, even the most rigorous measures on the ground at the WTC could not have prevented the tragic events of September 11. The failure of airport security measures, however, the weaknesses of which were a long-standing open secret among government and airline industry officials, outraged many Americans in the wake of the attacks. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his review of aviation safety in the New Yorker in October 2001, "Even as the number of terrorist acts has diminished, the number of people killed in hijackings and bombings has steadily increased. And, despite all the improvements in airport security, the percentage of terrorist hijackings foiled by airport security in the years between 1987 and 1996 was at its lowest point in thirty years." Indeed, the two airlines subjected to the September 11 attacks—American Airlines and United Airlines—had received 645 security fines from the FAA from 1998 through the end of 2000, with penalties amounting to over US$5.2 million. The performance of many private security firms hired by airlines to check passengers and baggage in airports was not much better. In one widely publicized case, Atlanta-based Argenbright Security, Inc., one of the nation's largest airport security firms with over 25,000 employees, was fined $1.2 million in 2000 by the FAA for falsifying training records, failing to perform background checks on employees, and hiring numerous employees with criminal records that included violent offenses; the investigation also revealed that at Philadelphia International Airport, more than 1,300 untrained Argenbright employees manned security check points.

Building a War Coalition

As scrutiny intensified over domestic security measures in the wake of the attacks, the Bush administration concentrated on assembling a coalition of nations to fight back against terrorist operatives. As bin Laden's two decades of rebel fighting and terrorist activity demonstrated, however, his forces were elusive targets. With numerous training camps within Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and active terrorist cells in countries around the world, bin Laden operated beyond the jurisdiction of any legitimate international tribunal and seemingly out of the reach of conventional military weapons. As former National Security Advisor Anthony Lake wrote in his prophetic 2000 book Nightmares: Real Threats in a Dangerous World and How America Can Meet Them, "Acting alone or in shadowy groupings like those of Osama bin Laden, these terrorists are harder to identify before they strike and to apprehend after they do." He goes on to say that, without any clear ties to foreign governments, such groups are unlikely to be affected by threats of retaliation. Additionally, without clear political goals, Lake asserts, the groups are unconcerned with popular reaction to their deeds. "The new terrorists are haters, not self-annointed heroes. Their aim is to lash out, to kill. And how better to kill than using weapons of mass destruction?"

The attacks of September 11 added an immediacy to anti-terrorist measures that the Bush administration used to build a coalition of nations for a long-range effort. On September 12, in an unprecedented move, the nineteen members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) invoked Article 5 of the organization's charter to declare the terrorist attacks on the United States as acts of war against all NATO members. Even more pivotal than NATO's support in building a coalition, however, was the crucial participation of Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan, against bin Laden. Although Pakistan was one of the few nations to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate ruling government of Afghanistan, its military chief and president, Pervez Musharraf, offered his support to the United States on September 16. In exchange for significant financial aid and the promise of eliminating sanctions against Pakistan, Musharraf's support also hinged on an American pledge not to endorse the Northern Alliance—a rebel coalition of militia groups that controlled about ten percent of Afghanistan's territory—as the country's next legitimate government. In addition to keeping an arm's length from the political tensions between Pakistan and the Northern Alliance, the Bush administration also had to tread warily to keep India, another regional rival of Pakistan, from exploiting the political situation for its own ends.

The day after Musharraf abandoned the Taliban, a Pakistani delegation traveled for one last effort to convince the Afghan rulers to deliver bin Laden to international authorities. The diplomatic mission failed; one week later, on September 24, Pakistan's entire diplomatic corps pulled out of Afghanistan. The Taliban lost another key ally when the Saudi Arabian government cut all of its remaining ties with the regime on September 25. Despite its increasing isolation, however, Taliban authorities remained defiant and pledged to resist any military efforts by the international coalition.

As the coalition grew in number, President Bush solidified American support for what promised to be a lengthy military effort. In one of the most significant presidential addresses in recent generations, Bush spoke to the American people in a joint session of Congress on the night of September 21. In addition to announcing specific counter-terrorist measures, including the establishment of a cabinet-level Homeland Security Office under Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, Bush pledged to "pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism." He continued, "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." Careful to distinguish between fundamentalist Islamic terrorists and the overwhelming majority of peaceful followers of Islam, Bush was also careful to outline the effort as a fight between civilization and barbarism. In one of the most stirring moments of his address, Bush declared, "By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."

An overwhelming majority of Americans had already taken the president's message to heart. Although one anti-Muslim murder against a gas station owner in Arizona made national headlines, violent actions directed against Muslim and Arab communities in the United States did not reach the high levels initially feared, though they did still occur. According to the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations, a non-profit organization established to promote a positive image of Arabs and Muslims in the United States, a total of 1,717 incidents were reported between September 11, 2001 and February 8, 2002. After September 11, however, most citizens were far more interested in learning about the religion of Islam than in speaking or acting out against it. Bookstores across the country reported selling out of world atlases and books related to Islamic history; media coverage consistently portrayed the Islamic terrorists as non-representative of their faith; and community events sponsored by interfaith organizations found an upsurge in attendance. While some Arab-American leaders were concerned that the detention of more than 1,000 individuals in the wake of the terrorist attacks may have heightened suspicion of their community, others voiced appreciation at the ongoing efforts of the Bush administration to portray Arab-Americans in a positive light.

Economic Aftershocks

With a 91 percent approval rating for his actions in the weeks after the September 11 attacks, President Bush received the broadest support of any president in modern American history. For an official who had taken office as a result of a contentious Supreme Court decision less than a year before, the political transformation was remarkable. Despite Bush's initial success at guiding American foreign policy, however, significant challenges remained for his administration on the home front. One of the most pressing concerns related to the economic catastrophe that faced American air carriers. In the four-day grounding of all flights within U.S. airspace, American carriers lost about $1.4 billion, according to industry estimates; however, considering the anticipated losses that the airlines expected to suffer in a sluggish economy, the actual losses were more likely between $850 million and $1.1 billion. Through the end of 2001, economists estimated that the airline industry in the United States would lose a total of between $2 billion and $4.5 billion as a result of the terrorist attacks.

In conjunction with a $40 billion emergency spending bill approved by Congress on September 14 to deal with the immediate needs of rescue operations, legislators also passed a $15 billion handout to American passenger and cargo carriers to forestall the potential collapse of the industry. The deal included $5 billion in emergency aid and a government guarantee of airline industry loans amounting to an additional $10 billion. In light of the aggressive lobbying by airline representatives so soon after the attacks, however, the bailout raised a storm of controversy. Industry observers noted that most domestic carriers were in abysmal financial shape before September 11, with most airlines operating at extremely high debt-to-capital ratios. Further, union officials noted that the bailout bill provided no relief for laid off airline workers, a crucial consideration in light of the massive layoffs announced by airline company officials within a week of the terrorist attacks. Finally, a sense that the airline industry had contributed to the tragedy by sub-contracting crucial security duties to other companies—responsibilities that they were mandated to perform by the FAA—caused many to question the integrity of the entire industry.

While the airline industry faced tough questions about its standard operating procedures in the wake of the September 11 attacks, its problems were made even worse by deteriorating economic conditions in general. After the unprecedented economic growth of the Clinton years—which witnessed the longest uninterrupted economic expansion in the modern era—the American economy sputtered throughout 2001. A growing number of economists before September 11 were predicting that the United States would be in a recession before the end of the year, and the terrorist attacks added to their gloom. Indeed, after the New York Stock Exchange reopened for trading on Monday, September 17, the following business week saw the worst Dow Jones average decline since the Great Depression (1929-39). Although the stock market made up some ground during the rest of the month, only about half the losses from that week were recovered.

Considering that two-thirds of the American economy was generated by consumer spending, economists were also worried about the possible disruption in consumer habits by the September 11 attacks. When the figures for the month were released, it was not good news: according to the U.S. Commerce Department, personal spending plummeted 1.8 percent during the month, a drop that had not been seen since 1987. To make matters worse, unemployment during the month leapt to 5.4 percent, a half-point increase from the prior month. Although the results of consumer confidence surveys had been erratic throughout the year, they now showed that American consumers were decidedly pessimistic about the economy's direction.

Admitting that the economy had contracted for the third quarter, the Bush administration suggested that an economic stimulus package—including another tax cut in addition to the one the president had championed earlier in the year—might be submitted to Congress. In the meantime, however, the Federal Reserve Board took immediate action to reduce interest rates in the hope of reviving consumer spending. Announcing its ninth rate cut of the year in a meeting on October 2, the board's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) reduced the rate charged to banks for overnight loans to 2.5 percent from 3 percent. In its press release, the FOMC stated, "The terrorist attacks have significantly heightened uncertainty in an economy that was already weak. Business and household spending as a consequence are being further dampened. Nonetheless, the long-term prospects for productivity growth and the economy remain favorable and should become evident once the unusual forces restraining demand abate."

Despite the FOMC's cautious optimism, others predicted that a return to normal economic conditions was wishful thinking. With U.S. borders at Mexico and Canada utilizing tighter security measures that delayed shipments into the country, American factories that had implemented "just in time" deliveries of components for immediate assembly faced serious obstacles to maintaining their production schedules. In the week after the attacks, Daimler Chrysler and the Ford Motor Company closed a half-dozen of their factories because of supply shortages caused by delays at the borders. With many countries in Latin America and Asia already in a recession, the U.S. economy also faced a more competitive global environment; economists noted that with consumer demand so low, industrial capacity in late 2001 had reached its lowest point since the Great Depression. Some experts even spoke of a global slowdown and predicted that the risk of a long recession in the United States was significant.

Public Health Concerns

While fears of a recession added to the country's long-term worries, public health scares triggered by anthrax exposures were a more immediate concern. A disease that could be introduced through the skin, by inhalation, or by eating meat from an animal tainted with the disease, anthrax was an easy bacteria to manufacture and transmit. Its spores were unusually resistant to heat and light and could survive for an indeterminate amount of time in the environment. Although skin anthrax had a 20 percent mortality rate if left untreated, inhaled anthrax was thought to be fatal over 90 percent of the time. Considered one of the most dangerous weapons of mass destruction, large stores of anthrax were known to be produced by Iraq in the 1990s. Heightening the suspicion, Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, refused to let United Nations weapons inspectors search suspected arsenals of biological weapons in 1998.

The first report of an unusual anthrax case in the United States was reported in early October, when Bob Stevens, a photo editor at tabloid publisher American Media in Boca Raton, Florida, was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. In a fortunate coincidence, Florida health officials had recently undergone training to spot anthrax exposure; however, Stevens was treated too late to save his life, and he died on October 5. While the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initially reported that Stevens was probably exposed to anthrax while on vacation in rural North Carolina, it soon became apparent that his exposure was deliberate. After a second American Media employee, mail worker Ernesto Blanco, was diagnosed with anthrax, the company's offices were closed and all of its employees were tested. The source of the exposures was a letter sent to American Media.

One week after Stevens's death, another anthrax exposure was reported in the New York offices of the NBC television network when the assistant to news anchor Tom Brokaw was diagnosed with a skin exposure to the disease. Again, the source of the exposure was traced to an anonymous letter sent to the NBC anchor. With two media outlets now under biological attack, a stream of stories heightened the public's concern over the possibility that the assaults were related to a larger terrorist plot. When an anthrax-laden letter was discovered in the office of Senator Tom Daschle's office in the Hart Senate Office Building on October 15—resulting in the closure of several Congressional buildings for decontamination—it seemed clear to many that the exposures were indeed related. By the end of the month, traces of anthrax were also found in U.S. Postal Service (USPS) facilities in Kansas City, Indianapolis, Trenton, and Washington, D.C.

Although medical intervention had allowed more than half of those with inhaled anthrax exposure to survive, the outbreaks weakened the public's confidence in the Bush administration's ability to deal with an attack using biological weapons of mass destruction. First, the conflicting reports issued by public health authorities demonstrated that even experts knew little about how anthrax could be transmitted. Second, once fears of contamination were confirmed, government officials had responded with measures that were considered far too ineffective to deal with the contamination; by the end of October, after four USPS facilities were contaminated, unions representing postal workers filed suit against the USPS for endangering the lives of its employees by keeping the facilities open after anthrax cases were reported. Finally, critics noted that emergency efforts to evacuate and decontaminate affected areas had been uncoordinated and understaffed, pointing to a significant failure of the public health system to deal with such an attack.

Air War Begins

While the anthrax scares pointed to a weakness in the Bush administration's response to the terrorist assaults in the weeks after September 11, Americans continued to support its military efforts against the Taliban and bin Laden. By September 27, an estimated 1,000 airborne troops had settled into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to prepare for the incipient air war against the Taliban regime and bin Laden's forces. On October 7, the coalition's air war in Afghanistan began against a force estimated at 40,000 Taliban members. In addition to about 90 active-duty American units, over 20,000 British troops amassed in the region to begin the assault against Taliban strongholds and terrorist training camps. Establishing control of Afghanistan's airspace almost immediately, a series of bombing raids during the month struck sites throughout the country, including the capital of Kabul and the Taliban centers of Jalalabad and Kandahar. Meanwhile, Northern Alliance forces slowly expanded their control over more of northern Afghanistan, coming within about 25 miles of Kabul by the end of October.

Coalition members insisted that civilian targets were avoided during the raids, and the Bush administration pledged an additional $320 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan as a goodwill gesture. The U.S. also sent 35,000 food rations to the country in air drops each day. Despite the concern for civilian fatalities, however, the air war carried on relentlessly; with a ground invasion almost impossible to conduct during an Afghan winter, coalition forces had a narrow window of opportunity to take control of the country. Although some Muslim leaders asked for a halt to the bombings during the holy month of Ramadan, beginning in mid-November, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted in an interview with the Voice of America that "history is replete with instances where Muslims have fought Muslims and Muslims have fought non-Muslims throughout all of the various holy days, including Ramadan."

Recent History and the Future

By November 2001, as the massive excavation of the WTC site proceeded, officials revised the final death toll from the attacks downward to between 2,950 and 4,167 victims in New York City. Together with the 266 airline passengers and crew members, 190 Pentagon employees, and nineteen hijackers, the final death toll from September 11 was well under the initial estimates from the tragedy. While the effective emergency responses in New York City and Washington, DC, helped thousands of potential victims survive the attacks, however, other losses were harder to control. In light of the continuing slide in consumer confidence and spending, the FOMC announced a tenth rate cut for the year on November 4, bringing interest rates to their lowest point in 40 years.

In addition to the long-range military efforts in Afghanistan, U.S. officials also unveiled a number of other initiatives to blunt the reach of terrorist organizations. As U.S. State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Francis X. Taylor remarked in a speech before the National Foreign Policy Conference for Leaders of Nongovernmental Organizations on October 26, "Our efforts include gathering and increased sharing of intelligence, rooting out terrorist cells, assisting countries to tighten their border security, good law enforcement, and identifying and disrupting terrorist flows." That same day Congress passed a counterterrorist bill that gave increased search and seizure powers to federal investigators. In addition to allowing the seizure of suspects' voice mail messages, the new law gave judges the authority to issue nationwide search warrants to obtain email transmissions from Internet service providers. Federal agents were given more latitude to search homes and businesses without giving notice to their owners. Federal authorities also began to search out financial holdings linked to terrorist networks and froze dozens of assets under Executive Order 13224, signed by President Bush on September 24. During the following month, at least $300 million in funds linked to bin Laden were frozen by the U.S. government.

While some critics looked upon the enlargement of federal powers as an infringement upon civil liberties, others continued to call for a greater federal response to the aftermath of September 11. In addition to the public health anxieties over anthrax, many Americans continued to worry about the safety of airline travel, particularly after persistent reports of lax procedures by security personnel. Placing airline security operations under federal control came under serious discussion in Congress, with several members pledging support to such a measure. As the Economist noted in an October 27 review of the American scene, "People realize that, after September 11th, there is no alternative to government action to deal with the problems being unleashed by terrorism."


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White, Norval, and Elliot Willensky, eds. American Institute of Architects Guide to New York City. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000.

"The World Trade Center New York." The World Trade Center New York Web Site. (cited November 5, 2001).

Zakaria, Fareed. "Time to Save 'Just in Time'." Newsweek, November 12, 2001, p. 38.

——. "Why Do They Hate Us?" Newsweek, October 15,2001, p. 22.

Timothy G. Borden


1993 Terrorists set off a bomb in a van parked in aWorld Trade Center basement garage. Six people are killed.

September 11, 2001 Two hijacked planes crash into theWorld Trade Center towers in New York City, which subsequently collapse; a third hijacked plane crashes into the Pentagon building near Washington, DC. A fourth plane hijacked by terrorists crashes in rural Pennsylvania.

September 12, 2001 The 19 members of the NorthAtlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) invoke Article 5 of the organization's charter and declare the terrorist attacks on the United States as acts of war against all NATO members.

September 14, 2001 The U.S. Congress approves US$40 billion in emergency spending and a $15 billion bailout of American airline carriers.

September 14, 2001 The Federal Bureau of Investigation releases names and photos of the 19 terrorists who commandeered the four airplane hijackings.

September 16, 2001 Pakistan publicly abandons its support of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

September 17, 2001 The New York Stock Exchange, closed since September 11, reopens.

mid-September 2001 An anthrax-laden letter is received in the offices of American Media, Inc., in Boca Raton, Florida; one employee later dies from anthrax exposure.

September 21, 2001 President George W. Bush delivers his first major address to the American people in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

September 24, 2001 Executive Order 13224 is signed byPresident Bush to freeze terrorist funds.

October 2, 2001 The U.S. Federal Reserve cuts interest rates on overnight loans to banks from 3.0 percent to 2.5 percent.

October 7, 2001 Air strikes begin against Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

October 15, 2001 An anthrax-laden letter is found inU.S. senator Tom Daschle's office.

October 26, 2001 President Bush signs a counterterrorism bill increasing federal search and seizure powers.

October 2001 More than 30 anthrax exposures are verified in the United States during the month, with four deaths resulting from the attacks.

October 2001 Unemployment figure climbs to 5.4 percent in the United States during the month.

October 2001 The U.S. Commerce Department reports a 1.8 percent decline in consumer spending for the month of October 2001, the largest decline since 1987.

Reported Incidents Against Arabs and Muslims in the United States, by Category September 11, 2001-February 8, 2002

Type of IncidentNumber
Airport Profiling191
Bomb Threats16
Deaths 11
Death Threats56
Discrimination at Schools74
Discrimination at Work166
Hate Mail315
Intimidation by Law Enforcement224
Physical Assault/Property Damage289
Public Harassment372
Total Incidents1,717

Backlash: Post-September 11 Violence Against Arab and Muslim Americans

Following the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, immediate reports confirmed that Arab and Muslim hijackers were responsible for the airplane crashes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and speculated that Saudi exile and Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden was the mastermind behind the attacks. As the day went on, Muslim and Arab Americans braced themselves for possible attacks on their communities by fellow Americans in "retaliation" for the bombings. They were right to do so. By the end of the Wednesday, September 12, 2001, thirty reports of violence had been confirmed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. From September 11, 2001, to early February 2002 more than 1,700 crimes against Muslim and Arab Americans have been reported, ranging from verbal harassment and discrimination to murder.

In Illinois a group of more than 300 people descended on a mosque in a demonstration, chanting "USA! USA!" A Molotov cocktail was fired into an Arab-American community center in Chicago. Several cab drivers across the United States were pulled from their cabs and verbally and physically harassed. One man drove his car into the largest mosque in Ohio. Muslim women wearing hijabs, the head scarves that many Muslim women choose to wear as part of their faith, were verbally assaulted in the streets.

The violence, unfortunately, was not limited to Arab or Muslim Americans; nor was it limited to the United States. Stereotypes based on skin color and dress, especially turbans similar to those Osama bin Laden was seen wearing in footage from news broadcasts, were enough to trigger hateful acts toward non-Muslims, such as Sikhs, and people who are not actually from Arab nations, such as Pakistanis or Indians. An Indian Sikh man operating a gas station in Arizona was shot and killed. Those close to the situation, including his family, believe he was shot because he wore the turban required by Sikhism. Three men were shot in Texas because of their appearance, apparently by a man who thought they "looked Muslim." The first victim, a naturalized U.S. citizen from India who was a Hindu, was killed by the gunshot. The other two victims were Pakistani—one died, the other was wounded.

Attacks occurred outside of the United States as well. A mosque was firebombed in Montreal, Canada, and verbal assaults towards children with Arabic-sounding names were also reported in the country. In Australia, too, there was an attack on a school bus, while a Lebanese church was vandalized with swastikas and an attempt at arson was made.

U.S. president George W. Bush made repeated efforts in speeches to the American people after September 11, to emphasize that Islam is a peaceful religion and that Muslims and Arabs should not be persecuted because of these acts by Islamic extremists. The reality, however, is that fear and anger from a shocking event such as the attacks of September 11 often result in a backlash on those associated with the group responsible, as was the case during World War II after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Japanese Americans were subjected to internment camps within the country.

People of all races, religions, and nationalities were killed in the September 11 attacks, including Arabs and Muslims. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than eighty countries suffered casualties from the attacks, including Argentina, Belarus, China, Egypt, Ghana, Iran, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, and Yemen.

Anthrax: A Worldwide Scare

In October 2001, not long after the terrorist attacks on the United States, anthrax threats, both real and hoaxes, plagued the country. The fear of the deadly disease and possible infection, however, was international. People all over the world were in fear of contracting the deadly bacteria that had killed three in the United States. There were alerts and threats in Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, and Israel.

People around the world were as panicked about the germ as those in the United States—with good reason. In Sweden four suspicious letters were found, echoing the manner of infection that occurred in the United States, where the germ was spread by a white powder inside a mailed envelope. German officials found suspicious white powder in the mailroom of the Chancellor's office. White powder was also found in a plane bound for Brazil from Germany. Suspicious mail was ultimately found in Australia, Israel, Switzerland, France, and Canada. In the United Kingdom a man was seen sprinkling a white powder in Canterbury Cathedral. All of these scares, unlike some of the U.S. incidents, proved to be either hoaxes or cruel jokes—not one of these instances of white powder turned out to be anthrax.

Even though there had been no confirmed anthrax infection reported outside the United States, people around the world were fearful of the possibility of the bacteria spreading around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO), in response to the alarming number of anthrax threats globally, insisted that people should not panic, but exercise caution and stay calm. The advice echoed that of health authorities and government officials in the United States.