Shortcuts / 09 September 2021


Two decades on, the impact of what happened on September 11, 2001 is evident around the world and in our day-to-day lives. It’s a huge topic so in this episode of Squiz Shortcuts we’ll recap what happened on 9/11, how America and the West responded, and how it changed things forever.

Let’s start with a recap…
You got it. On Tuesday 11 September, 19 hijackers took control of 4 US passenger jets and crashed them into landmark buildings in Washington DC and New York.

What buildings?
The first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Centre in New York at around 8.46am and initially many thought it was a freak accident. But then minutes later, a 2nd plane crashed into the South Tower.

And the other 2 planes?
One hit the Pentagon just outside of Washington DC and the other crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers on board tried to stop what was to be an attack on another building in Washington DC. There were many deaths at all of those sites, but it was the Twin Towers where the most damage was done.

How bad was it?
The buildings were set on fire and those who were on the upper floors of the 110-storey buildings were trapped and couldn’t escape.

Were there a lot of people inside?
When the first plane hit, around 17,400 people were in the buildings. Less than 2 hours later, the Towers collapsed into debris, killing those who couldn’t get out and the 412 first responders who went to help them.

How many people died in the attacks?
In all, 2,977 people were killed – most of those in New York. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.

Who was behind it?
An extremist militant group called al-Qaeda. It was formed by Osama bin Laden and other Islamists in Afghanistan in 1988. They were part of a group of Muslim guerilla fighters known as the Mujahideen.

That sounds familiar…
That’s because the Taliban was also part of the Mujahideen. They were fighting the communist government in Afghanistan in the 80s.

Then what happened?
The Mujahideen overthrew the government and after a bitter civil battle, the Taliban took power in 1996.

Gotcha. And what happened to al-Qaeda?
They fled to the mountains and grew their supporter base. And after the Soviets fled, al-Qaeda turned its focus to the US.

It believed America was the obstacle to establishing a global Islamic state. It also blamed America and its allies for conflicts in the Muslim world.

So they carried out 9/11…
Yup. It was a defining moment for both the US and then-President George W Bush.

How did America respond?
Less than a month after the attacks, Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan to fight the war on terror.

Operation what-now?
It was a mission to stop the Taliban from providing a safe haven to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and to put an end to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

How did that pan out?
In October 2001, US forces led an invasion of Afghanistan. Supporting it were America’s NATO allies – a group of European nations, the UK and Canada. And Australia was on board too…

Why’s that?
We have a little thing called the ANZUS treaty with the US and New Zealand.

Which is…
It’s a formal agreement that says we will support and consult each other if we are in danger. And speaking of ANZUS, our PM at the time John Howard was in America at the time of 9/11 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the treaty.

That’s a weird quirk of timing…
It sure was. And 9/11 was the first time the treaty was invoked.

So off to war we went…
That’s right. The US-led coalition launched airstrikes starting in early October targeting both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. By November 2001, the Taliban government was kicked out of the capital Kabul and a US-backed Afghan government came into power.

Mission accomplished?
Not quite. The US still had one more aim: to find Osama bin Laden…

And, did they find him?
Not straight away. It took almost a decade to locate him in Pakistan before he was then killed. His body was disposed of at sea from a US aircraft carrier. Then-President Barack Obama said it was”the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaeda.”

Were there others on America’s hit list?
Yes – Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein.

What’s the story there?
There was a belief at the time that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be used to devastating effects. And so troops from America, the UK, and Australia invaded Iraq in March 2003. But the plot thickens…

Go on…
Turns out, those WMDs didn’t exist.

Yep. So Hussein, whose regime harboured and supported terrorists, lost control over Iraq’s capital Baghdad a few weeks later. By December, Hussein was captured and he was later tried and hanged.

So mission accomplished?
That’s what then-President George W Bush said.

I sense a but…
But peace was hard to come by. Like the situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban had been booted, the domestic situation in Iraq was very unstable. So US and allied troops hung around to keep a lid on things.

Are they still there?
There are still some US troops in Iraq but they will be withdrawn by the end of the year. As for Afghanistan, all troops were pulled out by 31 August this year.

A lot has changed over the past 20 years…
Yup, including the way we travel. Pre-9/11 you could waltz into an airport, 20-30 mins before your flight and just walk on through to the gates.

That’s very different from security these days…
Especially in the US. After 9/11, President Bush signed legislation that ramped up security at US airports. All bags were to be screened, cockpit doors reinforced and federal air marshals were to be put on flights. And that was mirrored at all major Western airports virtually overnight.

And in Oz?
Things tightened up here, too – especially at Parliament House.

How so?
Screening processes were put in place, many public areas were closed off, bollards were put in, and you could no longer access areas including the top of Parliament House.

And elsewhere in Oz?
There were many major public buildings across the country that were deemed a potential target for terrorists that experienced the same thing in the wake of 9/11.

A sign of the times…
It sure was. There were also changes to counter-terrorism legislation as intelligence agencies around the world gained greater access to citizens’ private lives.

In the US that was done under the Patriot Act.

Which was…
A wide-sweeping piece of legislation that created new resources for the government to monitor citizens and act against and perceived threats. In Oz, there were similar steps to give our domestic and international spy agencies more resources and more powers in the name of keeping us safe.

Gotcha. Anything else?
Since 9/11 there’s been a rise in prejudicial feelings toward Arab and Muslim Australians.

Is that only in Oz?
No, it’s something documented across the Western world. There are more than 600,000 Muslims in Oz and about a 3rd were born in Australia. The Muslim population is ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse and there’s no single interpretation of Islam.

What’s been said?
Since 9/11, some claim the anti-terrorism law changes were targeted at the Muslim community, and there have been reports of Muslims being discriminated against and finding themselves the targets of hate crimes.

Has anyone done anything about that?
Governments have set up programs to counter the issue. It’s a work in progress.

So wrapping this up, were the Twin Towers rebuilt?
The US was determined to rebuild a tower as tall as the original buildings.

And did it?
Yup. It’s called the One World Trade Centre or the Freedom Tower. It stands about 541 metres high and is the tallest building in the US, and the 6th tallest in the world.

That would stand out on the NYC skyline…
It certainly does.

Squiz recommends:

Listening: ABC’s Conversations Podcast from 2011. It interviews former PM John Howard about being in the US at the time of 9/11. 

Watching: ABC’s Beyond the Towers series. It’s 4 episodes hosted by Tony Jones and it looks at all this through an Aussie lens.

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Image source: Reuters

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