Two decades of ups and downs since 9/11 attacks

Saturday, 2021-09-11 08:00:41
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The towers of the World Trade Center pour smoke shortly after being struck by hijacked commercial airplanes in New York on September 11, 2001. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO - Twenty years ago, on September 11, the world was shaken by a series of attacks targeting two symbols of American strength: the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Two decades have passed and the pain of loss after the incident, also called the 9/11 attacks, has been forever etched into the memory of Americans and the international community, thereby reminding humanity of the lessons that must not be forgotten.

Looking back at the historical event

On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes, then turned them in turn to attack a series of targets.

At 8:46am, American Airlines Flight 11 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

Then, at exactly 9:03am, the United Airlines Flight 175 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in the City.

The second tower of the World Trade Center bursts into flames after being hit by a hijacked airplane, September 11, 2001. (Photo: Reuters)

The third one, American Airlines flight 77 (travelling from Dulles, Virginia, to Los Angeles), struck the Pentagon in Washington, partially collapsing the west side of the building.

Meanwhile, the United Airlines flight 93 was initially aimed at Washington, DC, but crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after heroic passengers tried to subdue the hijackers.

The whole attack took place in just 102 minutes from that first crash to the collapse of the second tower.

The series of attacks killed 2,976 people and injured more than 6,000 others as well as caused at least US$10 billion in property and infrastructure damage, leading to an estimated total loss of up to US$3 trillion. It was also the deadliest incident ever for firefighting and law enforcement forces in US history, with 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers killed.

The attacks killed 2,976 people and injured more than 6,000 others as well as caused at least US$10 billion in property and infrastructure damage.

On December 13, 2001, the US Government released a video in which Osama bin Laden, founder of the militant Islamist organisation al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks.

With the influence of the event, the US Congress on December 18, 2001, designated September 11 of each year as “Patriot Day”.

As a supportive gesture to victims' families, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the declassification of certain documents related to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Under the newly signed order, the Justice Department and other executive branch agencies will jointly conduct the declassification review and the attorney general will release the declassified documents in the next six months.

The ruins of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks (Photo: AFP/VNA)

Aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the US

The tragedy of September 11, 2001, also left countless health consequences while causing persistent psychological wounds, especially for New Yorkers.

After 20 years, New York City is still hurting. More people are believed to have died from illnesses related to 9/11 than were killed on the actual day of the Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, according to a recently published report.

The 9/11 attacks released unprecedented amounts of chemicals into the air, including dioxins, asbestos and other carcinogens.

Many people have been diagnosed with cancer and other serious illnesses, especially those related to the lungs, due to inhaling the toxic smog clouds that hovered over the southern part of Manhattan for the few weeks following the incident.

Firefighters at the ground zero of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks. (Photo: Time/VNA)

The September 11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has received more than 67,000 claims since it reopened in 2011. Nearly 3,900 of those claims were filed on behalf of people who are alleged to have died of 9/11-related illnesses, according to the VCF.

The thousands of firefighters and volunteers who were mobilised to the World Trade Center at that time were the first to be affected. In 2011, a study published in the scientific magazine The Lancet showed that they faced a high risk of cancer.

It could be said that the US was also seriously “hurt” because they were considered severe attacks on two symbols of the strength of this great power.

Flowers are seen in the names of victims at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum a month before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in Manhattan, New York City, US, August 11, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)

The 'war on terrorism' has not come to an end

Since the above attacks, the US announced that the country would enter a global war against terrorism to release a new doctrine of "pre-emptive strike". It meant that military strength would be utilised to address security threats to the US. As a result, the country had unilaterally wage wars against perceived adversaries. In addition to America, many other countries in the world have been caught up in the global war on terrorism launched by former US President George W.Bush.

US Army 10th Mountain Division soldier Jorge Avino carves the body count their mortar team has chalked up on a rock, near the villages of Sherkhankheyl, Marzak and Bobelkiel, in Afghanistan, March 9, 2002. (Photo: Reuters)

The “war on terrorism” had dragged the “country of flags and flowers” deep into wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and countries that the US had listed in the “axis of evil”.

Caught in the vortex of the global war on terrorism since 2001, this powerful country has so far spent about US$6.4 trillion, mainly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

This costly war has also helped the US and the anti-terrorist coalition achieve certain results over the past 20 years, such as preventing a significant number of terrorist attacks in the US, weakening the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), and freeing about 7.7 million people from the grip of tens of thousands of terrorist fighters.

However, experts say that although the US-led war on terror has achieved remarkable results in the past 20 years, terrorism has not ended, and is even tending to progress in a more complex manner.

The threat of terrorism still exists because the “roots” of terrorism have yet to be “uprooted”, but they tend to spread and change in complicated directions. The number of countries affected by violent extremism is also continuing to increase.

Twenty years after former US President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism, the world has changed. All focus on the fight against terror has turned to the fatigue of endless wars. Several weeks before the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the Taliban, which was quickly defeated after the 2001 terrorist attacks, returned to power in Afghanistan amid the US withdrawal from the country.

Militant Islamic State fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province in Syria, June 30, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

In Iraq, although the US government announced the eradication of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the possibility of IS revival still remains a challenge for the Iraqi government.

America's war on terror has split the world deeply. The US has become more vulnerable than ever, not only from the perspective of being targeted by international terrorist groups and religious extremists, but also from the perspective of being a warring nation in the world that implements extreme unilateral military and diplomatic policies in some countries, causing “hotspots” of conflicts in the world, deepening conflicts between the US and its Western allies, and leading to bloody terrorist wave targeting innocent civilians all over the world.

According to analysts, the US-led war on terror will certainly continue and face many challenges. To maintain its leadership role in the counterterrorism coalition, the US must continue to shoulder the greatest responsibility for devising sound and appropriate strategic planning, as well as for effective coordination and cooperation with member states. Terrorism is not only a threat to the US, it is a global threat, so the war needs consensus from all countries.

Lessons to ponder on

Twenty years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, a new generation has grown up in a world forever changed. Even though 20 years have passed, on the annual occasion when American people and the world remember the unfortunate victims of the terrible terror, people do not forget to remind each other of valuable lessons.

Firstly, no country has “immunity” from terrorism.

The bold and meticulous plots planned by al Qaeda exposed security holes in all countries in the world. No country can be considered immune. For the first time, the world has learned the lesson that terrorism exists without borders, and it is the policy of such organisations and institutions to gain political power through violence.

A double-decker bus was damaged during the London bombings on July 7, 2005. (Photo: Reuters)

Secondly, security control is the key.

Security forces are key to preventing any crime, including terrorism. However, security is not only enforced by the police forces but by all law enforcement forces. From the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it can be seen that if the security control had been conducted more effectively, the terrorists’ plot to hijack the planes could have been exposed or at least one target could have escaped from the attack.

Thirdly, the smallest intelligence cannot be ignored.

Prior to 9/11, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had obtained intelligence on an “imminent” terrorist attack which indicated that al-Qaeda was planning “bold” attacks aimed at “multiple targets” in the US territory in the near future.

Similar warnings were sent to the White House, but federal agencies essentially ignored them, referring to them as “routine reports”. And this led to the catastrophic consequences of 9/11. Thus, the lesson is that intelligence on terrorist plots cannot be taken lightly regardless of the number of reports or the source of the information.

People desperate to flee Afghanistan thronged Kabul's airport after the Taliban seized the capital Kabul. (Photo: Reuters)

Fourthly, any terrorist attack is related to finance.

The investigation into the 9/11 terrorist attacks showed that money was circulated through many international institutions to go to a group of 19 hijackers from abroad.

After 9/11, financial institutions have become more cautious while anti-money laundering laws have been tightened in most countries around the world. However, there are still “havens” existing for money laundering and they can serve as the perfect source of financing for future terrorist plots.

Fifthly, political instability or conflicts in countries are breeding grounds for terrorism. This is a very important lesson from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Sixthly, the war on terror is not over.

Terrorism is rooted in hatred and extremist ideology, whose main source is injustice and polarisation in the world. Therefore, it is necessary to have sustainable and long-term solutions to eliminate injustice, equality, poverty, and others in order to remove the root cause of terrorism.

Hope after 20 years

Twenty years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a new generation has grown up in a world changed forever. The pain of 9/11 has always accompanied the heroism and resilience of New Yorkers in particular and Americans in general.

Ahead of this year's commemoration ceremony, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum has launched an education and fundraising campaign called the “Never Forget Fund”. All the raised money will be used to educate young people about the deadliest terrorist attack in American history and its global impact.

According to President and Chief Executive Officer of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum Alice Greenwald, this is not only a place to store memories, but also educate the younger generation about the spirit of overcoming difficulties despite adversity.

After 20 years, at the exact location where terrorists flew planes to attack the economic symbol of the US in the heart of New York, a new commercial centre has sprung up, bringing with it the hope of a new powerful US.

A woman and her daughter pause at the South Pool of the National September 11 Memorial a day before the 15th anniversary of the attacks in Manhattan, New York, September 10, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)