The rise of terrorism and the global response

A PERFECT, late summer morning in Manhattan — cloudless sky, clear horizon with visibility stretching for miles and no hint of the horror that awaits the islanders: Tuesday, 11 September 2001, a date that will enter as "9/11" in the American Heritage College Dictionary and Oxford English Dictionary.

At 8:44 a.m., Jules Naudet, a slim, handsome film-maker in his late 20s, accompanying a fire engine battalion of the Duane Street fire station, is shooting a documentary on New York firefighters at the junction of Lispenard and Church Streets, several blocks north of the World Trade Center, a complex of seven building with Twin Towers as its sentinels, symbols of the economic might of the world's sole superpower.

His elder brother Gedeon is at the Duane Street fire station, the subject of the brothers' television documentary.

At 8:45 a.m., when Jules Naudet sees an aircraft vanish behind a tall building, he follows it with his camera, seeing it smash into the 110-story North Tower. His fire engine battalion races to the WTC, and he notices a gaping wound in the world's second tallest building. The Tower is spewing flames, black smoke billowing out from the floors above and below the 87th — 92nd floors.

At George's Lunch diner, a block away from the WTC, Lucy Torres, a Hispanic waitress, sees smoke coming out of the North Tower, thinking it was an accident until she hears the noise of the second plane coming towards the building.

Accompanying a fire fighting team, Jules Naudet has entered the North Tower through the shattered windows of the ground floor lobby. He sees desperate, distraught men and women leaping from such heights that they disintegrate on hitting the ground. He is equally shaken by what he encounters inside the lobby in the aftermath of a fireball created by the jet fuel pouring down the elevator shafts — walls ripped of their marble tiles, broken windows, and two persons burning on the floor.

Around 10 a.m. Jules Naudet hears a man near him shouting "The North Tower is coming down!" He runs like hell, shelters between a television news van and a car, and covers his nose and mouth with his T-shirt.

At the Duane Street fire station, Gedeon Naudet, armed with a camera, and three firefighters jump into a pickup truck and race toward the WTC. "After four minutes I look up and see the South Tower collapsing literally above my head," he recalls. "As I jumped into the belly of the fire truck I remember the truck windows shattering."

Outside her diner, Lucy Torres sees people "running down the street, with debris under their feet; rubbish paper, and lots of shoes". She finds her own shoes full of dirt as she trudges home over the Brooklyn Bridge as part of a column, among many, of refugees, all covered in ash, as Lower Manhattan is evacuated.

When Ian Williams, a freelance journalist, returns to his apartment in Lower Manhattan, after a tour of the area around the WTC, he finds that electricity and telephones are down. In the dark, he sees the first convoys of armored cars and troops arriving along Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, lights flashing. The troops will occupy the zone below Canal Street, barring it to all civilians, and placing the area below Chambers Street under National Guard control, with civilian traffic brought to a standstill. By the end of the day the Coast Guard has evacuated one million people from Manhattan, five times the number that are transported daily to and from the island.

Along with the other wings of the U.S. armed forces, the Coast Guard is put on the highest alert by the Department of Defense within minutes of a hijacked plane slamming into the Pentagon building on the outskirts of Washington D.C. at 9:36 a.m. ...

... Within the next half an hour, the White House, the State Department and the Treasury are evacuated. President George Walker Bush, visiting an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida, is hustled to his jet, Air Force One, and starts a zigzag journey back to Washington. The Federal Aviation Authority closes all airports, ordering the planes in the air to land at the nearest airport, while the Coast Guard shuts down all 12 major seaports.

The FAA goes on to ban private planes from flying below 5,630 meters and within 18 km of 86 nuclear power plants.

The moment the Secret Service learns that one, possibly two, hijacked planes are heading for the capital, Vice President Dick Cheney is literally lifted from his seat in the White House and taken to an underground bunker ...

... Reports and rumors are flowing in fast: A car bomb at the State Department; the National Mall in flames; the Pentagon up in smoke; hijacked jets zeroing in on Washington ...

... The drama at the federal capital is duplicated at all state capitals where government buildings and court houses are evacuated and sealed off for several days.

Stars and Stripes appear everywhere, with street vendors in Manhattan selling flags, a dollar each. The star-spangled banner is seen outside homes, on car and taxi aerials, pinned to lapels, fluttering above offices, factories and gas stations, and streaming from the back of motorcycles and trucks. Enthusiasts start downloading images of the flag from the Internet. Its electronic versions shine from display boards beside the interstate highways. It is draped over the skyscrapers surrounding the shattered WTC and over the ruined gap in the Pentagon.

* * *

Flags and patriotic songs are antidotes to the depression that has descended on the nation. Immediately after the ghastly flying bombs, a national survey shows 70 per cent of the respondents feeling depressed, 50 per cent having difficulty concentrating at work, and 33 per cent having trouble sleeping at night; and 75 per cent thinking there will be further attacks.

The New York City authorities require hot dog sellers to post their names and pictures on the stalls. Many of them are Pakistanis and Bangladeshis with Muslim names. Hot dogs sales plummet by 40 per cent ...

* * *

Because Osama bin Laden, named by President Bush as the suspected mastermind behind the terrorist atrocities, wears a turban, male Sikhs — required by their faith not to cut their hair and therefore cover them with a turban — are assaulted. A Sikh religious organization logs 200 incidents of Sikhs being targeted in a fortnight, with one of them, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a storekeeper in Arizona, shot dead.

The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination committee collects 300 nationwide reports of violent incidents, including three murders. With airports opening gradually, Arab-Americans discover that TWA, "Traveling while Arab", has become almost a federal offense. Oddly, their resulting depression is shared by a substantial body of mainstream Americans, albeit for different reasons.

* * *

When, as a result of the collapse of the Twin Towers, the 47-story building at 7 World Trade Center falls, it reveals a clandestine station of the Central Intelligence Agency which is, by law, banned from operating on the American soil. Its embarrassed headquarters at Langley, Virginia, dispatches a team to retrieve documents. In the immediate aftermath of the devastating attacks, at President Bush's behest, U.S. Congress increases it annual budget of $3.5 billion by a hefty $1 billion.

The commercial gloom has spread from airlines and travel — hotels, car rentals, aircraft manufacture, theme parks — to car sales to home building to high tech industry and departmental stores. In a single month New York has lost 79,000 jobs compared to the forecasts of 80,000 — 1,15,000 over several months.

* * *

On 7 December, the 60th commemoration of the Japanese assault on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii has a special meaning for Americans. In that strike, 2,403 people died or went missing ... ... An International Herald Tribune survey of 275 opinion leaders in 24 countries shows that 79 per cent of non-U.S. respondents consider the terrorist attacks as a "new chapter in world history" — the same percentage as among the U.S. opinion leaders. But 70 per cent of the non-U.S. opinion leaders believe that "It is good that Americans now know what it is like to be vulnerable".

The year ends with an Arab-American Secret service agent, Walied Shater, being barred from traveling on an American Airlines jet from Baltimore-Washington International airport.

2002 begins with the FBI extending warning of terrorist threats until 11 March by sending out e-mails to 18,00 law enforcement agencies, but not publicizing the alert ...

... Plans are afoot to create an archive, a memorial: Bicycles still locked to a metal rack; directional signs for the subways and trade center towers; computer keyboards; pages from calendars; clocks stopped at the moment of the strike; a file cabinet; and dozens of other items.

On 11 March, the six-month anniversary of the collective trauma inflicted on New York, at 8:46 a.m. New Yorkers observe a minute's silence. The civilian deaths, caused by U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan, total 3,608.

That day, in Venice, Florida, the Huffman Aviation International, a flight school, is notified by the Immigration and Naturalization Service that the August 2000 applications of its two students, Muhammad Atta and Marwan al Shehhi, for a change over of their tourist visas to student visas have been granted. Atta and Shehhi flew the jets that sliced into the WTC six months earlier.

Dilip Hiro 2002

Extracted from the prologue from War Without End: The Rise of Islamist Terrorism and Global Response, Dilip Hiro, published by

Routledge, India, Rs. 495.

Dilip Hiro is the author of more than 20 books, including Neighbours not Friends: Iraq and Iran after the Gulf Wars. He is a frequent commentator on the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia and Islam on CNN, BBC Television, Sky Television and various American and British radio channels.

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