On this September 11th, Florida faces the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The storm was a force of nature. What’s far more sinister is man-made death and destruction. Sixteen years ago, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airliners and changed American, and global, history forever. With hurricanes, people at least have advance warning, but on 9/11, innocent bystanders had no warning whatsoever.
Osama bin Laden was the rogue son of a Saudi construction mogul. A veteran of the 1980s Afghan war, bin Laden developed an ideology based on a violently extremist version of Islam and a burning hatred of the West, the United States in particular. In the 1990s, bin Laden created al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization he hoped would make his goals a reality.
Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 was an almost freakishly clear and sunny day in the northeastern United States. Armed with box cutters and the element of surprise, 19 al-Qaeda members hijacked four airliners. These were not traditional hijackings: the plan was to crash the planes into buildings. At 8:46 am, one plane hit the north tower of New York’s World Trade Center. At 9:03 another plane hit the south tower. It was now clear that what at first looked like a terrible accident was anything but. At 9:37, a plane slammed into the Pentagon. At 10:03, another plane crashed in western Pennsylvania; the passengers, having learned what was going on, decided to fight back.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed but the toll could have been far worse. The part of the Pentagon that was hit was undergoing renovation and there were far fewer people inside than normal. In New York, the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center led to vastly improved evacuation procedures. The north tower collapsed almost 2 hours after the plane hit while the south tower only lasted 56 minutes. But in this short time, the vast majority of the people below the impact sites were able to escape the doomed buildings.
Please take a moment to remember the people we lost that horrible day as well as those who lost friends, family, and loved ones.