What was 9/11?


A military helicopter flies in front of the Pentagon on September 14, 2001, at the site where a hijacked airline crashed into the building three days earlier. (Stephen J. Boitano/GETTY IMAGES)
September 8, 2011

On September 11, 2001, 19 members of a terrorist group called al-Qaeda (al-KYE-da) hijacked four U.S. airplanes and used them to strike various targets on the East Coast. The carefully planned attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, making it the worst attack on the United States in history.

Al-Qaeda is a small, very violent group of people who practice the Muslim religion and who want to create a Muslim state independent of other countries. Al-Qaeda considers the freedoms that U.S. citizens have to be evil and doesn’t want the United States to spread those freedoms to other countries. Most Muslims don’t share al-Qaeda’s beliefs.

Under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda has carried out many terrorist attacks all over the world, but the attacks on September 11 were the deadliest by far.

Two of the hijacked planes hit nearly identical skyscrapers, known as the twin towers, at a complex called the World Trade Center in New York. The buildings collapsed, and thousands of people died. A third plane was flown into the Pentagon in Arlington, where the U.S. military is headquartered, killing 189 people. A fourth plane, thought to be heading for the Capitol in Washington, crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers onboard fought the hijackers. All 44 people on the plane were killed.

The United States responded by attacking al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, one of several countries where the group had operations. The government in Afghanistan was brutal and supported the terrorists, so less than a month after the attacks of September 11, the United States invaded Afghanistan to break up al-Qaeda and the Afghan government.

During the years after the attacks, the United States was involved in another war, one in Iraq. The main reason for this war was because many countries, including the United States, believed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons that could be used in terrorist attacks. No weapons were ever found, and no link between Hussein and bin Laden was ever proved. There is a now a new government in Iraq.

U.S. forces finally located and killed bin Laden in May of this year. Al-Qaeda is much weaker without him, but there are terrorist groups other than al-Qaeda that want to harm the United States.

Since the September 11 attacks, the government has greatly increased security around the country, particularly at airports, government buildings and public events. The government has also worked to improve the way it shares information. (Some people think the attacks of September 11 might have been prevented if groups within the U.S. government had communicated better).

Before September 11, 2001, a massive terrorist attack against the United States seemed unimaginable to many Americans. But 10 years later, the events of that day continue to affect the way Americans live.

READ: A story of hope from 9/11

READ: Kids who were born on September 11, 2001

Margaret Webb Pressler

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