The September 11 terrorist air attack on New York and Washington brought death, horror, grief and rage. It turned two American strongest structures into tombs for thousands. It has put a major dent in the citizens’ beliefs about their nation’s impregnability and pushed the civilized world to the edge of what may be another war by allied western nations against a peculiar enemy, Writes Tokunbo Awoshakin who monitored the ghastly events from Washington D.C.
The day began like another day in most cities in the eastern coast of America. Although Summer was gradually giving way to the fall season, the sun still came out early, rising in a blaze of gold from the eastern horizon and giving the impression that it was going to be a bright new day.
The usual rush hour was noticeable on most highways as workers drove to work sipping hot coffee from styrofoam cups. The radio airwave was filled with those kind of music that help you keep your face on the road as well as your mind on the day ahead as you head for work. Students, who had resumed school just a week earlier from the long summer holiday, could be seen in small groups, waiting for their school buses. It seemed it was going to be just your typical day.
It was not. To be sure, that day turned out to be the most horrific day Americans will never forget in a long time to come. It was a day thousands of people got buried under the rubble of metal, stones and dust of two 110 storey buildings and another concrete pile building.
September 11, 2001 turned out to be the day in which the people – businessmen, secretary, military officers, couples, fathers and mothers who arrived their offices early having beat the rush hour traffic, actually rushed to a violent death.
Four commercial airplanes which rose into the air in the usual way early that morning were the missiles used by the terrorists who had forcibly taken them over. The scene was like some sinister part from an action movie.
The North tower of the World Trade center, that powerful icon for capitalism was the first to be hit by American Airline flight 11 which was sceduled to travel from Boston to Los-Angeles. In surreal amazement, New Yorkers watched as the aircraft which had 92 people on board smashed head -on into the steel building and burst into flames.The time was 8.45 am.
Approximately twenty minutes later, while people were still in a state of shock and the city officials were mobilizing rescue and emergency workers to evacuate the building and save some lives, another commercial aircraft, United Airline plane 175 became the second missile, plunging into the south tower of the World trade center at about 9.05 am.
By this time it was obvious that something “ain’t” right. This was not an accidental plane crash. This immediately became obvoius as many remembered that in 1993 terrorists had attempted to blow up the place by planting a bomb in a parking garage beneath the edifice. It was panic everywhere and like one of the songs of late Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the situation was “Bo o lo o yago” (move or get out of the way!).
The terrorists were however not done yet. By 9.40am, another aircraft turned missile, this time an American Airline plane 77 with sixty four people on board, made a deliberate crash into the The Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S Department of Defence and one of the world’s largest office buildings covering a total of 29 acres of land.
These attacks threw the nation into a panic that has, perhaps, never been experienced since the Second World War. In both New York, Virginia and Washington, it was a mixture of panic and shock as people scurried out of their offices and made for the highway in bid to get home and be re-united with their families. During this panic which led to a total jamming of the highway, the 110 steel storey buildings of the World Trade center melted and collapsed. It was unbelivable.
All across America, the panic spread. Those that managed to get back home hugged closely to their families and watched in horror as thousands of people, including the rescue and emergency workers and law enforcement officials who has first arrived the scene of the World Trade Center steel, were buried under metal and stones.
The government swung into action, President George Bush who was in Sarasota, Florida to promote his education program left in a rush, not for Washington D.C but for a secure location at Barksdale Airforce base in Louisiana where he gave a Television address. From there, the American President’s aircraft, now guided by a fighter jet made for another Airforce base in Nebraska where he gave another television address.
While Bush was flying from one Airforce base to another rather than return to the White House for fears that the place may also be a target, (a fear which was indeed real) and his deputy, Dick Cheney was relocated to the situation room underground of the White-house, it was total chaos in both New York and the Washington metro area.
In New York city, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, who proved to be most active in time of crisis, ordered the immediate closure of Lower Manhattan for all vehicles except those on emergency mission.The sub-way lines shut down and Grand Central and Penn Station, the city’s two major commuter stations were closed.
The New York city primary election which was to hold same day was immediately cancelled and trading on Wall street came to an abrupt end. All other buildings in the ciry including the Nigerian House on 44th Street and the United Nations tower were immediately evacuated.
In Wahington D.C., the White-House, the Capitol, the Treasury Building and all other government buildings were evacuated. Schools were shut and the Smithsonian museum and other tourist attractions were shut down. In a short while all these buildings and monument had grim looking and heavily armed marine officers guarding them.
The federal aviation ordered a stop to all air traffic across the American airspace. All domestic flights were grounded and those already in the air ordered to land at the nearest air strip. Trans-atlantic flights headed for the United States were ordered to go and land in Newfoundland, Canada.
On the streets of New York, Washington and other cities, panic gave way to shock then grief, sadness and tiredness. This turned to rage when the news of the crasing in Pittsburgh of the fourth aircraft missile, another America Airlines plane 77 with 64 people on board came on air.
In all, it is believed that the terrorists successfully hit three of their four targets. If the intention of the terrorists was to damage buildings that were important to America, economy, defence and politics as well as kill thousands of people, they could not have chosen better targets. The first target, World Trade Center had two planes assigned to it because of it’s strategic importance and the large number of people working there.
At the time of its dedication in 1973, the twin towers of the World Trade Center, which took ten years to construct were the tallest buildings in the world. At the time of the terrorist attack, they were the world’s fifth tallest buildings. Both towers of the World Trade Center were the corporate headquarters of a score of multinational corporations which had a total of about 50,000 workers.
The Buildings was a business melting pot, housing banks from Germany, Japan, Taiwan and Chile as well as hundreds of investment firms from Europe, Asia and South America. One American investment firm, Morgan Stanley had about 3,500 people working in the south tower.
The World Trade Center was also a neighbour to other key finacial buildings like the New York Mercantile Exchange, Merill Lynch, The World Financial center, The Wall Street Journal, The American Stock Exchange, The New York Stock Exchange, The Bank of New York and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The Pentagon, on the other hand, is the world’s largest office building where about 23,000 employees, both civilian and military work on a daily basis. It was built in 1942 with more than 435 cubic yards of concrete on a foundation in excess of 41,000 conrete pile.
The other targets which the terrorist missed are believed to be the White-House, official residence of the American president, and the Capitol, the country’s law making chamber.
As at press time, suspects were still being arrested. The latest being eight men picked up by security operatives at both Laguardia and JFk airports in New York shortly after those airports resumed for “limited Operations”.
The search for suspects has, however, been an extensive one spreading from the crime cities to Florida, Boston and as far as Hamburg, Germany, Canada and even Afghanistan. It is believed that the terrorist put at a total of eighteen took a boat from Nova Scotia in canada to Portland Maine. Some of them are believed to have lived in Hamburg, Germany before coming to Florida to take flying lessons.
Two Arab brothers, Amer Mohammed Buhkari and Adna Abass Buhkari and another man Mohammed Atta who were believed to be among the terrorists that took over the planes crashed into the World trade center, were later found not to be in any way linked to the incident. Seven airline tickects were, however, believed to have been bought by a credit card belonging to one of the suspects.
The chief suspect is osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al Queda, an islamic fundamental group funded by the frail looking, bearded son of the Saudi Arabian construction merchant. Apart from the fact that the day of the terrorist attack being just a day before the trial of one of bin Laden’s associates in New York City, investigators say, the operation had all the imprints of the man believed to be hiding out in the caves of Afghanistan.
Osama bin Laden is also believed to have been responsible for other terrorists attacks against the United States, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the attack that killed 19 American soldiers at a military housing complex in Dharan Saudi Arabia in 1996, the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the bomb attack that killed 17 Americans on the USS Cole ship in Yemem Habour last year.
Osama bin Laden’s open hatred for America and what America represents, his antecedents, his capabilities, motives and recent development in the Middle East which islamic fundamentalists like him, believe favour Isreal against Palestinian, all make him the toga of chief suspect fit him so well.
The scope of death from Tuesday’s terrorist attack in America is vast and almost limitless. More than 6500 are feared dead in New York and another 160 in the Pentagon. Among these are school pupils and their teachers going to the Pacific Coast for a learning experience.
There are others, Americans as well as nationals of other nations including those suspected to be Nigerians working at the World Trade Center. The victims are, to borrow from the poet, more than those that have died or those that are injured. The victims include those that will die “instalmentally” as a result of the loss of a loved one. The victims also include you and I and several others who will no longer feel safe either in an aircraft or inside a skyscraper.
Addressing Americans shortly after the incident, President Bush declared: “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward and I assure you freedom will be defended. Make no mistake.The United States will hunt down and pursue those responsible for these cowardly action”.
So far, that exactly is being done. America seems not to be sparing anything to hunt down the terrorists. All top U.S officials, including Collin Powell and the defence secretary have made statements indicating that the attack was an “act of war” against America and the country was going to go after those that attacked it and the nations that have assisted or are habouring them.
Already, Article – 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which says that an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all has been approved fitting and should America decide to go to war, you can be sure that the allies, like they did against Saddam during the Gulf war will put their military might at the disposal of America. The Congress has also empowered Bush to prosecute war against the terrorists and approved funds.
Osama bin Laden, if indeed he is responsible for the atrocious act, may not be so easily located in this American “war”.
Americans by now should realise that their so called security has been shattered and is now nothing but a myth. At least temporarily. Be that as it may, the event is indeed a sad one that evokes great emotions. It is indeed a time to say, God Bless America.
*This piece was first published in The Anchor Newspaper of Nigeria.