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United States Rocked by Terrorist Attacks

Hijacked Airliners Crash into Pentagon, World Trade Center

By Michael Grunwald


Terrorists unleashed an astonishing air assault on America’s military and financial power centers Tuesday morning, hijacking four commercial jets and then crashing them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania countryside.

It was by far the most devastating terrorist operation in American history, killing at least hundreds and possibly thousands of people. It was also the most dramatic attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. The attacks created indelible scenes of carnage and chaos, obliterating the World Trade Center’s twin 110-story towers from their familiar perch above Manhattan’s skyline, grounding the domestic air traffic system for the first time, and plunging the entire nation into an unparalleled state of anxiety.

U.S. military forces at home and around the world were put on a “go to war” footing, the highest state of alert next to actual military action. The Pentagon deployed a loose air defense network of warships along the west and east coasts, as well as an unspecified number of interceptor and reconnaissance aircraft to hunt for unauthorized planes and missiles.

Flights from Logan used in attack

The terrorists hijacked four California-bound flights from three airports on the Eastern Seaboard, suggesting a well-financed, well-coordinated plot.

First, two jets slammed into the World Trade Center. Then an American Airlines flight out of Dulles International Airport ripped through the newly renovated walls of the Pentagon, probably the world’s most secure office building. A fourth plane crashed 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh shortly after it was commandeered and turned in the direction of Washington.

None of the 266 people aboard the four planes survived. There were even more horrific but still uncounted casualties in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which together provided office space for more than 60,000 people. The spectacular collapse of the Trade Center’s twin towers, as well as a third skyscraper while the rescue operations were going on, caused even more bloodshed; about 200 New York firefighters and at least 78 police officers are presumed dead.

Terrorists remain unidentified

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, but federal officials said they suspect the involvement of Islamic extremists with links to fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden, who was implicated in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and several other attacks. Law enforcement sources said there is already evidence implicating Bin Laden’s militant network in the attack, and politicians from both parties predicted a major and immediate escalation in America’s worldwide war against terrorism.

In a grim address to the nation Tuesday night, President Bush said “thousands” had died in the attacks, and promised to hunt down those responsible. “We will make no distinction,” he said, “between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

The president said the attacks were intended “to frighten our nation” but had failed. He vowed that the government would continue to function uninterrupted and that both federal offices and financial institutions will be open today.

Bush started the day in Florida, but after the attacks flew to military bases in Louisiana and then Nebraska for security reasons before returning to Washington Tuesday evening. Vice President Dick Cheney and first lady Laura Bush were whisked away to undisclosed locations in the morning, and congressional leaders were temporarily moved to a secure facility 75 miles west of Washington.

Federal Washington was virtually paralyzed throughout much of the day, and the rest of the nation came to a near standstill as well. The White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the State Department and the Treasury Department were evacuated, along with federal buildings across the country.

Bush calls for national unity

In his speech Tuesday night, Bush emphasized the nation’s harmony. “A great people have been moved to defend a great nation,” Bush said. He warned that “our military is powerful, and it’s prepared.” In closing, he proclaimed that even amid suffering and death, Americans will remain committed to their freedom-loving way of life.

“This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace,” he said. “America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time.”