18 yrs of 9/11, worst terrorist attack in history
Published: 10:24 11 September 2019 Updated: 12:55 11 September 2019
The 18 years of 9/11 terror attacks in America is marking on Wednesday. The image of two passenger planes flying into the twin towers of the World Trade Center is permanently etched on public memory. This was, however, not the first time that the World Trade Center was under attack from terrorists.
In 1993, six people had died as a suicide bomber had driven a truck to the World Trade Center in New York but did not bring down the towers.
In 2001, the World Trade Center was also not the only target to have been hit by the terrorists - 19 of them belonging to Al Qaeda. Four passenger planes had taken off from different airports in the US with three pre-decided targets. Two planes hit the New York buildings.
The third one hit Pentagon — the headquarters of the US Department of Defence and caused little damage to the building. The fourth had a bigger target — the Capitol Hill, the seat of US government in Washington DC.
The passengers of the United Airlines flight showed a remarkable sense of courage and willingness to sacrifice their lives to protect the US. They challenged the terrorists and thwarted their attempt to take the flight to Washington DC. It crashed into an open field in neighboring Pennsylvania.
From that day (September 9, 2001), terror seemed to have become the master of the world. There was panic in every country. This was the first time that the US had been attacked by an outside force since 1941 when Japan targeted Pearl Harbour in the Hawaii Islands and the first-ever on the mainland America since the Revolutionary War of 18th century.
The terror attack taught several lessons not only to the US but the whole world. These lessons could be summarized as ahead.
No country invulnerable
The audacity and the meticulous planning by Al Qaeda exposed the vulnerability of the security establishment of all the countries of the world. No country could now be seen as invulnerable.
For long, terror attacks in India from Pakistan-based groups were treated by the international community as localized affair arising out of the long-held animosity between India and Pakistan and religious bigotry in the two countries.
The 9/11 attacks shattered that myth. For the first time, the world learned this lesson that terrorism is a policy of some state and groups aspiring to acquire political powers by stoking religious fundamentalism.
Later, it became a key policy to stop any crime including terrorism. Policing is, by the way, not only done by the police forces but all the vigilance agencies. A few days after the 9/11 attacks emerged videos showing hijackers of the plane that crashed on to the Pentagon were being screened at Washington’s Dulles airport.
The security person is seen in the video doing just a routine job of screening the hijackers, two of whom were on an anti-terrorism watch list and one person had no photo-ID. Still, they all were given clearance to board the plane. This happened in the US, which was known to frisk even high and mighty from the other countries.
Had the policing been done efficiently, the plot might have been exposed or at least one target could have been saved and terrorists caught alive. Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, now the UN-designated terrorist, had been arrested in Kashmir in 1994 due to simplest of policing.
Intelligence info should not be ignored
Most powerful countries or the ones aspiring to be powerful boast of their robust intelligence gathering. The Central Intelligence Agency of the US is the most powerful and resourceful of them all. The CIA had picked up definite intelligence about an “imminent” terrorist attack on the US soil.
Reports suggest that the CIA had sent its report to Condoleezza Rice, then national security advisor to US President George Bush, apparently several months before the 9/11 attacks happened. The CIA intelligence was specific that Al Qaeda was planning “multiple” and “spectacular” attacks in the US in the immediate future.
Similar warnings have reached the White House of George Bush but the state agencies largely ignored them, considering “usual reports” from the ground operative with no “actionable intelligence”.
This proved massively fatal. The lesson learned was that intelligence of terror plots cannot be taken lightly irrespective of the number of reports ground operatives send.
Money involved in terrorism
In every single case of a terror attack, money has been involved. In 9/11 attacks, money flowed through international agencies but the authorities ignored it.
Probe into the 9/11 attacks revealed that money was sent to terrorists who hijacked the planes from overseas. The hijackers, in turn, sent money to the United Arab Emirates in four batches only three days before they stunned the world.
All the four payments were made through Western Union but the company or the security agencies fail to notice the transactions, which were suspicious in nature in the backdrop of intelligence inputs.
The agencies have become more alert and money laundering laws in most countries have been tightened. Still, some safe havens for money laundering are in play and they can play the perfect foil to future terror plots. A country can forget this lesson from the 9/11 attacks only on its own peril.
Political instability turns to terror
Political instability or infighting could be a breeding ground for terrorism. This is a disguised yet very important lesson from the 9/11 terror attacks. It acts both ways - political instability in the source country (Pakistan, Afghanistan) and a target country (US, India).
The US witnessed an unusual political instability in the months and years before the 9/11 attacks. Then US President Bill Clinton survived impeachment after the House of Representative voted to commence the proceedings. The motion fell in the Senate.
This had followed a sexual harassment case against Bill Clinton by a former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones. This case brought to light another massive scandal involving Bill Clinton and a White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The political infighting at that time in the US was unseen for decades. When the presidential election happened in 2000, it remained unresolved for 41 days. The US was living a political mistrust. Ten months later, coordination among the government machinery failed and terrorists succeeded in killing 2,977 people in one swoop.
Clearly, the lesson from 9/11 attacks that the world cannot afford to forget is that the national and global security agencies cannot lower their guard at any point of time in their fight against terrorism. These agencies need to be foolproof every single time while terrorists need just one loophole to succeed and kill humanity.
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