9/11 Attacks: Facts & Information for Kids

What were the Attacks of 9/11?

  • 9/11 attacks or September 11 attacks refer to the 4 airplane crashes planned and carried out by Al Qaeda against the United States. They took place on the morning of September 11, 2001 and are the single deadliest terrorist attacks in human history.
  • Osama Bin Laden was the leader of the Al Qaeda and the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks.
  • Four planes were hijacked by 19 Al Qaeda terrorists and they were targeted to crash land on 3 very important locations on the US soil.
  • The first two planes crashed into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center complex located in Lower Manhattan. The impact and the explosion resulted in the complete collapse of both 110 story tall buildings among other damages.
  • The third plane was targeted at the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense in Virginia. The Pentagon suffered partial destruction of the building as a result. 
  • The fourth plane was directed toward Washington, D.C. However, due to the struggle put up by the passengers it was diverted and crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township of Pennsylvania.
  • All the 19 terrorists and the 246 passengers aboard the flights died as a result. The total number of deaths in the 9/11 attacks is 2977 and the total number of injuries crossed 25,000. This event is the most deadly event in US history for firefighters and law enforcement officers.
  • The attack cost a total of at least $10 billion in damages to the United States. Several memorial sites were built to remember and honor the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks.

What was the Historical Background and Motive?

  • Al Qaeda, an Islamic Militant organization was led by Osama Bin Laden. He was a citizen of Saudi Arabia and belonged to the wealthy family of Bin Laden. He was one of the heirs to a construction company worth billions of dollars owned by his father Mohammed Bin Laden.
  • President George W. Bush led the United States of America and at the time there were several US military operations taking place in Saudi Arabia, India, Somalia, Iraq, etc. which Osama Bin Laden opposed.
  • Osama Bin Laden founded Al Qaeda in 1988 with Atiyah Abd al-Rahman and a Shura Council of 20 to 30 senior Al Qaeda members. It was a pan Islamic militant organization and its methods included suicide attacks and bombing.
  • In 1996, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani terrorist presented the idea of the 9/11 attacks to Osama Bin Laden. This changed the direction of Al Qaeda operations from Africa to America and Bin Laden soon moved to Afghanistan from Sudan to put the plan in motion.
  • In 1998, he declared that Americans are oppressing Muslims all over the world and a Holy War must be waged against them.
  • From 1998 through 2001 Bin Laden along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohammed Atef recruited 19 hijackers from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Egypt for the purpose of the attacks. 
  • Some of them were trained to be pilots and the rest were trained to be ‘muscle hijackers’. Their flight training was completed in the US in civil aviation universities and colleges and they were groomed to dress and speak like the Americans. 
  • Their passports and visas were arranged either by bribing officials or by creating fraudulent documents.
  • They were divided into 4 groups and each group was led by a pilot-trained hijacker. The others were told to prevent interference from the passengers and flight crew.
  •  In November 2002, Osama Bin Laden clearly outlined the motives for the attack in a document called ‘Letter to America’. He blamed the US for supporting Israel and for supporting the oppression of Muslims in Somalia, India, Philippines, Lebanon and Chechnya. 
  • He also stated that the presence of US Troops in Saudi Arabia and the sanctions on Iraq were among the reasons for Bin Laden to attack the United States. He defended the murder of civilians in the ‘Holy War’ by stating that America is a democracy and all actions by the state are ultimately the actions of the people.
  • The attacks were coordinated to harm the US economy and force the US military out of Muslim occupied regions. In a 2004 interview Osama Bin Laden explained the motive behind the attack as “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy”.

How were the 9/11 Attacks Executed?

  • On Tuesday morning of September 11, American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93 departed from northeastern United States. 
  • They were all headed to California and all were large Boeing planes. They were chosen because long haul flights and large planes carry a full tank of fuel. 
  • The target locations were the two World Trade Towers in Lower Manhattan, New York, the Pentagon building in Arlington County, Virginia and the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
  • The hijackers were instructed to reach the targets and crash the planes into the buildings but if for any reason they were not able to reach the target they were told to crash the plane anyway. 
  • At 8:46 am on September 11, 2001, 5 hijackers in American Airlines Flight 11 crashed the plane into the northern facade of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. 
  • The South Tower of the World Trade Center also met with the same fate at 9:03 am.The United Airlines Flight 175 hijacked by 5 terrorists crashed into the southern facade of the building. 
  • At 9:37 am 5 hijackers flew the American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon building, partially missing the target.
  • But the fourth flight failed to reach its target. The news of the first three crashes was received by the flight crew and it alerted them about a possible hijack. Recording from the cockpit revealed the struggle that took place between the passengers, crew and hijackers for the control of the aircraft. 
  • When the 4 hijackers realised that the passengers may overpower them, they decided to crash United Airlines Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 am.
  • The phone calls made from the air cabin service during the hijacks described the terrorists as possessing tear gas, mace, pepper spray and knives. Reports show that some pilots, flight attendants and passengers were stabbed and killed.

Damage and Loss due to the Attacks of 9/11

  • Apart from the loss to human life, the 9/11 attacks also significantly damaged the US economy, particularly of New York. On an average workday, about 50,000 people worked in Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and more than 40,000 more employees visited it.
  • The most damage was caused to the South Tower which burned for 56 minutes before its structure gave way to the impact caused by the Boeing 767 and the explosion caused by 20,000 gallons of fuel.
  • The North Tower of the World Trade Center also collapsed in the same way after burning for 102 minutes. The debris of the North Tower fell on the nearby 7 World Trade Center building causing hours of burning fires that consequently destroyed the 7 World Trade Center building also on the same day.
  • It took a total of 100 days to extinguish the fires caused by the attacks, the last ones were put off on December 20, 2001. Many other neighbouring buildings also suffered damages like the Bankers Trust Building and the Marriott Hotel. It took 9 months to clean out the 1.8 million tons of wreckage from this site.
  • Though the Pentagon suffered only some damage its west side was destroyed completely. This side of the building collapsed when the right engine of the plane hit and exploded the power generator in the building. Around 125 people died in this crash.
  • A total of 2996 people died in the 9/11 terror attacks including the 19 terrorists. 343 firefighters succumbed to the fires and 72 law enforcement officers were killed. Most people that died in the attacks were civilians. 
  • 200 people trapped in the towers of the World Trade Center tried to save their lives by jumping out of the buildings. Thousands died because of the fires, smoke inhalation or impact from the falling debris. Within weeks the death toll increased to 6000 deaths and over 10,000 unidentified human remains were found.
  • The attack also had a great impact on the US and world market. The stock exchange and the airlines did not open for several days. Billions of dollars were spent in reconstructing the city.

What happened in the Aftermath of the 9/11 Attacks?

  • The 9/11 attacks had a strong domestic as well as global reaction. It was the single most deadly terrorist attack to have ever occurred in the world and strict measures were quickly enforced to identify the culprits and bring them to justice. 
  • Germany, New Zealand, Canada and the UK passed anti terrorism laws in response to the attack while the US created the Department of Homeland Security. 
  • President George W. Bush declared a War on Terror and the Congress passed the USA Patriot Act. It gave great powers to the federal government of the United States including detention of foreign suspects without charge for weeks and also monitoring the communication of anyone under suspicion. 
  • Hate crimes against Muslims increased all over the United States. Threats, vandalism, arson, assault, harassment and shootings were targeted at Middle Eastern and South Asian Americans.
  • Many Muslim Organizations condemned the 9/11 attacks and donated monetary assistance to the affected families. They also formed blood drives and offered shelter and food to the victims. 
  • Several governments across the world condemned the 9/11 attacks and offered solidarity to the American people. With the exception of Iraq, all governments offered their support to the American government. 
  • Several countries blocked the bank accounts related to Al Qaeda while Pakistan handed over 600 Al Qaeda suspected members to the US.
  • A very large compensation program called the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was created by the Congress to atone for the deaths of the 9/11 victims. It was authorised to give $7.5 billion to the victims on the condition that they will not sue the airlines. 
  • Osama Bin Laden was living in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, an area controlled by the Taliban. President Bush had begun Operation Enduring Freedom and demanded the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar to hand over Bin Laden to the US, however, Omar asked for evidence before turning him in. 
  • This disagreement led to a war with Afghanistan in October 2001, which resulted in the Taliban losing power to a new government chosen by the people of Afghanistan. 
  • George Bush also convinced Americans and 4 other nations, namely, Australia, the UK, Poland and Germany to invade Iraq because he suspected that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction. In March 2003, the US began its invasion in Iraq and Iraq’s government too got ousted and a new government took its place. However, the weapons of destruction were not found in Iraq.
  • United States Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011. On 28th December, 2014, President Barack Obama announced that Operation Enduring Freedom has officially ended after 13 years of its commencement.

Other Key Facts about 9/11 Tragedy

  • Though the 9/11 Terror attacks came as a complete surprise to most Americans, the FBI, NSA and CIA had received warnings about the threat. A senior counter terrorism official Richard Clarke and CIA director George Tenet were aware of a ‘major series of attack’ in June 2001.
  • The Justice Department policies of 1995 prevented intelligence sharing among the criminal investigators and intelligence agents. The failure to get information at the right place and the right time was blamed for the 9/11 attacks. 
  • Artwork amounting to $110 million was destroyed, this included works by Picasso and Hockney. The total cost of removing the debris from the World Trade Center site was $750 million.
  • About 18 people were found alive under the debris of the World Trade Center. The youngest victim of the tragedy was Richard Pearlman, an 18 year old medical technician.
  • The name for the event comes from the headline ‘America’s Emergency Line: 9/11’ published by New York Times. Ground Zero is a term now used to refer to the World Trade Center site.
  • The Pentagon Memorial, the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York are among the 700 recorded memorials in the United States built to honor the victims of the 9/11 Terrorist Attack. 
  • September 11 is now known as the Patriot day when people remember and mourn the loss of the victims of the 9/11 Terror Attacks.
Cite this article as: "9/11 Attacks: Facts & Information for Kids," in History for Kids, November 25, 2020, https://historyforkids.org/9-11-attacks-facts-information-for-kids/.