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Day of Blood and Fire

(September 11, 2001) Editor's note: This is a Fact Sheet prepared by the U.S. Department of State.

The worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil was committed on September 11, 2001, when bands of four to five terrorists took control of four airliners, United Airlines Flights 93 and 175 and American Airlines Flights 11 and 77.

In describing the events of September 11, 2001, it is easy to fall back on familiar, journalistic terms and refer to attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as if the buildings were the chief victims. The reality, of course, is much different: Within the space of two hours, more than 5,000 men, women, and children were terrorized, tortured, slashed with knives, burned to death, and crushed under tons of rubble in a premeditated act of mass murder. In addition, 4,000 or more children lost a parent that day in the terrorist attacks, according to the Twin Towers Orphan Fund.

Pedestrians scramble for safety. Pedestrians scramble for saftey as the first World Trade Center collapses September 11. (AP/WWP)

The basic facts: On the morning of September 11, terrorists operating in bands of four to five hijacked four commercial jetliners departing from airports on the East Coast of the United States. Using knives and box cutters, the 19 hijackers transformed the planes into huge, fuel-laden missiles. The killers crashed two of them into New York's World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Passengers and crew heroically fought with the hijackers aboard the fourth plane, apparently headed toward another Washington target. The plane crashed in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard.

The attacks inside the planes were brutal and calculated. In the inhuman words found in luggage left behind by one of the killers: "Let each find his blade for the prey to be slaughtered." The hijackers either killed or wounded the pilots, and stabbed and killed passengers. Reports indicate that, in several instances, flight attendants had their throats slashed with their arms helplessly bound behind them.

But the horror was only beginning. Along with the hundreds of passengers who died aboard the planes, more than 4,800 human beings died in the fire and wreckage of the World Trade Center. Many were trapped and killed immediately following the impact of the planes into the towers; some, forced by intense flames, fell or jumped from windows on high floors. And tragically, the intense flames weakened structures that survived the actual impact of the planes; in less than two hours from the first impact, both towers imploded, killing thousands, including the citizens of 78 countries and people of virtually every religious faith and ethnic group in the world today.

In Washington, 189 people died at the Pentagon, including those aboard the plane; 45 died aboard the fourth plane, which crashed in rural Pennsylvania. The terrorists may have thought that, in attacking the World Trade Center, they were attacking a "symbol of America." They weren't. Instead, they attacked an institution of international trade, prosperity, and economic opportunity. Along with government offices of Thailand, Chile, and Côte d'Ivoire, for example, the World Trade Center held offices of 430 companies from 28 countries.

In short, the terrorists attacked not just the United States, they attacked the world.

U.S. Department of State

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