Thousands feared dead in US terror strikes11/09/2001 - 16:11:15
Thousands were feared dead today after terrorists launched an astonishing and brutal attack on the American nation, demolishing the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Centre and striking at the heart of the US military machine.
Suicide bombers seized three airliners and crashed them into the WTC and the Pentagon in Washington, a car bomb blew up outside the State Department in the US capital.
There were reports that a fourth plane had also been hijacked.
The first strike was against the WTC. A jet smashed high up into one of 110 storey towers where tens of thousands of people work every day.
As horrified witnesses described the terrifying scenes, a second jet was filmed by CNN slamming into the second tower lower down, bursting into flames and leaving another gash in the landmark building.
Smoked poured from the two towers. Eye-witnesses reported seeing bodies plunging from the buildings as the flames spread out of control.
Within hours, both towers had collapsed, sending clouds of dust billowing down the streets of Manhattan and across the harbour, altering the most famous skyline in the world forever.
A stunned US president George Bush promised a ‘‘full-scale investigation to hunt down and find those folks who committed this act.
‘‘Terrorism against our nation will not stand,’’ he said.
The scenes of unbelievable destruction, beamed live around the world on TV, were thought to have been caused by Middle Eastern terrorists.
Abu Dhabi television reported it had received a call from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine claiming responsibility for crashing two planes into the twin WTC towers, which were the target of Islamic extremist bombers in February 1993. The claim was later denied.
The West Wing of White House was evacuated after the attack on the Pentagon in Washington.
President Bush was in Sarasota, Florida, reading to a classroom full of children when his chief-of-staff Andrew Card whispered into his ear.
The president briefly turned sombre before he resumed reading.
He then flew back to Washington for an emergency meeting of the National Security Council
CNN reported that one of the planes was an American Airlines Boeing 767 that took off from Boston. The plane can carry up to 300 passengers.
Joe Trachtenberg told CNN that he was watching the scene from a high point on his building when the second crash took place about 18 minutes later.
‘‘The first tower was smoking hard. Then there was another plane, and before we knew, it just kamikaze went straight into the other tower. There was a mass explosion and windows flying. It was horrible.’’
A senior government official said the FBI is pursuing reports that all of the planes were hijacked and that the crashes were the result of suicide missions.
An eyewitness said the first plane appeared to hit one of the skyscraper’s twin towers about 20 floors from the top.
Another he said it appeared that the first plane lined up on the tower before crashing.
Jeanne Yurman, told CNN she was watching TV when she heard what she thought was a sonic boom. ‘‘I thought it was Concorde,’’ she said.
James Winter, 30, a British worker living in an apartment close to the centre, said he had been woken by a huge bang at around 8.50am local time.
‘‘I was in bed and there was a huge explosion. The whole building rattled and shook.
‘‘I ran to the window and there was smoke billowing from the south side of one of the towers. Everyone in my building was panicking and running around.’’
Mr Winter, from Darlington, Co Durham, who works in one of the towers, added that shortly afterwards there was a second explosion which also shook his building.
‘‘Everybody is saying that this a terrorist attack and everyone around here is panicking.
‘‘It will have been really busy with people arriving for work in the financial district. It is just unbelievable that this is happening. Both towers have been taken out. I just can’t believe this is happening.’’
British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the attacks as ‘‘the most terrible shocking event’’.
Mr Blair offered his ‘‘deepest condolences’’ to President Bush and the American people and said the attacks were acts of ‘‘fanatics who are utterly indifferent to the sanctity of life’’.
World travel was thrown into chaos. Many US-bound flights had already left the UK when American officials decided to close all US airports.
Officials at other America-serving UK airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick, were trying to cope with the travel backlog.
These airports, too, would have had passengers already in the air and heading for America, with hundreds of others due to travel later today.
The US has been the target of several terrorist attacks in recent years.
In August 1998, two of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed, killing 224 people.
The US blamed the attack on Osama Bin Laden, the son of a Saudi oil baron who has a £3 million price on his head.
As a teenager, he fought in Afghanistan’s ‘‘holy war’’ against the Soviet army.
Ironically, it was America’s CIA who provided him with missiles and arms.
But he then turned his anger on America, and in recent years he has been linked to the 1993 bomb attack on the World Trade Centre.
In desperation at the embassy attacks, America fired missiles into suspected Bin Laden camps in Afghanistan. But Osama still appeared at the wedding of his son Mohamed, one of his 13 children.
Middle East extremists were also blamed for a suicide attack in October 2000 on a US warship in the Yemen port of Aden, which killed 17 US servicemen.
In 1996, at a US barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 19 Americans were left dead and 500 people were injured in another bombing.
Some of Bin Laden’s cohorts were jailed for the 1993 WTC attack.
General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that prior to the crash into the Pentagon, military officials had been notified that another hijacked plane had been heading from the New York area to Washington.
He said he assumed that hijacked plane was the one that hit the Pentagon, though he could not be sure.
A woman eyewitness told CNN of the plane crashing into the Pentagon: ‘‘A commercial plane came in. It was coming too fast, too low and then I saw the fire that came up after that.’’
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