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Who carried out the 9/11 attacks? Who were the attackers? How many planes were hijacked?

21 years ago, a coordinated terrorist attack involving four hijacked planes left catastrophic images of dust and horror in the US.

New York police stand near a wanted poster printed on a full page of a New York newspaper for Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden, in the financial district of New York.
Russel BoyceReuters

2,750 people killed in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 44 in Pennsylvania. 21 years after the 9/11 attacks, the unanswered questions, rage and anger still remain for many Americans.

All 19 suicidal terrorists died in the plane crashes, as well as citizens from 78 different nations, leaving a death toll of over 3,000.

The group which claimed responsibility was al Qaeda, an international terrorist organisation.

The militants behind the attack

The terrorist hijackers, who were originally from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, had been in the US long before the events of September 11 took place. Those who are known to have lived in the states for more than a year took flying lessons at American commercial flight schools, while several others, who managed to get into the country a couple of months before the set date, served as the muscle for the deadly operation.

A total of 19 terrorists managed to hijack four planes without raising suspicions. They carefully chose the flights which were loaded with jet fuel and used the knives and box-cutters, which they easily smuggled on board to take control of the four planes once in the air. Back then, protections in airports were much more akin to a bus stop than regular airports, making it easy to smuggle weapons onboard.

Osama bin Laden’s role in 9/11

Most-wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was the leader of the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda. He claimed responsibility for the attacks, alleging his group was acting in retaliation after the US supported Israel, as well as the global power being an ever-present in the Middle East.

9/11 wasn’t the first of the groups attacks on American targets. Bin Laden took credit for the USS Cole attack in 2000, killing 17, as well as the American embassy bombings in Kenya in 1998. A federal grand jury in the US accused bin Laden on charges related to the East Africa embassy bombings, but as there was no defendant, there could be no trial.

In the meantime, al Qaeda operatives were busy working on what was about to be the greatest attack of all: the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers and the Pentagon, the US military symbol.

The 9/11 Commission, in charge of investigating the events, released a report in 2004 naming Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind behind the September 11 tragedy.

Mohammed led propaganda operations for al Qaeda from 1999-2001. He was captured on March 1, 2003 by the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence to be later incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, charged with 9/11-related war crimes.


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