Photographer behind iconic 9/11 New York image recalls the date that lives in infamy 

Photographer behind iconic 9/11 New York image recalls the date that lives in infamy 
In one of Suzanne Plunkett’s iconic photos depicting the events of 9/11, a man wearing a shirt and tie runs into the frame, his face a picture of terror. (AP)
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Updated 11 September 2021

Photographer behind iconic 9/11 New York image recalls the date that lives in infamy 

Photographer behind iconic 9/11 New York image recalls the date that lives in infamy 
  • Twenty years on, 9/11 photographer Suzanne Plunkett remembers a day that changed her life and her city forever
  • Photojournalist captured the scene of New Yorkers running for cover as the World Trade Center South Tower fell

NEW YORK CITY: Suzanne Plunkett, a New York-based photojournalist, had set an early alarm to cover a Fashion Week shoot in Lower Manhattan, a highlight in the city’s social and commercial calendar, for the Associated Press.

A few hours earlier, Mohammed Atta and 18 other men had boarded four commercial flights bound for California, none of which would reach their destinations.

Before heading out, Plunkett turned on the television for the latest weather report. Although it was a clear autumn morning on Tuesday, Sept. 11, the weather on the East Coast can be temperamental and liable to change abruptly.




In this file photo a tower of the World Trade Center collapses in lower Manhattan, New York on September 11, 2001. (File/AFP)

What she saw were rolling images of a great smoldering gash in the side of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, where American Airlines Flight 11 had struck the steel and glass giant just minutes earlier.

Watching as burning jet fuel engulfed everything between the 93rd and 99th floors, Plunkett wondered how the fire department would respond to what many then believed was nothing more than a tragic accident.

Then her pager buzzed. Grabbing her camera bag, Plunkett dashed out of her East Village apartment and hopped on the subway. Minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 smashed into the South Tower. This was no freak accident.




 In this file photo smoke continues to rise from the destroyed World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, New York on September 15, 2001. (File/AFP)

Plunkett emerged from the subway at the intersection of Fulton Street and Broadway to find scenes of utter chaos, as emergency vehicles and frightened commuters tore past, all eyes turned upward.

Meanwhile, inside the burning towers, workers were scrambling for the stairwell exits. More than 50,000 people worked in the 25-year-old complex, at one time the world’s tallest.

Those trapped above the burning floors were left with little choice but to wait and pray for rescue. In the end, however, more than 200 jumped to their deaths rather than succumb to the heat and smoke.




 In this file photo smoke continues to rise from the destroyed World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, New York on September 15, 2001. (File/AFP)

On the ground below, first responders worked frantically to evacuate the complex. As the panicked crowd rushed toward her, Plunkett pressed her face to the viewfinder and snapped away. Everywhere she looked were ghostly faces contorted with terror.

“Then someone yelled: ‘The tower is coming down,’” she told Arab News, recalling the day’s events 20 years later.

Just an hour after the second plane hit, the 110-story South Tower came crashing down, killing 614 workers still trapped inside.

As an immense cloud of dust and debris swept through the surrounding streets, people ran for cover. In one of Plunkett’s photos, a man wearing a shirt and tie runs into the frame, his face a picture of terror.

“When the gentleman with a tie went by, I remember thinking, ‘that’s enough,’” Plunkett said. “I turned and started running.”

Taking cover inside a tiny beeper store with 15 other people, she sat down at the cash register, hooked up her laptop and clunky old Nokia and began transmitting her images to the AP bureau.

Minutes later, her now-iconic photograph of petrified pedestrians, among them the man in the shirt and tie, was circulating around the globe.

An hour and 40 minutes after the first plane hit, the North Tower fell, killing 1,402 workers trapped inside.

Twenty years on, Plunkett admits it is still hard to talk about the day’s traumatic events. “It hasn’t gone away. Residuals are here. I have done therapy, but I still feel shaky when I talk about it,” she said.




A hijacked commercial plane crashes into the World Trade Center 11 September 2001 in New York. (FIle/AFP)

From her apartment in London, where she now lives, Plunkett unearths the old images and clicks her way through, allowing the visuals to guide her story — pictures of the numbed and dazed wandering aimlessly, covered in dirt, some weeping, others strangely calm and confused.

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had by then ordered the evacuation of Lower Manhattan. Wrapping her cardigan around her head to keep choking yellow dust from her eyes and lungs, Plunkett joined the exodus heading north towards City Hall. Later she headed to Chelsea Piers where a triage center had been established.

“It was a huge place, completely empty,” Plunkett recalled. “There were a lot of doctors but there was nobody there for treatment. There were ambulances but they had nobody to help. Everyone had died.”




Airline Pilots stand in prayer during a wreath laying ceremony for the 9/11 Pentagon victims on Patriot's Day. (File/AFP)

At 3 o’clock in the morning, she walked back to her East Village apartment. That morning’s preparations for the Fashion Week photoshoot no doubt felt like a lifetime ago.

“After taking a shower and getting into bed, I remember feeling my skin prickling as if there was glass under it. It was all the dust, the pain and the exhaustion.”

Despite Guiliani’s appeals to New Yorkers to stay and help get their city moving again, Plunkett knew right then and there that nothing about the life she had built for herself in the East Village would ever be the same again.




Al Kim visits the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum on July 12, 2021 in New York City, honoring those who were killed in the 2001 and 1993 attacks. (File/AFP)

“I was perfectly happy being in New York, not knowing much about the world and international politics. My dream in life was to work in the city and for a wire service. I had achieved my dream. I was in my early 30s and that was it: I thought New York was the pinnacle of everything,” she said.

“Suddenly, 9/11 woke me up. It made me question where I was from, and why the world didn’t like Americans.” The attacks also shattered every notion Americans had about war. It was no longer “over there.” It was happening on their soil.

“There was this American sentiment of ‘let’s get them, we were wronged and we’re gonna get them.’ And I’ve never been gung-ho about the retribution thing. My overriding feeling was that I had to get out of New York.”

Early reports of 10,000 casualties in New York, in Virginia where American Airlines Flight 77 had struck the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania where United Airlines Flight 93 had crashed into a field, were later revised down to 2,996, including the 19 hijackers.




An aerial view shows the ground zero and 9/11 memorial pools amid the city skyline of lower Manhattan and New York city. (File/AFP)

As recovery crews descended on “ground zero,” news channels carried live coverage of the search for survivors among the roughly 1.8 million tons of debris. 

“I remember just being tired of having to cover anything that had to do with 9/11,” Plunkett said. “With every assignment I had, I was like ‘no, we’re just rubbing our noses in it.’

“In a lot of war situations, you’ve got your family to look after you. And I remember in the days following 9/11, everybody in New York was messed up. People were just openly crying while walking down the street and there was no relief.”




Kristina Hollywood and her daughter Allyson attend a candlelight vigil for 9/11 victims at a memorial site following the death of Osama bin Laden May 2, 2011. (File/AFP)

Leaving New York behind, Plunkett joined legions of journalists heading to the new front in the “war on terror” — Afghanistan. It was here that Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11, was thought to be hiding out. It would be another 10 years before the US caught up with him in neighboring Pakistan.

“It feels cracked to talk about 9/11 and not to talk about Afghanistan,” Plunkett said. “It was such a hopeful time (in Kabul). It felt like things couldn’t go back. We felt like the Taliban were done. Women could go out. Women were learning to drive.

“I did all kinds of the visual tropes that all photographers went and did. We went into a beauty salon and suddenly the women were grabbing me, doing my make-up, hair, and we had this connection, this lovely feeling that it’s over. There was a kind of relief.”

Now Plunkett describes her heartbreak at seeing the gains of the last 20 years come undone with the return of the Taliban. “I am really upset now about what’s happening in Afghanistan. I am not the one to ask about the politics of it, but I do feel that Afghanistan has been abandoned.”




Patrick Delaney holds a picture of his former friend, firefighter Robert Wallace, outside of Ground Zero on the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 extremist attacks. (File/AFP)

Plunkett has returned to New York only once since the events of 9/11. In 2018 she went back to her grungy East Village apartment block to find it had been gentrified, the authentic grittiness she fondly recalled since heavily diluted.

Like her old neighborhood, she too had changed. Witnessing and capturing the events of 9/11, covering America’s long Afghan mission, and meeting the Afghan people had challenged her preconceptions about humanity and the world beyond her sheltered Midwest upbringing.

“The whole experience made me more accepting. I didn’t have a lot of tolerance for anybody different. I grew up in a tiny suburb in Minneapolis. That was all I knew,” she said.

“The world is a complicated place. It is so important to be informed and not be in a bubble. There is so much going on that we don’t see. On Sept. 10, I wish I’d known. It’s important not to have blinkers on.

“9/11 catapulted me into that, and it shouldn’t have to take an event of such magnitude for us to seek out people who are not like us, and learn about what makes them tick. Essentially, they’re just like us.”

Twitter: @EphremKossaify


Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns

Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns
Updated 06 December 2021

Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns

Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns
  • David Davis: ‘At worst, we could inadvertently create a British Guantanamo Bay’
  • Britain is grappling with an influx of asylum seekers and migrants via the English Channel

LONDON: Government plans to process migrants and asylum seekers in offshore facilities risk creating a “British Guantanamo Bay,” a former cabinet member has warned.

Conservative MP David Davis, who served as Brexit secretary from 2016 to 2018, said the Home Office’s plan to send people offshore for processing would create a British facility that could rival Guantanamo Bay in notoriety.

The plans, introduced as part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, would see asylum claims processed from overseas facilities and would also introduce a host of other new restrictions on who can claim asylum.

Davis described UK Home Secretary Priti Patel’s plans as deeply flawed, noting that the Home Office is unable to explain where its widely criticized offshore asylum processing facilities would even be located.

The issue has proved controversial in recent weeks. When reports emerged that Britain was in talks with Albania to establish a facility there, various Albanian politicians and diplomats angrily and publicly rebuked the idea.

Davis, who is no longer serving in the Cabinet, said that the proposed changes ignore the fact that most asylum seekers were eventually granted refugee status.

“Pushing the problem to another part of the world is just a costly way of delaying the inevitable,” he wrote in The Observer newspaper.

Davis continued: “From mountains of paperwork and chartering RAF flights, to building the required infrastructure and dealing with foreign bureaucracies, the labyrinthine logistics would involve colossal costs the British taxpayer could well do without. At worst, we could inadvertently create a British Guantanamo Bay.”

Over the course of 2021, tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in Britain via the English Channel, and the controversial issue has put pressure on the Conservative government to do something to slow the arrivals.

Some 37,562 asylum applications were made in the year to September — more than double the entire amount for 2020 — with a significant proportion of claimants arriving from Iran, Iraq, and Syria. 

MPs will debate the Nationality and Borders Bill in parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.


Lebanese scientist honored by Italy for environmental work

Lebanese scientist honored by Italy for environmental work
Updated 06 December 2021

Lebanese scientist honored by Italy for environmental work

Lebanese scientist honored by Italy for environmental work
  • Nizar Hani knighted in recognition of his conservation efforts at Shouf Biosphere Reserve

ROME: A Lebanese scientist who specializes in the preservation of his country’s environment has been honored with a knighthood by the Italian Republic.

Nizar Hani, the general manager of the Shouf Biosphere Reserve, the largest of Lebanon’s nature reserves, was awarded the Order of the Star of Italy by Italian Ambassador to Beirut Nicoletta Bombardiere during a ceremony at the ambassador’s residence in Naccache on Friday.

This distinction, Italy’s second-highest civilian honor, is given by order of the Italian president to Italians or foreigners who have acquired special merit in the promotion of friendly relations and cooperation between the republic and other countries.

The Shouf Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO-recognized site that is blanketed with oak and juniper forests, stretches from Dahr Al-Baidar in the north to the mountains of Niha in the south. The reserve’s most famous attractions are its three magnificent cedar forests of Maasser Al-Shouf, Barouk and Ain Zhalta-Bmohary, which account for a quarter of the remaining cedar forests in Lebanon. Some of its trees are estimated to be 2,000 years old.

A popular destination for hiking and trekking, as well as bird-watching, mountain biking and snowshoeing, the reserve’s large size makes it a good location for the conservation of medium-sized mammals, such as the wolf and Lebanese jungle cat, as well as various species of plant.

“By decorating Nizar Hany, we decorate the Shouf Biosphere Reserve and all those who have contributed to this success story,” said Bombardiere. 

“Today, the Shouf reserve is a living laboratory of integrated strategies that respond to the ultimate goal of protecting and promoting the territory, taking care of its fragility and exploiting at the same time its natural strengths and resilience, and engaging the local communities, whose involvement is critical for any lasting achievement.

“With this decoration, Italy intends to encourage political leaders and civil society in Lebanon to raise their engagement in the environmental issues in the country as a matter of priority and to increase their joint efforts to reduce the environmental impact, in fields like solid waste, water treatment, air quality and energy production,” she added.

The Italian envoy encouraged “everyone to bear in mind that, if the environment in Lebanon is doomed, there is not a spare Lebanon. There is just one Lebanon and it must be saved. As well as there is only one Mediterranean, to which Italy and Lebanon belong, that must be preserved.”

Hani thanked Italy and all those who have supported the reserve, including the Italian government’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. In addition, he expressed gratitude to UN institutions and other donors, as well as the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, which runs all the country’s nature reserves.

“All these efforts made the Shouf Biosphere Reserve a Mediterranean success story for nature protection, conservation and mitigation of climate change,” he said, while stressing the importance of the support Italy has provided to the reserve and to many other environmental protection activities, “especially those that support the local communities.”


Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed
Updated 06 December 2021

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed
  • Rescue helicopters and troops have been dispatched to Siachen

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani army helicopter crashed on Monday in bad weather in the Pakistan-administered section of disputed Kashmir, killing the two pilots on board, the military said.
A statement from the military said the helicopter went down on the Siachen glacier, one of the world’s longest mountain glaciers, located in the Karakoram Range, and often referred to as the “highest battleground on earth” because of the wars that Pakistan and India have fought over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Rescue helicopters and troops have been dispatched to Siachen, the military said. No further details on the crash were immediately available. The two pilots were identified as Maj. Irfan Bercha and Maj. Raja Zeeshan Jahanzeb.
Siachen is known for tragedies, a desolate place where more troops have died from avalanches or bitter cold than in combat. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.

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Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines
Updated 06 December 2021

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines
  • Investigators were trying to identify the two gunmen and two companions who escaped on motorcycles and determine their motive
  • The two mayors were reportedly running in May 9 elections

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines: Motorcycle-riding gunmen killed a town mayor and wounded another in a brazen attack Monday that also killed their driver and caused villagers to flee to safety in a coastal village in the southern Philippines, police said.
Mayor Darussalam Lajid of Al-Barka town was killed and Mayor Alih Sali of Akbar town was wounded by at least two men armed with pistols while walking in Zamboanga city shortly after arriving on a speedboat from their island province of Basilan, police said.
A bodyguard of the two mayors was wounded and a driver who came to pick them up was killed, police said.
Investigators were trying to identify the two gunmen and two companions who escaped on motorcycles and determine their motive, including the possibility that it involved a political rivalry.
The two mayors were reportedly running in May 9 elections. Philippine elections have been marred in the past by bloody feuds and accusations of cheating, especially in rural regions with weak law enforcement and a proliferation of unlicensed firearms and private armies.


Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated
Updated 06 December 2021

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated
  • Only those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from the rules

ROME: People in Italy unvaccinated against COVID-19 can no longer go to the theater, cinemas, live music venues or major sporting events under new rules that came into force Monday.
Only those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from the rules, which represent a significant tightening of restrictions in the face of rising infections.
New measures are also being enforced on public transport, with a so-called Green Pass showing proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative COVID-19 test now required even on local services.
A man in his 50s was fined $452 (€400) for not having his pass on Monday morning as he got off a bus near Piazza del Popolo in Rome, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“I don’t have it because I wanted to get vaccinated in the next few days,” he was reported as saying.
A record 1.3 million Green Passes were downloaded on Sunday ahead of the change.
Meanwhile in Rome at the weekend, new rules requiring face masks to be worn outdoors in the busiest shopping streets came into effect.
Italy was the first European country to be hit by coronavirus in early 2020 and has one of the highest death tolls, at more than 134,000.
However, it is currently faring better than many of its neighbors, with 15,000 cases out of a population of 60 million reported on Sunday.
Almost 85 percent of over 12s have been vaccinated, a booster campaign is in full swing and jabs will soon be available for younger children.
The Green Pass was introduced in August for access to theaters and cinemas, museums and indoor dining, and extended to workplaces in October — a move that sparked widespread protests.
From now until January 15, a new “Super Green Pass,” which can only be obtained through vaccination or recent recovery, will be required for cultural activities — although not museums — and inside restaurants.
However, having a coffee at the bar of a cafe and eating outside is allowed without a Green Pass.
The restrictions will be further tightened in regions at higher risk of coronavirus.
Currently most of Italy is classed as the lowest of four levels, which range from white to yellow, orange and red.
Two regions are yellow — Friuli Venezia Giulia and Bolzano, which both border Austria, a country in partial lockdown over the number of cases there.