September 11, 2001: The terrorist attack that changed America

September 11, 2001: The terrorist attack that changed America
US President George W. Bush stands behind his desk inside the Oval Office of the White House surrounded by the media. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2021

September 11, 2001: The terrorist attack that changed America

September 11, 2001: The terrorist attack that changed America
  • From the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq to new surveillance powers and Guantanamo, 9/11 changed America
  • American Muslims and those of Arab or South Asian origin became targets of harassment and racial profiling

NEW YORK CITY: On Sept.11, 2001, the recently inaugurated President George W. Bush suddenly found himself a wartime president.

“Today, our nation saw evil,” he declared in a calm, composed speech from the White House. Thanking the world for its outpouring support, Bush said “America and its allies stand together to win the war against terrorism.”

Any nation that harbors terrorist groups was now considered a hostile regime, Bush declared. Before a joint session of Congress, he announced a new approach to foreign policy: “Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”




In this photo released by The White House 16 September, 2001, US President George W. Bush (R) speaks to his staff 11 September, 2001. (File/AFP)

The post 9/11 era of American history had thus begun, and for the next two decades achieving victory in the “war on terror” took center stage. In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans feared that the enemy who had perpetrated the carnage would escape punishment.

A bullseye was thus drawn on Al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden was identified by federal authorities as a prime suspect, believed to be under the protection of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Bush demanded the Taliban hand over Bin Laden and all other leaders of Al-Qaeda or share in their fate. The Taliban refused.




A frame grab (L) taken 29 October 2004 from a videotape aired by Al-Jazeera news channel shows Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. (File/AFP)

Bush then signed into law a joint resolution by Congress authorizing the use of force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

The resolution would later be cited at various occasions by the Bush administration as a legal basis for measures to combat terrorism: From invading Afghanistan and Iraq, to expanding government surveillance power, to building the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.




Marines from Gun Team Two of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit prepare to fire at targets down range during artillery direct fire training in late August 2002. (File/AFP)

On Oct. 7, 2001, the Afghan war, branded “Operation Enduring Freedom,” began. US and British airstrikes targeted Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, while most of the ground combat was later conducted between the Taliban and their Afghan opponents, the Northern Alliance and ethnic Pashtun forces.

Two years later, in 2003, while approximately 8,000 American troops remained as part of the International Security Assistance Force overseen by NATO, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared major combat operations had come to an end in Afghanistan.




A US Air Force Chaplain identified only as "Fred" leads US Air Force crew members from Charleston, South Carolina, in prayer prior to takeoff 18 October, 2001. (File/AFP)

Almost simultaneously, America was getting ready for another war.

In a State of the Union address, Bush had called out an “Axis of Evil” consisting of North Korea, Iran and Iraq. He declared them all a threat to American security. And on March 20, 2003, he announced that US forces had begun military operations in Iraq, vowing to destroy Saddam Hussain’s weapons of mass destruction along with his dictatorial rule.

The initial effort to decapitate Iraq’s leadership with air strikes failed, clearing the way for a ground invasion.

Less than two months later, on May 1, 2003, Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, emblazoned with a giant sign that read: Mission Accomplished.

Rumsfeld dismissed lawlessness and skirmishes in the country as the desperate acts of “dead-enders.”

Saddam Hussain’s army was disbanded. He was captured, tried and hanged. Democratic elections were held.




Photo dated 11 September 2001 shows US President George W. Bush (R) being informed by his chief of staff Andrew Card of the attacks in New York. (File/AFP)

Meanwhile, 100,000 Iraqi civilians were killed along with over 5,000 US and allied troops. With the US fighting a war in Iraq, the Taliban, who were initially defeated in Afghanistan, regrouped, and their attacks escalated, keeping the war raging for 20 years, killing tens of thousands and displacing millions.

As for the elusive Bin Laden, he evaded capture until May 2, 2011, during the Obama presidency. His demise came during a raid by a US Navy SEAL team in his hideout in Pakistan. 

This summer, when foreign forces announced their withdrawal following a deal between the US and the Taliban, the latter launched offensives and began a rapid advance across the country, capturing the capital Kabul on Aug. 15.

Harvard Kennedy School estimated that the total cost of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq was up to $6 trillion, making them the most expensive wars in US history.

The estimated average cost of deploying just one US soldier in Afghanistan was over $1 million a year, at a cost of approximately $4,000 per taxpayer.

In parallel with two wars overseas, the war on terror was also being waged on American soil where a reorganizing of the security state was launched.

On Nov. 13, 2001, Bush signed an order that established military tribunals to try non-US citizens affiliated with Al-Qaeda or involved in any terrorist activity. His administration held the accused terrorists at Guantanamo, where the legality of the detentions could not be challenged.




US President George W. Bush addresses the nation from the Oval Office 11 September, 2001 at the White House in Washington, DC. (File/AFP)

The initial 158 detainees were designated as enemy combatants which placed them outside the protections of the Geneva Convention.

“Enhanced interrogation methods” at Guantanamo included sleep deprivation and waterboarding. There was much debate in the US about the legality, the quality of information that prisoners might surrender under duress, and the ethics of such methods, which critics said amounted to torture.

Later in 2004, when photographs emerged of prisoners being abused in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, it led to intense worldwide scrutiny of US policies.




Family members and friends of the victims of the 11 September 2001 attacks gather around a memorial circle at the "Ground Zero" site on 11 September 2002 in New York. (File/AFP)

Meanwhile, Arab Americans, South Asians and Muslims in general became an instant target for attacks, threats, verbal abuse and harassment across the country.

Molotov cocktails were thrown into Pakistani mosques, assault rifles were fired at businesses belonging to Yemenis, and traumatized Kuwaiti students sought mental counseling at their embassy in Washington.

The politically charged term “Islamophobia” entered the American lexicon.

Bush urged people not to take vengeance. “Our nation must be mindful that there are thousands of Arab Americans that live in New York City who love the flag just as much,” he said.




US President George W. Bush (R), his wife Laura (C), National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (L) observe a moment of silence 11 September, 2002 at the White House in Washington, DC. (File/AFP)

Two controversial government actions were blamed for years of harassment of the vulnerable communities while also sparking outrage from average Americans who feared the loss of basic civil liberties and ideals upon which their country was built.

A mere 10 days after 9/11, as his administration faced tough questions over what clues various agencies had missed about the imminent attacks, Bush announced the creation of a new umbrella office to oversee domestic security.

No fewer than 22 agencies were then absorbed into the new Department of Homeland Security. DHS’s missions included counterterrorism programs, recovery from natural disasters, protecting and regulating the US border, and defending the nation from cyberattack.




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The name “homeland” alone was a problem for many. Rumsfeld himself once said “homeland defense” sounded more German than American. “It smacks of isolationism, which I am uncomfortable with.”

DHS also absorbed the entire Immigration and Naturalization Service, moving its functions into the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of all the agencies within DHS, perhaps none has attracted so much contempt as ICE.

Every year since 2001, ICE has detained hundreds of thousands of people without criminal records. That figure jumped by 40 percent during the Trump presidency.

ICE agents have carried out arrest operations at courthouses, hospitals and even schools where targets were dropping off their children. An example includes the arrest of Syed Jamal in Kansas on his front lawn while he was getting his children ready for school.




The most vibrant city on earth fell briefly silent 11 September 2002 as New Yorkers remembered with tears, anger and defiance the that an unimaginable act of extremism shattered their lives. (File/AFP)

Jamal was a chemistry teacher who had lived in the US for 30 years and had no criminal record.

Many have since made the case for abolishing DHS as “wasteful, incompetent and abusive mega-agency,” with Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who served on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, declaring at the end of his tenure that “DHS’s main domestic counterterrorism programs are yielding little value for the nation’s counterterrorism efforts.”

Prior to the existence of DHS, another symbol of the expansion of government surveillance powers was the USA Patriot Act, also overwhelmingly passed by Congress just weeks after 9/11, which gave the government a range of new powers including provisions that made it much easier to collect communications records and interrogate anyone it suspected of terrorism.




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

A review by the government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said: “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the US in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”

The Obama administration said that the Act had been “extremely helpful” in terrorism investigations.

Twitter: @EphremKossaify


Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM

Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM
Updated 06 December 2021

Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM

Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM
  • Footage circulated on social media showed demonstrators marching in different locations in Khartoum and Omdurman
  • In the western Darfur region, the death toll from tribal clashes over the weekend climbed to at least 48 people

CAIRO: Thousands of Sudanese took to the streets Monday in the capital of Khartoum and other cities in the latest protests against the October military coup and subsequent deal that reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
Footage circulated on social media purportedly showed demonstrators marching in different locations in Khartoum and its sister city of Omdurman. There were also protests in other cities, including Kassala, Sennar and Port Sudan.
Security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters marching in a street near the presidential palace in Khartoum, activist Nazim Sirag said. He said they also used heavy tear gas to break up a one-day sit-in protest in Khartoum’s district of Bahri. Around a dozen protesters suffered light injuries from tear gas canisters, he said.
In past rounds of demonstrations security forces used violence, including firing live ammunition at protesters, according to activists. At least 44 protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded since the coup, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee, which tracks protester deaths.
The Sudanese military seized power Oct. 25, dissolving the transitional government and arresting dozens of officials and politicians. The takeover upended a fragile planned transition to democratic rule more than two years after a popular uprising forced the removal of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir and his Islamist government.
Hamdok was reinstated last month amid international pressure in a deal that calls for an independent technocratic Cabinet under military oversight. The agreement included the release of government officials and politicians detained since the coup and the formation of an independent technocratic Cabinet led by Hamdok.
The deal, however, was rejected by the pro-democracy movement, which insists on handing over power to a civilian government to lead the transition. The protests came under the slogan of: “No negotiations, no compromise, no power-sharing” with the military.
Monday’s protests were called by the Sudanese Professionals Association and the so-called Resistance Committees, which spearheaded the uprising against Al-Bashir and then the military coup.
Among the protesters’ demands are the restructuring of the military under civilian oversight, purging officers loyal to Al-Bashir and disbanding armed groups including the Rapid Support Forces.
“We will keep on using all peaceful means to reject and resist until the fall of the coup government and the return to the course of democratic transition,” said protester Dalia Mostafa, while taking part in a march in Khartoum.
The Rapid Support Forces are a paramilitary unit notorious for atrocities during the Darfur war and a 2019 massacre of protesters in Khartoum. They are led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who is also the deputy head of the ruling sovereign council.
Dagalo is seen as the co-architect of the coup along with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling body.
Relentless street demonstrations have put pressure on the military and Hamdok to take measures to calm angry protesters and gain their trust. Hamdok has yet to announce his Cabinet, which is likely to face opposition from the pro-democracy movement.
In televised comments over the weekend, Burhan described the deal that reinstated Hamdok as “a true start” for the democratic transition.
He said they were working on crafting a “new political charter” with the aim of establishing a broader consensus among all political forces and movements.
In the western Darfur region, meanwhile, the death toll from tribal clashes over the weekend climbed to at least 48 people, all of them shot dead, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee. It said dozens of others were wounded, some in critical condition.
The fighting grew out of a financial dispute late Saturday between two individuals in a camp for displaced persons in the Kreinik area in West Darfur province.
The clashes continued Sunday, with Arab militias known as janjaweed attacking the camp and torching and looting property, according to Adam Regal, spokesman for the General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur.
The clashes in Darfur pose a significant challenge to efforts by Sudan’s transitional authorities to end decades-long rebellions in some areas like war-wrecked region.


More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop
Updated 06 December 2021

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop
  • Neil Basu’s warning came during an inquiry into the 2017 bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester
  • ‘I’m going to be very blunt about this: We won’t stop them happening again, they will happen again. We have to try and minimize or reduce the risk,’ he said

LONDON: Britain’s highest-ranking counterterrorism police officer has warned that despite improvements in the ways agencies collaborate to prevent terror attacks, they cannot stop them all and it is inevitable that there will be more.

The comment by Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police Service came on Monday when he appeared at the inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. Twenty-two people were killed, including a number of children, when 22-year-old suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated an explosive device at an Ariana Grande concert.

Basu, who serves as the National Police Chiefs Council lead for Counter Terrorism Policing, told the inquiry: “The horror of this makes you look very hard at, hopefully, preventing it ever happening again.”

But he added: “I’m going to be very blunt about this: We won’t stop them happening again, they will happen again. We have to try and minimize or reduce the risk and that means constantly trying to have a system that looks at improvement, no matter how busy we are.”

The inquiry into the attack in May 2017 is examining the activities of emergency services, including the police and intelligence agencies, in the lead-up to the attack.

Basu said the results of a joint police and MI5 review of a number of attacks that took place in 2017, including the arena bombing, were “humbling.” That review made 104 recommendations for improvements, four of which remain outstanding.

He added that cross-agency collaboration has improved since 2017 but that more work can yet be done to better align the work of agencies.

“We’re very close but we need to be closer still,” Basu said.

The inquiry also heard from Ian Fenn, the former headteacher of a Manchester school Abedi attended between 2009 and 2011. He said Abedi was not a good student and was, at times, “aggressive and rude” to teachers, and had been suspended for theft and for setting off fireworks.

However, there was “no indication,” Fenn added, that Abedi held extremist views at that time.

“He never came across as somebody who was opinionated, who was driven, that had an agenda,” he told the inquiry. “He was a typically lackluster child who drifted around.”


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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