September 11, 2001: The terrorist attack that changed America

Special 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


Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, ‘mild’ symptoms

Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, ‘mild’ symptoms
Updated 6 sec ago

Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, ‘mild’ symptoms

Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, ‘mild’ symptoms
KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina: First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing “mild symptoms,” the White House announced Tuesday.
She had been vacationing with President Joe Biden in South Carolina when she began experiencing symptoms on Monday. She has been prescribed the antiviral drug Paxlovid and will isolate at the vacation home for at least five days.
Joe Biden tested negative for the virus on Tuesday morning, the White House said, but would be wearing a mask indoors for 10 days in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. He recovered from a rebound case of the virus on Aug.7.

Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities

Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities
Updated 53 min 48 sec ago

Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities

Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities
  • Minister for higher education said they are adding five more religious subjects to the existing eight
  • Many conservative Afghan clerics in the hard-line Islamist Taliban are skeptical of modern education

KABUL: Afghan university students will have to attend more compulsory Islamic studies classes, education officials said Tuesday while giving little sign that secondary schools for girls would reopen.
Many conservative Afghan clerics in the hard-line Islamist Taliban, which swept back into power a year ago, are skeptical of modern education.
“We are adding five more religious subjects to the existing eight,” said Abdul Baqi Haqqani, minister for higher education, including Islamic history, politics and governance.
The number of compulsory religious classes will increase from one to three a week in government universities.
He told a news conference that the Taliban would not order any subjects to be dropped from the current curriculum.
However, some universities have altered studies on music and sculpture — highly sensitive issues under the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of sharia law — while an exodus of Afghanistan’s educated elite, including professors, has seen many subjects discontinued.
Officials have for months insisted that schools will reopen for girls, swaying between technical and financial issues as reasons for the continued closures.
Abdulkhaliq Sadiq, a senior official at the education ministry, on Tuesday said families in rural areas were still not convinced of the need to send girls to secondary school.
Under the Taliban’s last regime between 1996 and 2001, both primary and secondary schools for girls never reopened.
“We are trying to come up with a sound policy in coordination with our leaders... so that those in rural areas are also convinced,” he said.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam — effectively squeezing them out of public life.
Although young women are still permitted to attend university, many have dropped out because of the cost or because their families are afraid for them to be out in public in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, without a secondary school certificate, teenage girls will not be able to sit future university entrance exams.
The international community has made the right to education a key condition for formally recognizing the Taliban government.
Despite being in power for a year, no country has so far recognized the government.


Blasts, fire hits military depot in Russian-annexed Crimea

Blasts, fire hits military depot in Russian-annexed Crimea
Updated 16 August 2022

Blasts, fire hits military depot in Russian-annexed Crimea

Blasts, fire hits military depot in Russian-annexed Crimea
  • Russia blamed the blasts at an ammunition storage facility in Mayskoye on an “act of sabotage”
  • Plumes of black smoke also rose over an air base in Crimea's Gvardeyskoye

KYIV, Ukraine: Massive explosions and fires hit a military depot in Russia-annexed Crimea on Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 people, the second time in recent days that the Ukraine war’s focus has turned to the peninsula.
Russia blamed the blasts at an ammunition storage facility in Mayskoye on an “act of sabotage” without naming the perpetrators. As with last week’s explosions, they led to speculation that Ukraine may be behind the attack on the peninsula, which Russia has controlled since 2014.
Separately, the Russian business newspaper Kommersant quoted local residents as saying that plumes of black smoke also rose over an air base in Crimea’s Gvardeyskoye.
Ukraine has stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for any of the fires or explosions, including last week’s at another air base that destroyed nine Russian planes. If Ukrainian forces were, in fact, responsible for any of the explosions, they would represent a significant escalation in the war.
Crimea holds huge strategic and symbolic significance for Russia and Ukraine. The Kremlin’s demand that Kyiv recognize the peninsula as part of Russia has been one of its key conditions for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians from the peninsula and all other occupied territories.
Videos posted on social media showed thick plumes of smoke rising over raging flames in Mayskoye, and a series of explosions could be heard in the background. The Russian Defense Ministry said the fires at the depot caused damage to a power plant, power lines, rail tracks and some apartment buildings. It said in a statement that there were no serious injuries.
Earlier, Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported a fire a transformer substation after “a loud thump sound” in what appeared to be a result of the blasts at the depot.
The Dzhankoi district, where the blasts happened, is in the north of the peninsula, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Russian-controlled region of Kherson in southern Ukraine. Kyiv has recently mounted a series of attacks on various sites in the region, targeting supply routes for the Russian military there and ammunition depots.
Last week’s explosions at Crimea’s Saki air base sent sunbathers on nearby beaches fleeing as huge flames and pillars of smoke rose over the horizon. Ukrainian officials emphasized Tuesday that Crimea — which is a popular destination for Russian tourists — would not be spared the ravages of war experienced throughout Ukraine.
Rather than a travel destination, “Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouses explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves,” Ukraine presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter, though he did not claim any Ukraine responsibility for the blasts.
Crimea’s regional leader, Sergei Aksyonov, said that two people were injured and more than 3,000 evacuated from the villages of Mayskoye and Azovskoye near Dzhankoi following the munitions depot explosions.
Because the explosions damaged rail tracks, some trains in northern Crimea were diverted to other lines.
The Russian military blamed last week’s blasts at the Saki air base on an accidental detonation of munitions there, but it appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack.
Ukrainian officials at the time stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for the explosions, while mocking Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker might have caused the ammunition to catch fire. Analysts also said that explanation doesn’t make sense and that the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to strike the base.
A British Defense Ministry intelligence update said vessels in Russia’s Black Sea Fleet “continue to pursue an extremely defensive posture” in the waters off Crimea, with the ships barely venturing out of sight of the coastline.
Russia already lost its flagship Moskva in the Black Sea and last month the Ukrainian military retook the strategic Snake Island outpost off Ukraine’s southwestern coast. It is vital for guaranteeing sea lanes out of Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest port.
The Russian fleet’s “limited effectiveness undermines Russia’s overall invasion strategy,” the British statement said. “This means Ukraine can divert resources to press Russian ground forces elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, in the Donbas, which has been the focus of the fighting in recent months, one civilian was killed in Russian shelling, and two others wounded, according to the Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, one civilian was killed and nine others were wounded by Russian shelling, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said. He added that the overnight attack on the city was “one of the most massive shelling of Kharkiv in recent days.”
Officials in the central region of Dniprotpetrovsk also reported shelling of the Nikopol and the Kryvyi Rih districts.
Amid the explosions and shelling, one good piece of news emerged from the region, with a United Nations-chartered ship loaded with 23,000 metric tons of Ukrainian grain setting off for the Horn of Africa.
It’s the first shipment of its kind, and the United Nations’ World Food Program called it “another important milestone” in a plan to assist countries facing famine. Ukraine and Russia reached a deal with Turkey in July to restart Black Sea grain deliveries, addressing the major export disruption that has occurred since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
The worst drought in four decades in the Horn of Africa has led thousands of people across the region have died from hunger or illness this year.
That deal not only protects ships exporting Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea but also assures Russia that its food and fertilizer won’t face sanctions, safeguarding one of the pillars of its economy and helping ease concerns from insurers and banks.


WHO turns to public for monkeypox name change

WHO turns to public for monkeypox name change
Updated 16 August 2022

WHO turns to public for monkeypox name change

WHO turns to public for monkeypox name change
  • Experts warn the name can be stigmatising to the primates it was named after

GENEVA: The World Health Organization, which is looking to rename monkeypox, called Tuesday for help from the public in coming up with a less stigmatising designation for the fast-spreading disease.
The UN health agency has for weeks voiced concern about the name of the disease that emerged onto the global stage in May.
Experts warn the name can be stigmatising to the primates it was named after, but who play little role in its spread, and to the African continent that the animals are often associated with.
Recently in Brazil, for instance, there have been reported cases of people attacking monkeys over disease fears.
“Human monkeypox was given its name before current best practices in naming diseases,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva.
“We want really to find a name that is not stigmatising,” she added, saying the consultation is now open to everyone through a dedicated website: https://icd.who.int/dev11.
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread among humans since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries where it is endemic.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Worldwide, over 31,000 cases have been confirmed since the start of the year, and 12 people have died, according to the WHO, which has designated the outbreak a global health emergency.
While the virus can jump from animals to humans, WHO experts insist the recent global spread is due to close-contact transmission between humans.
The UN health agency announced last week that a group of experts it had convened had already agreed on new names for monkeypox virus variants, or clades.
Until now, the two main variants have been named after the geographic regions where they were known to circulate, the Congo Basin and West Africa.
The experts agreed to rename them using Roman numerals instead, calling them Clade I and Clade II. A subvariant of Clade II, now known as Clade IIb, is seen as the main culprit behind the ongoing global outbreak.


Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire

Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire
Updated 16 August 2022

Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire

Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire
  • Firefighters elsewhere in the region were also battling two other wildfires north of Valencia city
  • So far this year, Spain has suffered 391 wildfires

MADRID: Some 300 firefighters spent a difficult night battling a huge wildfire in southeastern Spain that has burnt through nearly 10,000 hectares in an area notoriously difficult to access, officials said Tuesday.
The fire began when lightning hit the Vall de Ebo area in the province of Alicante late Saturday and it has since spread rapidly, fueled by strong winds, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,000 people, Valencia’s regional government said.
“It’s been a very complicated night,” regional interior minister Gabriela Bravo told Antena 3 television, saying some 300 firefighters were battling the flames, backed by 24 planes and helicopters.
“At the moment we are talking about more than 9,500 hectares burnt with a perimeter of 65 kilometers (40 miles),” regional president Ximo Puig said late Monday, describing the blaze as “absolutely huge.”
“It’s a very complicated situation... The fire is creating enormous difficulties that are absolutely impossible to tackle with the speed we would like.”
Firefighters elsewhere in the region were also battling two other wildfires north of Valencia city, with hundreds of firefighters and at least 10 firefighting planes engaged in the operation, officials said.
Further north, firefighters in the Aragon region were hoping to bring under control another major blaze that broke out Saturday that has burnt more than 6,000 hectares of land, forcing at least 1,500 people from their homes.
So far this year, Spain has suffered 391 wildfires, fueled by scorching temperatures and drought conditions, which have destroyed a total of 271,020 hectares of land, according to the latest figures from the European Forest Fire Information System.
This year’s fires in Spain have been particularly devastating, destroying more than three times the area consumed by wildfires in the whole of 2021, which amounted to 84,827 hectares, the figures show.
Scientists say human-induced climate change is making extreme weather events, including heatwaves and droughts, more frequent and intense. They in turn increase the risk of fires, which emit climate-heating greenhouse gases.
Fires have blazed across Europe, particularly in France, Greece and Portugal, making 2022 a record year for wildfires on the continent.
In Portugal, a wildfire brought under control last week reignited Tuesday in the UNESCO-designated Serra da Estrela natural park, the civil protection agency said.