In 1988 while he was in Afghanistan helping combat Soviet Union forces, Osama bin Laden, a Saudi from a wealthy family, founded a group he called al Qaeda (which in Arabic means "the base"). In 1989 the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia to work for the family construction firm. In August 1990, following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, bin Laden denounced the Saudi regime for allowing US forces to be stationed near the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan with his Saudi citizenship revoked.
On 1 September 1992, Ramzi Yousef entered the United States at JFK airport on a Pakistani airline. He was traveling from Pakistan with a Palestinian expelled from Israel who had sought exile in the United States. Yousef asked for asylum as an Iraqi dissident and was given a hearing date. He hid his association with his traveling companion, Ahmad Ajaz, whose suitcase was found filled with bomb-making manuals. Ajaz was arrested. Yousef was allowed to pass and went to stay in an apartment building in Jersey City, where an American-born Iraqi, Abdul Rahman Yasin, and a Palestinian, Mohammad Salameh, also lived.
Before the end of the year, Yousef claimed to have lost his passport and that his name was Abdul Basit Mahmud Abdul Karim, and the Pakistani Consulate in New York issued him a temporary passport under that name. Yousef returned to Pakistan in February 1993 and was a conspirator in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (a plot that failed). He returned to the United States and in February was the ringleader in an attack on New York City's World Trade Center. Yousef rented a van and drove it and 1,336 pounds of explosives into the Trade Center parking beneath the North Tower. He lit the bomb's 20-foot fuse and with his co-conspirator fled.
The attack had been planned and financed by Yousef's maternal uncle (age 28 and only three years older than Yousef. His name: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Like Yousef he was a Pakistani national who had grown up in Kuwait. Khalid had a degree (issued in 1986) in mechanical engineering from a US university — obviously young man with access to wealth. (Yousef had a degree in electrical engineering acquired in Britain.
The plan was to send that North Tower crashing into the South Tower sending both towers to the ground, killing tens of thousands of people. It failed, but it killed six people and injured more than a thousand. According to Wikipedia:
The bomb instantly cut off the World Trade Center's main electrical power line, knocking out the emergency lighting system. The bomb caused smoke to rise to the 93rd floor of both towers, including through the stairwells which were not pressurized, and smoke went up the damaged elevators in the World Trade Center Towers 1 & 2. With thick smoke filling the stairwells, evacuation was difficult for building occupants and led to many smoke inhalation injuries. Hundreds were trapped in elevators in the towers when the power was cut, including a group of 17 kindergartners, on their way down from the South Tower observation deck, who were trapped between the 35th and 36th floors for five hours.
Yousef mailed letters to New York newspapers and claimed that he belonged to a "liberation army", and he made demands: that the US end all aid to Israel, end diplomatic relations with Israel, and pledge to end interference "with any of the Middle East countries' interior affairs." He said the attack on the World Trade Center would be merely the first of such attacks if his demands were not met. He admitted that the World Trade Center bombing was an act of terrorism but that it was justified because of the terrorism that Israel practices and the US supports.
In 1994, Yousef was back in Pakistan and still plotting with his uncle Khalid. The plan was to kill Pope John Paul II during his visit to the Philippines, to blow up airliners in flight to the United States and to crash a plane into the headquarters of the CIA in Fairfax County, Virginia. This was to be called the Bojinka Plot and said to have been financed by bin Laden.
For Yousef, targeting the Pope didn't work out. Then, Yousef booked a flight from Manila headed for Tokyo. He planted a bomb beneath a seat and deboarded the plane at the Philippine city of Cebu. The bomb killed one Japanese passenger and wounded ten others, and the airliner made an emergency landing at Okinawa's Naha Airport, saving 272 passengers and 20 crew.
Yousef failed to get bombs in suitcases on flights from Manila to the US, and he failed in an effort to have a friend who had diplomatic immunity place suitcases with bombs aboard a flight from London to the US. (His friend's father is said to have been a senior politician and leading member of the establishment in Qatar, where Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was at the time.) From the Philippines, Yousef returned to Pakistan on 2 February 1995. A $2 million reward was out for information leading to Yousef's capture. Pakistani authorities arrested him. Yousef was sent to a federal prison in New York City and held there for trial. On September 5, 1996, Yousef and two co-conspirators were convicted for their role in the Bojinka Plot and were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In 1996, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed journeyed to Tora Bora, a little west of the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, and there he met with Osama bin Laden and outlined another plan to attack the World Trade Center in New York and other targets — suicide missions using airliners ad bombs. Bin Laden was interested and urged him to become a full-fledged member of al Qaeda. But Sheikh Mohammed put him off.
Bin Laden has been described by Britannica as believing that the United States was a paper tiger, bin Laden having in mind the US failure in Vietnam, Ronald Reagan's withdrawal of the Marines from Lebanon following the bombing of their barracks there in 1983, and the withdrawal of US forces from Somalia in 1993 following the deaths of 18 US servicemen in Mogadishu.
In February 1998, Osama bin Laden and jihadist leaders in Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh issued a fatwa in the name of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders. They declared that killing the Americans and their allies, including civilians, was "an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it.in any country in which it is possible to do it." (https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm)
In June 1998 the director of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki, discussed bin Laden with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Turki demanded that the Taliban either expel bin Laden from Afghanistan or hand him over to the Saudis, insisting that removing bin Laden was the price of cordial relations with the Saudi kingdom. Turki offered Omar financial aid, and Omar agreed to the deal. The Taliban sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia in July for further discussions — while bin Laden continued to reside in the Bora Bora area.
On August 7, 1998, al-Qaeda teams attacked the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In Kenya 213 were killed, including 12 Americans, and 4,000 were wounded. In Tanzania, 11 Africans died and 85 were wounded. Bin Laden described the attacks as retaliation for the deployment of US troops in Somalia (1992-93), and he claimed that it had been at these embassies that plans had been laid for the Rwandan Genocide and to partition Sudan.
President Clinton's national security advisers (his Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and others) planned a military response. On August 8, the White House asked the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a targets list. (Some would assume that Clinton was motivated by his troubles regarding Monica Lewinsky and was able to have these people go along with it.) On August 20, US Tomahawk missiles were fired at a bin Laden camp in Afghanistan and at a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that intelligence sources identified as a chemical weapons facility. It was called "Operation Infinite Reach". It was less than a success. Attacks on the training camps damaged installations and injured an unknown number of people. Intelligence regarding the chemical plant had been faulty and the attack was to be considered a mistake.
On 30 January 2001, the Bush administration held its first National Security Council meeting and was told by CIA Director George Tenet that Saddam Hussein's Iraq might be producing either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture. On 15 February the task force on Homeland Security issued its final report, and it warned that the US was unprepared for a "catastrophic" domestic terrorist attack. (The task force was created in 1998 and headed by both a Democrat, Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, and a Republican, Senator Rudman of New Hampshire.)
In March, an Egyptian, Mohamed Atta (age 33) and a friend from the United Arab Emirates Marwan al-Shehhi (age 23) were in Florida on a mission that involved practice flying a small Piper Warrior aircraft. Atta was a former student of architecture in Hamburg, Germany. He had met with bin Laden in Afghanistan back in 1999 had pledged loyalty to him. Atta was hostile to US support for Israel. He believed that New York Jews controlled world finances and media and that Saddam Hussein was a stooge set up to give Washington an excuse to intervene in the Middle East.
In April, Atta and al-Shehhi were joined by a few other young men involved in their mission. In May the CIA told President Bush that "a group presently in the United States" is planning a terrorist attack. And on June 22 the Bush administration was told that an attack by the terrorist group Al Qaeda attack could be "imminent." On July 10, an FBI agent in Arizona, Kenneth Williams, sent a warning to FBI headquarters in Washington that men suspected of ties to terrorist groups were training in Arizona flight schools. He speculated that bin Laden's organization might be attempting to infiltrate the US aviation industry with pilots, security guards and maintenance workers. On August 6, President Bush received an intelligence memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." The memo said that bin Laden may attempt to hijack airplanes. But reports are that little if anything was done to increase airport security — nothing, at any rate, compared to what would come after the September 11.
During the early morning of September 11, four commercial airliners were highjacked. By 9:03 AM two of them had crashed in fiery balls into the upper levels of the World Trade Center's twin towers, riveting the attention of the nation via television replays.
At 9:37 AM, the third hijacked airliner (American Airlines Flight 77) slammed into the Pentagon, killing 125 people in the Pentagon and killing the airliner's 53 passengers, its six crew members and the five hijackers.
At 9:59 am, the South Tower collapsed. Only 14 people escaped from above the impact zone of the South Tower. They descended the one stairwell that had been left intact. Others were told by dispatchers not to try to get out on their own, while and during the emergency there was little communication between the police and fire departments.
At 10:03 AM, the fourth hijacked airliner (United Airlines Fight 93) crashed onto a field 80 miles southeast of Pittsburg. A few of the passengers had been struggling with the highjackers in the cockpit. All 44 people aboard were killed, including the four hijackers. The highjackers are thought to have had the capital building in Washington DC as their target.
The North Tower's fire suppression system lacked water pressure to fight the fires, and after burning for 102 minutes, the North Tower collapsed, at 10:28 AM. More than 200 firefighters died with the north tower's collapse. As many as 3,000 in New York City were killed.
In the evening, via television, President Bush told the nation that they had seen evil and that he would make no distinction between those responsible for the attacks and those who harbored them. The next day, Bush told Richard Clarke, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs: "Go back over everything. Everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way."
Saddam Hussein's government, playing up its hostility to the US, announced that the September 11 attacks were the fruit of US crimes against humanity. Iranians (basically Shi'a) considered themselves at war with Saddam's Iraq and not friendly the Saudi monarchy (also Sunni) and they held candlelight marches in sympathy with the attack victims.
On September 12, Afghanistan's Taliban government denounced the attacks. A couple of days later, Osama bin Laden, still in Afghanistan, described the attacks as having been "carried out by individuals with their own motivation."
Also on September 14 the Bush Administration made the case to Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair that Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks, but Blair urged Bush not to pursue the claim.
On the 16th, Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei (Supreme Leader since 1989), said that Islam condemns the massacre of defenseless people.
On September 21, President Bush was told in his daily classified briefing that the US intelligence community had no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks and that "there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda."
Before the September 11 attacks, people boarding an airliner at a US airport just had to stroll through a metal detector. Now, airport security has became more complicated, with longer lines and waits.
On September 20 the US stated that Osama bin Laden was behind the September 11 attacks. President Bush demanded that the Taliban deliver bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders to the US, that the Taliban close immediately every terrorist camp and allow US inspection. On the 21st, the Taliban rejected the US ultimatum, stating that it would turn over bin Laden only if presented with evidence of his guilt — and they were to insist that if tried it should be by Muslim clerics.
On the 22nd, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia withdrew their recognition of the Taliban as the legal government in Afghanistan. On October 7, President Bush announced on television the beginning of a military offensive against "Al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan... We are joined in this operation [Operation Enduring Freedom] by our staunch friend, Great Britain. Other close friends, including Canada, Australia, Germany and France, have pledged forces as the operation unfolds... We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail."
That same day, the United States and Britain had begun bombing targets in Afghanistan. It was the beginning of what Americans would call "the War in Afghanistan." Osama bin Laden called on all Muslims to wage a holy war against the United States. Pro-Taliban and anti-US demonstrations erupted in Pakistan.
On 14 October 2001, the Taliban proposed to hand bin Laden over to a third country for trial, but only if they were given evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the events of 11 September. On November 10, at the Jalalabad Islamic Studies Center in Afghanistan, bin Laden spoke to a crowd of about 1,000 and said: "The Americans had a plan to invade, but if we are united and believe in Allah, we will teach them a lesson, the same one we taught the Russians." His audience responded with, "God is great! Down with America! Down with Israel!" Bin Laden said, "God is with us, and we will win the war. Your Arab brothers will lead the way. We have the weapons and the technology."
The US was supporting anti-Taliban Afghans who had formed what was called "The Northern Alliance" (fighting the Taliban since 1996), and the Northern Alliance was advancing. Pakistan's Air Force evacuated thousands of Taliban and al Qaeda combatants from Kunduz (in northern Afghanistan) to safe areas in Pakistan (the Kunduz Airlift).
On November 13, Taliban fighters abandoned Kabul, and the next day Northern Alliance forces entered the city. And they continued pushing south, overrunning the Taliban stronghold at Kandahar on December 7. Ten days later, al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Tora Bora mountains were overrun. The CIA operative, Gary Berntsen, in charge of the operation, asked Washington for troops to block bin Laden's escape, but these troops were denied him. Bin Laden, it is surmised, was on his way southward from Tora Bora on horseback, accompanied by bodyguards and aides, crossing through mountain passes and over smugglers' trails, with villages lighting campfires along the way to guide the horsemen through the snow towards Pakistan's Pashtun area in Waziristan.
On December 20, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1386, authorizing a NATO-led security mission in Afganistan. Two days later in Kabul, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan's president. He would be viewed by some in Afghanistan as an agent of foreign forces.
In his State of the Union speech on January 29, 2002, President Bush laid out a new doctrine of preemptive war:
I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.
CONTINUE READING: Run up to Iraq, 2001 to 2003
Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.