On the morning of September 11, 2001, a Boeing 767 flight crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Most people thought it was a freak accident until a second plane crashed into the South Tower 18 minutes later. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon nearly 45 minutes later. A fourth plane, its probably destination the White House, was also hijacked. On this flight, however, passengers had heard about the other attacks and took it into their own hands to undermine the hijackers’ plan. After a victorious struggle, the plane plummeted into a western Pennsylvania field instead of its intended target, killing all on board. All four attacks were over before 10:30 AM. Almost 3,300 people died in all, with nearly 3,000 at the World Trade Center alone and nearly 10,000 other people injured in the vicinity. All 19 hijackers also perished. 403 of the victims were first responders or law enforcement officials trying to help those trapped in the Towers.
It was the first direct assault on American soil since Pearl Harbor. The attack rattled the American public. It was accredited to the terrorist group al-Qaeda early on. The group, led by fugitive extremist Osama bin Laden, was allegedly retaliating against US support of Israel, its military presence in the Middle East, and the suppression of Muslims elsewhere. Several of the terrorists had been living in the country for over a year and taking commercial flying lessons in preparation for the mission. They had smuggled box cutters and other weapons through security to intimidate the passengers and had picked flights bound for California because of their mass quantities of fuel, which are necessary for cross-country journeys; this turned the planes into large missiles that induced more combustion and injury.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, President George W. Bush proclaimed the policy of the War on Terror to combat any attempted attacks. One man, Zacarias Moussaoui, was tried and found guilty of his involvement in the planning of the attacks, claiming he was to be the 20th hijacker; after his conviction, he has since asserted that he was bluffing about his involvement, but none of his appeals have gone through. Even after the manhunt and death of Osama bin Laden, the U.S. presence in the Middle East has only slightly dwindled.
Each site of the attacks has its own memorial structure honoring the victims of 9/11, the reflecting pools representing the structure of Ground Zero in New York being the grandest. Each year on its anniversary, the names of the victims are read in vigil to their memory.