(CNN Spanish) – On September 11, 2001, almost 20 years ago, al Qaeda terrorists kidnapped four planes commercials on the east coast of the United States and crashed them at different points in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
What do we know, two decades later, about these attacks, the deadliest in US history?
Four commercial jets and four targets
Terrorists hijacked and forced 11 American Airlines and 175 United Airlines flights, both operated with Boeing 767 aircraft, to crash into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City, killing 2,753 people. . The Towers collapsed 102 minutes after the attack.
Flight 11, which covered the route from Boston to Los Angeles, was carrying 87 passengers and crew members, and crashed into the WTC North Tower at 8:46 am EDT Five hijackers took control of this flight.
Flight 175, which covered the same route, was carrying 60 passengers and crew members and crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 am It was taken by five hijackers.
At 9:37 AM, a third plane (Boeing 757), American Airlines Flight 77 that covered the route between Dulles (Washington) and Los Angeles, crashed into the Pentagon building, headquarters of the Department of Defense in Virginia. It was carrying 59 passengers and crew. In the Pentagon building they also died 125 people ashore, bringing the total of victims to 184. He was also taken by five kidnappers.
The fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93 (Boeing 757), crashed at 10:03 am in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all 40 passengers and crew. This flight had four hijackers on board.
It is believed that the plane, which covered the route between Newark (New York) and San Francisco and was piloted by Ziad Jarrah after the hijacking, was possibly as objective the Capitol or the White House, but that the passengers on board tried to regain control and the terrorists decided to crash.
In total, 2,977 people died and thousands were injured.
The 19 terrorists involved
The group that carried out the attacks consisted of 19 terrorists led by Mohamed Atta, according to data from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks in the United States, created by the US Congress in 2002 and that he presented his findings in 2004.
All belonged to the al Qaeda terrorist organization and had arrived in the United States months before.
American Airlines Flight 11 was hijacked by the Egyptian Mohamed Atta, who acted as a pilot, and the Saudis Abdulaziz al-Omari, Wail al Shehri, Waleed al Shehri and Satam al Suqami.
The hijackers of United Flight 175 were the Saudis Ahmed al Ghamdi, Hamza al Ghamdi, Mohand al Shehri and, from the United Arab Emirates, Fayez Banihammad and Marwan al Shehhi, as a pilot.
On American Airlines Flight 77 the hijackers were the Saudis Hani Hanjour -also the pilot- Nawaf al Hazmi, Salem al Hazmi, Khalid al Mihdhar and Majed Moqed.
United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked by Saudis Saeed al Ghamdi, Ahmad al Haznawi, Ahmed al Nami and Lebanese pilot Ziad Jarrah.
How the attacks were organized
The core group of kidnappers consisted of Atta, Jarrah, al Shehhi and Ramzi bin al Shibh, considered to be the 20th member who failed to obtain a visa to travel to the United States in time for the attacks and was later arrested in Pakistan (he continues to be held in Guantánamo prison).
The four known as the “Hamburg Cell”, made up of university students of Arab origin living in Germany, and they were the main planners of the attack.
Before 1999, they were not known to have any ties to al Qaeda but an affiliation with jihadism, according to the 585-page report by the National comission. At the end of that year, however, they began receiving money transfers from the group and are believed to have been recruited.
Along with the Emirati Fayez Banihammad, the members of the “Hamburg Cell” were the only ones who did not come from Saudi Arabia. They were then joined by 15 Saudis with ties to al Qaeda, albeit with less academic training: only one of them, Hanjour, would take the pilot classes necessary to carry out the attack.
In addition to the 19 terrorists who eventually carried out the attack, there were numerous al Qaeda members who attended the operation, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged “mastermind” behind the attacks who kept in touch with the hijackers in the US and would have raised this attack with Bin Laden in 1996, the French Zacarias Moussaoui (arrested early 2001) and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, implicated in the terrorist attack on the USS Cole.
The arrival of the kidnappers to the United States
The first to arrive in the United States were the Saudis Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, that arrived in Los Angeles, California, in January 2000, according to the National Commission report. Soon after, they moved to San Diego, where they tried – unsuccessfully – to learn English and take flying lessons, and where they mingled with the Muslim community.
Between May and June 2000 the three members of the “Hamburg Cell” arrived in Newark, New Jersey, on flights from Brussels and Prague, as reconstructed by the National comission. Atta, Jarrah and al Shehhi traveled to Venice, Florida, to take flying lessons using funds they received through bank transfers from Dubai, arranged by Mohammed.
In this case, the three future hijackers did manage to learn to fly: Atta and al Shehhi managed to pass their first exams even though they failed an instrument use test; while Jarrah obtained his pilot certificate in August.
Hanjour, the fourth pilot in the attack, had traveled to the United States between 1997 and 1999 to learn how to fly in Arizona, and had obtained a commercial pilot certificate before traveling to Saudi Arabia. He returned to the United States to participate in the attacks on December 8, 2000, arriving in San Diego to train on large commercial aircraft.
The last steps
Once Atta, al Shehhi, Jarrah and Hanjour completed their pilot training, the remaining hijackers, who would be tasked with taking control of the planes by force, were recruited by al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and trained in Afghanistan, before to be sent to the United States in a phased manner beginning in April 2001.
Atta and al Shehhi were in charge of receiving the hijackers at the airports and organizing their stays in the United States before the attack, according to the National Commission report.
At the same time, the four pilots made numerous trips as airline passengers to gather intelligence, while Atta flew to Madrid, Spain in June to meet with Bin al Shibh and finalize details.
In the first days of September, the four teams traveled to the cities from where they would board the flights: Boston, Dulles and Newark. They checked into hotels and for days they killed time by going to the gym and eating pizza, until the arrival of September 11.
Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda
Behind the 19 men who carried out the attacks and those who assisted with planning and logistics from outside the U.S. was al Qaeda, the terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden, who came from an influential business family in Saudi Arabia and was eventually dead in a US operation in 2011.
After participating in the jihadist resistance to the invasion of the Soviet Union that began in 1979 in Afghanistan, Bin Laden founded al Qaeda (“the base”, in Arabic) in 1988, as an organization dedicated to global jihad.
Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia but quickly came into conflict with the presence of US troops there, who used the country as a base to attack Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.
From that moment on, al Qaeda began to concentrate its actions against the United States.
A series of attacks against the United States.
In early 1993 the group became involved in the first attack on the Twin Towers, that left a balance of six dead and hundreds of wounded by the explosion of a bomb.
That same year 18 United States soldiers they died in Somalia, ambushed by insurgents who have been trained by al Qaeda. For this fact, the United States began to actively search for Bin Laden, whom it formally accused of training the insurgents.
In 1997 the al Qaeda leader gave his first interview with the Western media, in which said to CNN that the United States was “unjust, criminal and tyrannical.”
“The United States today, and as a result of an atmosphere of arrogance, has established a double standard, calling a terrorist who goes against its injustice. It wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose agents on us to govern us,” he said. Bin Laden, later confirming al Qaeda’s involvement in the 1993 ambush.
In 1998, al Qaeda launched attacks against U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, killing 224 people, and in 2000 he detonated a bomb on the destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 people, as he began to prepare a large-scale attack on US soil.