The Post 9/11 World
It’s been exactly 20 years since a group of Islamist militants, unleashed four coordinated terrorist attacks in the United States, killing 2,977 people and injuring over 25,000. It is no exaggeration that events of Tuesday, 11 September 2001, irrevocably changed the political landscape and the foreign policy of not just the US, but the world in general. Even though terrorist attacks were not strange happenings in many parts of the world at the time, including the Middle East, South Asia and in particular Sri Lanka, Western world woke up to the true horrors of suicide attacks, with the events which have come to be known as 9/11. On that morning, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four US commercial flights and intentionally crashed them.
One plane struck the North Tower of the New York City’s World Trade Centre at 8:46 a.m. and another hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m., resulting in the collapse of both towers, forever altering the New York skyline. A third plane, crashed into the US Department of Defence building, the Pentagon, at 9:37 a.m., and the fourth one crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 10:03 a.m., after passengers stormed the cockpit and tried to subdue the hijackers. Although the US forces have been engaged in military activities overseas for many decades, getting involved in foreign wars – in particular in the Gulf region – this was the first time that an attack of this magnitude was unleashed on US soil after the 1941 attack on the Pearl Harbour, which paved the way for the US’ official entry into the World War II.
For the first time in history, ordinary Americans came face to face with the faceless horror and the absolutism of religious extremism and suicide bombings, which opened their eyes to the everyday realities of the countries in which the US was waging wars – death and mayhem. Events of 9/11 also gave rise to discussions on topics such as international security, immigration law, terrorism, extremism, religious fundamentalism, and airport and aviation security. It also triggered a global ‘war on terror’ that continues even today, as new generations of terrorist groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Nigerian terror outfit Boko Haram.
While Government forces around the world continue to hunt down such Islamist terror groups, with many being killed and many others put behind bars, more groups seem to be sprouting across the globe with renewed vigour. Following 9/11, terror attacks around the world became not only more intensified but also more routine. 2002 Bali bombings in the tourist district of Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali, killed 202 people and injured 240. In 2004, almost simultaneous, coordinated bombings against the commuter train system of Madrid, Spain, killed 193 people and injured around 2,000. Also in 2004, the Beslan school hostage crisis in Russia saw the deaths of 385, mostly children, where 783 more were injured.
Four suicide bombers attacked London Underground trains and a double decker bus during the morning rush hour in 2005, killing 52 and injuring 784. The year 2005 also saw scores killed and injured in terror attacks in Egypt, Indonesia and Jordan. In 2006, seven bomb blasts over a period of 11 minutes on the Suburban Railway in Mumbai saw the death of 209 and over 700 were injured. In one of the most devastating attacks following 9/11 events, 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist terrorist organisation, carried out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai, India. At least 174 people died, including nine attackers, and more than 300 were wounded.
In the following years, a number of European cities saw knife attacks, vehicles mauling down pedestrians and bystanders and bombings, killing scores and injuring many. In response, some European countries tightened their security nets and some even saw the rise of neo-Nazism, in response to the rising religious fundamentalism in Europe. In 2019, a country that saw a long-awaited respite following a 30-year war, woke up to the horrors of devastating suicide attacks on a number of churches and popular hotels on Easter morning.
In the Easter bombings of Sri Lanka at least 253 people were killed, including 35 foreign nationals and three police officers, and at least 500 were injured in the bombings. The authorities confirmed that all of the bombers were Sri Lankan citizens associated with National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ), a local militant radical Islamist group, with suspected foreign links. The latest in the long list of terror attacks following 9/11 was the vicious knife attack carried out at a shopping mall in New Zealand, by a Sri Lankan immigrant, seriously injuring a number of people. The question we must ask while the world is commemorating the lives lost in the 9/11 attacks is whether the world is a safer place today than 20 years ago. The answer is a resounding no!