9/11: Attack on America

The daring air strikes on the twin World Trade Centre towers in New York on 9 September 2001 were the worst to have happened in the history of America. The 39th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business

Frankly speaking, I do not think that anyone slept on the night of 9 September 2001after we all witnessed the crazy but daring strikes on the twin towers of New York, and see them collapse right in front of our eyes. The first was shock to the viewers on the TV channels, and as they stayed glued to the TV sets, they saw the second aircraft crash into the second tower. As the first tower was aflame and burning badly, we all witnessed the hundreds who jumped off the inferno, only to die on the sidewalks or on the top of nearby buildings, three of which also collapsed in the process.
FDNY (Fire Department City of New York) and NYPD (New York Police Department) were already on the job of carrying out the rescue operations at the site. The area was totally cordoned off, except for uniformed personnel who were doing the heroic job of rescue. Even the steel structure had melted in the intense heat generated by the plane crashing into the buildings, and rescue personnel were digging out both the injured and the dead. It was a horrible sight to see.
All the TV channels devoted their entire time to this national tragedy. American Airlines flight No. 11 and United Airlines flight 175 had crashed into the twin towers; American Airlines flight No: 77 had crashed into the Pentagon, the world largest building and United Airlines 93 had crashed at Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  The casualty figures kept changing, and ultimately official figures confirmed that 2,996 persons had perished in these attacks and more than 6,000 were injured as a result. It was learnt much later that UA flight 93 was originally intended to crash into the While House!
 Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York City led the rescue operations, being on the job minutes after the news broke out. Hundreds of off duty uniformed personnel reported immediately for the all the help they could render, as were the volunteers; everyone was helping each other, in every way possible.
Right through the night, injured and critically injured people were being dug out of the debris; in some areas it was still burning from the attack, and a deathly silence prevailed over the normally vibrant New York City.
There was nothing that we could do; except pray that rescue operations save a lot more people buried under the collapsed twin towers. We felt terribly sorry for the irreparable loss these strikes had caused to those who perished in the process.
The next morning there were stories on Al Qaeda activities. More bizarre details emerged about impending Al Qaeda strikes in USA; in December 1998, CIA’s counter-intelligence centre had reported to President Bill Clinton that Al Qaeda was preparing attacks on US which might include “hijacking aircrafts”. In July/August 2001 communication intercepts and top intelligence sources showed increasing likelihood of Al Qaeda attacks, but no specific plan details were available. But, in the end, as unfortunate and tragic as it may seem, the attacks did take place, which was carried out simultaneously, causing untold damage to innocent civilians and property; the financial capital of the world was struck at New York by these daring attacks, all of which, apparently emanated from the American soil itself, by terrorists.
As the rescue operations continued at the Pentagon, about two miles from our hotel, our banquet hall was being used to prepare and deliver the sandwiches to the rescue personnel who were at the site. More and more details of how these planes were hijacked, and when airborne, these were directed towards the intended targets were coming out. These were sad details to note, but, nevertheless showed the chinks in our armour.
The number of armed and uniformed security forces was now more visible in the city. Extra security personnel and systems were now in place in and around all important government offices and buildings. On-the-spot surprise checks were being carried out throughout the country, and more particularly in and around defence establishments, airports, seaports, etc.
As the details of the attacks became public, one of the air traffic controllers took it upon himself to order all aircraft in flight to land in the nearest airport; by the same token, no civilian airline was allowed to take off from any airport, whether the flight was domestic or international, and all planes grounded without question. This kind of direct order, on a national basis, had never been given in the past, but, in more ways than one; this move possibly and effectively stopped any further hijack attempts or attacks as a sequel.
All the uniform personnel were back on duty and on alert; and the entire military establishment, though taken by surprise by these brazen attacks was now ready to strike back and defend the country from any further attacks. American allies, all over the world were also on the defence loop as details became public.
In the hotel, there were no new guests to check in; and many of those who had to stay back due to the flight cancellations, were now extending their stay or making alternative arrangements to get back to their homes, by resorting to railroad transportation or driving back by hiring vehicles. Some of the hotels, including us, probably received some local guests who checked in, and who we accommodated as they were on government duty.
We expected the domestic airline traffic to return back to normalcy in about three days, after all the precautions were taken and additional security in place.
I think it was sometime in the evening, while I was on duty, I received a call from someone who wanted to speak to the front office manager. As he was not immediately available,I answered instead; he wanted some specific details of a credit card that may have been used in the hotel in the previous few days. When I wanted him to identify himself, he informed me that he was from FBI. I requested him to hold on, so that the line could be transferred to the manager, after I personally locate her. I called out to Jodie, who was on duty, and she handled the call with great diligence and care. She asked for his name and phone number so that she could call him back from her office, as the front office staff did not have the access code to get into the system for this information. 

With the line transferred to her office, the matter in detail for sorted out by her. Naturally, what transpired in the call or what information was passed on and to whom, was not subsequently discussed between us. Any confidential information of this nature must continue to remain so....
Both myself and Allen from engineering department did not have any equipment to use on our security round up, as we covered the entire hotel, which took us almost an hour. In the meantime, we had police cruise vehicles stopping by to check whether everything was normal and nothing unusual in movement or persons.
Our own management had immediately ordered the installation of CCTV in the hotel and the work had begun in right earnest. The TV in the lounge area continued to televise the developments in New York City, and how, the whole country was slowly limping back to normalcy, smarting under the treacherous attack that Al Qaeda had carried out. The TV channels continued to beam the TV footage of the passengers from the originating points of these aircraft, particularly from Boston.
The relatives of the victims, most of who were working in and around the World Trade Centres, were already putting up posters with photographs of their loved and dear ones, and seeking help of anyone who had seen them, so that they could join their families. Meanwhile, hundreds of others had come to the site to lay their wreaths for the dead.
The mangled body of the Twin Towers lay in ruins and it was the worst attack on American soil in history. President Bush vowed to prevent further attacks and promised the free world that he will see no stone unturned until the perpetrators of this heinous crime were punished.  It was a crime against humanity, against any civilized society.  Once there was evidence available, President Bush assured the American public that he would hunt and destroy them wherever they may be.

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)

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