9/11: 19 years on | Daily News


9/11: 19 years on

Nineteen years ago today, the world was changed beyond recognition. To this day, September 11 is known simply as 9/11 but the three numbers tell a far bigger human story. A story that is part horror, part tragedy and all too (in)human. The events of that day changed not only the world, but also us. It was truly horrifying to see on TV those planes ram into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. That feeling resonated collectively around the world.

The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 and caused more than US$ 10 billion in damage. The attacks on the Twin Towers come to mind immediately, but one cannot forget the attack on the Pentagon and the heroic story of the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 who overpowered the hijackers and deliberately crashed the plane. Two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, killing 2,753, including several firefighters. In fact, families of some of the 1,113 victims of 9/11 whose remains have never been identified have often spoken about their agony at still not being able to bury their loved ones. Today, you can reflect on the terrible events of that day at memorial monuments set up in New York near the site of the former World Trade Centre and at the United 93 crash site, though the memorial space at the Pentagon is not open to civilians.

Memories apart, this was the event that really woke the world up to the threat of global terrorism. Until then, terrorist conflicts in many other parts of the world were ignored by the International Community on the assumption that “it’s not our problem”. However 9/11 was an eye-opener that terrorism in any country could no longer be ignored. It led to a crackdown on many terror groups worldwide (Sri Lanka benefitted in its fight against terrorism as a result of this change in perceptions) as nations banded together to fight terrorism. The UN as well as individual countries passed legislation that sought to restrict the funding activities of terrorists. Sri Lanka benefitted in its fight against the LTTE from these measures as well. In fact, the al-Qaeda (suspected of staging the 9/11 attacks), LTTE and many other religion-based and secular terror groups were banned around the world.

Even though Sri Lanka was able to contain its own terrorist conflict, globally it was not the same with many other shadowy terror groups that were more transnational. Even as the al-Qaeda received a deadly blow with the killing of their leader Osama bin Laden by US Navy SEALs, other terrorist groups emerged and spread their tentacles practically all over the world, recruiting indoctrinated youth into their ranks. The biggest such group is the Islamic State, (also called ISIL or ISIS) which has been based mainly in Syria and Iraq, though in recent days the group has been losing ground, literally. However, one devastating side effect of this was their expansion ideologically to countries such as Sri Lanka, which suffered a series of ISIS-inspired attacks on Easter Sunday 2019, killing nearly 300 persons and shattering 10 years of peace.

The ISIS has engaged in a series of atrocities one after another in several world capitals including Paris, Nice, Brussels and Istanbul, killing hundreds of innocent civilians in addition to attacks on places of worship. The biggest victims of its attacks have unfortunately been Muslims themselves. It has plundered, pillaged and destroyed thousands of ancient artifacts from Syria and other countries. Its barbaric execution videos have shocked world governments which have been propelled into action against the group. The ISIS conflict has also generated one of the biggest human tragedies in living memory as people fleeing the conflict zones have used rickety boats to get across to Europe. Thousands have died when their boats capsized mid-sea. Europe has been inundated with refugees from several countries directly and indirectly affected by the conflict. This has spawned a debate on the merits and demerits of accepting such illegal immigrants – in fact, immigration has become a hot topic in both Europe and North America as the native populations are becoming wary of the immigrants, with fears lingering that some of the refugees could be terrorists in disguise.

A lot of water has flowed on the Hudson since the events of September 11, 2001. On this 19th anniversary of that bleak day, all world leaders must resolve firmly to tackle the menace of terrorism head-on, leaving personal and bilateral rivalries aside. It is only through collective global action and intelligence sharing that the sinister designs of terrorists can be defeated. They might also need more “boots on the ground” military action that would however pose no threat to the civilian populations. Containing terror is the greatest tribute we can pay to the victims of 9/11.

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