Making Sense of Suicide Missions

By Diego Gambetta | Go to book overview

4
Al-Qaeda, September 11, 2001

STEPHEN HOLMES

On 11 September, 2001, nineteen young men—fifteen from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Egypt and Lebanon—seized control of four large commercial airliners departing from Boston, Newark, and Washington, DC. At 8.47 a.m., mission leader Mohamed Atta piloted American Airlines flight No. 11 into the North Tower of Manhattan's World Trade Center (WTC), and at 9.05 a.m., with the world's television cameras now trained on the site, a second group barrelled United Airlines flight No. 175 into the South Tower. Finally, after a third suicide squad had crashed American Airlines flight No. 77 into the Pentagon at 9.39 a.m., the fourth team, under assault by a group of passengers, ditched United Airlines flight No. 93 into the Pennsylvania countryside at 10.03 a.m. These transcontinental flights were apparently selected because of the negligible number of passengers likely to be on board at the time and the 10,000 gallons of aviation fuel that, upon impact, transformed the planes into immense incendiary bombs. At the WTC, the hydrocarbon fires caused by the burning fuel overcame flimsy fireproofing and, after a very short time, brought the massive skyscrapers crashing down, killing close to 2,750 people; 198 more were killed in the Pentagon attack. Although suicide terrorists had been loading vehicles with explosives and ramming them into buildings for decades, this was the first time that hijacked airplanes had been successfully deployed for such an assault. The political after-effects have been so massive that we can, without much exaggeration, describe 9/11 as the suicide mission (SM) that shook the world.

We know that passengers on some of the flights were lulled into passivity by being informed that the aircraft were returning to the airports. We also know that the hijackers murdered some pilots and members of the crew before impact, probably by slitting their throats. But except for a few cellphone conversations, mostly from United Airlines flight No. 93, little direct evidence informs us about what actually happened on board. Common sense, however, supplemented by the massive inquiries made after the fact, supports one elementary proposition, namely, that this was a carefully

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Making Sense of Suicide Missions
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword v
  • Contents xi
  • List of Tables xii
  • List of Figures xiii
  • List of Contributors xiv
  • 1: Kamikaze, 1943–5 1
  • Appendix Poems and Songs 33
  • Last Testimonies 35
  • Names of Special Attack Units 40
  • Non-Japanese Suicide Missions of the Second World War 42
  • 2: Tamil Tigers, 1987–2002 43
  • 3: Palestinians, 1981–2003 77
  • Appendix: Data Quality and Sources 117
  • 4: Al-Qaeda, September 11, 2001 131
  • 5: Dying without Killing 173
  • 6: Killing without Dying 209
  • 7: Motivations and Beliefs in Suicide Missions 233
  • 8: Can We Make Sense of Suicide Missions? 259
  • Notes 301
  • References 337
  • Index 357
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