It was our worst day, but it elicited our best response.
Eleven years ago next Tuesday, terrorist hijackers steered a pair of jets into the World Trade Center, drove another into the Pentagon, and planned to pilot a fourth into the U.S. Capitol Building before it crashed in a Pennsylvanian field during a fierce struggle between passengers and their kidnappers.
The coordinated attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and injured countless others in the single, most devastating foreign attack on our soil. It alerted us to a new breed of deadly enemies, led by an armed Muslim gang called al Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the carnage and became a household name, alongside Osama bin Laden, suicide bombers, jihad, and 9-11.
Before the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 was over, the city had become a grisly and noxious cauldron of smoke, rubble, and human remains.
In the coming days, weeks, and months, from its smoldering ashes rose a rescue and recovery zone that exemplified the U.S. as an incomparable stronghold of fortitude, and a formidable adversary that would hunt down and destroy the malevolents behind 9-11, or haul them off in handcuffs.
Today, ground zero is a place of tranquility for families of victims, and the millions of visitors who come to pay their respects by the bronze panels inscribed with the names of the 2,983 people killed, or by the waterfalls that cascade where the Twin Towers once stood as a reminder that hope springs eternal, or near the single Callery pear “survivor tree” that was enlivened and replanted after being destroyed in the attacks.
The anniversary is also a time to remember the dedication of our counter-terrorism experts, who toil around the clock and sleep with one eye open to prevent our sworn enemies from ever carrying out another terror attack against the U.S.
Their ceaseless commitment has foiled 50 demonic plots since 9-11 — a remarkable achievement considering it only takes one to create havoc.
Some of them made headlines, including the schemes of “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid, “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, and “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
But there were many other conspirators who were felled with less fanfare but equal perseverance, including Khalid Ali-Aldawsari, who bought toxic chemicals online to use in bombs across the nation, Rezwan Ferdaus, who was arrested for allegedly plotting to destroy the U.S. Capitol with remote-controlled aircraft packed with explosives, and Sami Osmakac, who was nabbed after planning to attack night clubs, businesses, and a local sheriff’s office.
Americans authorities have responded to our worst day by keeping on the trail of terrorists and their copycats like white on rice. Law enforcement has maintained order on the streets, while elected officials like Rep. Peter King (R–Long Island) have kept a spotlight on the fearsome specter of homegrown terrorism with a succession of Congressional hearings.
The vigilance cannot be overstated — nor can our reliance on counter-terrorism tools like the Patriot Act, and collaborations and partnerships between government and Muslim communities, from the grassroots up — because the threat of terrorism continues, whether by foreign nationals, legal permanent residents, radicalized illegals and visitors, or homegrown anarchists.
Tuesday is also a time to remember that American might is right — because it comes from a good place.
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Reach reporter Shavana Abruzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-2529.