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30 questions

By Times staff and wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 12, 2001


Who and why?

1. Is there significance to the date Sept. 11?

Nobody knows what the terrorists were thinking. Some possibilities:

Sept. 11, transferred into numerals, is 9-1-1.

Tuesday's attacks came two days before the eighth anniversary of the Israel-Palestinian peace pact that was sealed at the White House.

A federal judge had set today as the sentencing date for an associate of Osama bin Laden in the 1998 bombing of a U.S. embassy in Tanzania that killed 213.

Sept. 11 was the first anniversary of a Palestinian leadership decision, under international pressure, to postpone a declaration of independence; the Palestinian Central Council did what Yasser Arafat wanted.

Sept. 11, 1933, is the birth date of William L. Pierce, author of the Turner Diaries, which inspired Timothy McVeigh.

2. The terrorists hijacked four jets that took off within 12 minutes of each other. How could they smuggle weapons past airport security?

The defense of America's flight system is geared more toward finding bombs than preventing hijacking. The aircraft itself, in effect, became the bomb. All the terrorists had to do was get enough weaponry on board to take control.

Experts said the terrorists could have smuggled plastic weapons, even small knives, through the metal detectors that passengers pass through.

3. Were there reports the planes were hijacked before they crashed?

At 9:58 a.m., an emergency dispatcher received a cell phone call from a man who said he was a passenger locked in a bathroom aboard United Flight 93. "We are being hijacked!" the caller said. Also, Barbara Olson, a former congressional investigator and wife of U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, was aboard American Flight 77 and twice called her husband. She described some details of the hijacking, including that the attackers were using knife-like instruments.

4. Why the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?

They are the most tangible symbols of American economic and military power.

The World Trade Center, the most prominent feature of the New York skyline, represented the embodiment of Western and American economic imperialism and arrogance. It was the second terrorist attack on the World Trade Center; the first was a bombing in 1993.

Some observers also noted that the terrorists hijacked and crashed jets that had names emblematic of the U.S. -- American Airlines and United Airlines.

5. Who designed the World Trade Center?

Minoru Yamasaki. He died in 1986. He said:

"The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man's dedication to world peace ... beyond the compelling need to make this a monument to world peace, the World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a representation of man's belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation, his ability to find greatness."

-- from Divided We Stand, A Biography of New York's World Trade Center, by Eric Darton.

6. When did it open and just how large and sturdy were the towers?

Finished (mostly) in 1972; 1,350 feet tall, for a time they were the tallest buildings in the world; they were fifth and sixth tallest when they were taken down Tuesday. Each tower had 110 floors, 21,800 windows and 104 elevators. The buildings were designed to withstand tremendous wind forces; each tower could sway about 3 feet from center.

7. Who worked there?

An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people work daily in the two main towers, and another 70,000 visit daily. An estimated 800 companies have offices there. Some of the more well-known: Lehman Brothers, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Kemper Insurance, Dai-Ichi Kangyo Trust, Asahi Bank, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., Verizon Communications.

8. Who is Osama bin Laden?

A fugitive Saudi millionaire in his early 40s, he is an Islamic militant, the spiritual leader of those committed to Islamic jihad, or religious war. His organization is known as al Quaida, (or al Qaeda), Arabic for "the Base."

The turning point for him came after the 1991 Gulf War, when he saw the presence of U.S. soldiers in his homeland of Saudi Arabia as an "invasion" of infidels who were polluting and corrupting holy lands. His rage has intensified because of U.S. support for Israel, and because the Israeli-Palestinian situation has deteriorated into a bloody, slow-motion war.

9. Why is he the chief suspect?

Bin Laden is suspected in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, in which six people were killed and thousands were injured. A truck was driven into the parking garage below one of the towers.

The United States also accused him of masterminding the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in which 200 died. He is also suspected in the attack on the USS Cole last October that killed 17.

10. Like the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombings, we are assuming that Muslim extremists are to blame. Could it be domestic terrorists?

No one has been ruled out, but terrorism experts doubted Tuesday's attacks were the work of American extremists. But they did say the terrorists may have supporters and be getting financial backing from inside the United States.

11: Did the terrorists shoot the pilots and then Kamikaze the jets into the buildings?

By the time the jets hit their targets, the pilots most likely had been shot and the terrorists were at the controls. Even with a gun at his head, most pilots would not fly into a building housing thousands of people; facing certain death, most pilots would crash the plane elsewhere. A terrorist with no previous flying experience would have found it relatively easy to steer a plane through the final moments.

12: Wasn't security beefed up at the World Trade Center after the 1993 bombing?

Yes. Two command-and-control centers were installed and turnstiles were constructed to monitor movement in the twin towers. But an executive from the security company that did the upgrade said none of those measures could stop a suicide bomber from the air.

"The only way to prevent something like that is to be able to obtain information as to the plot before it happens, short of antiaircraft batteries being replaced on strategic buildings, which I'm not sure would be acceptable to the government or the public," said Arthur Birch, president of Electronic Control Security International.

13. Why did it take nearly two hours for the twin towers to collapse after the planes hit?

The towers apparently withstood the initial impact of the crashes. "The subsequent fires caused the collapse," said Jon Magnuson, head of the company that designed the buildings' structure. "What happens in a fire is steel at 1,500, 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, steel loses its strength. Then it just collapses."

He said nobody could design a building and account for the possibility of heat generated by burning jet fuel. The impact of the plane could have damaged the sprinkler system, allowing the fire to burn uncontrolled.

The combination of the plane crashes and the heat from the fires on the steel columns probably began the collapse. A structural engineer said that after the upper floors gave way, each then overloaded the floor beneath it, continuously to the ground.

There is a theory that there could have been detonations from the bottom of the buildings, but experts said that from watching replays on television, the buildings seemed to collapse from the top down.

14. What about the Pentagon? Isn't it supposed to be an invulnerable bunker?

Built during World War II, the Pentagon is still the world's largest office building, with 17 1/2 miles of corridors. Although the five-sided building appears fortress-like and is made of concrete, it was never intended to withstand a large-scale attack.

Part of one exterior wall in the "wedge" of the building used mostly by Army personnel collapsed after being hit by an airliner that had taken off minutes earlier from Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

15. Should the CIA have been able to detect the possible attacks?

Nobody knows. Counterterrorism experts were stunned by the lapse. A U.S. military source told the BBC that a "worldwide advisory," a regular memorandum sent to all U.S. embassies, had gone out in the past few days, outlining possible attacks on U.S. targets around the world.

Terrorism experts said the attacks will lead to a rethinking about America's approach to security. They said there appears to be a lack of coordination among different intelligence services fighting international terrorism.

16. Why did President Bush fly to Louisiana and then on to Nebraska, instead of to Washington?

The president was secreted between military installations, in what former President Clinton said was part of a Secret Service and military plan to keep the president safe. Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., is the headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Command, which controls U.S. nuclear weapons. There, Bush convened a National Security Council meeting by teleconference. He was then to return to Washington.

17. Where were other top government officials?

Vice President Dick Cheney remained in a nearly deserted White House. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, next in the line of presidential succession after Cheney, and other top leaders of Congress were taken to a government facility 75 miles west of Washington. Secretary of State Colin Powell cut short a trip to South America to return to Washington. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was returning from a banking conference in Switzerland.

How it affects us

18. When will airports reopen

No earlier than noon today, possibly later.

19. Will the attacks change passenger screening on domestic and international flights

Too early to say, but there almost certainly will be changes in the screening of passengers, fuel handlers and catering and clean-up crews. Short term, passengers should expect much closer scrutiny at airports.

20. I heard there was a run on ATM machines. Will I have difficulty getting money from my bank?

You should not have any difficulty. Banks have not experienced any extraordinary demand for cash, and the Federal Reserve says it is ready to help out if that were to happen. Bank of America set a $5,000 limit on cash withdrawals; First Union said it saw no need to set a limit. All banks expect to be open regular hours today.

21. Why were malls closed? Will the new International Plaza in Tampa open as planned?

Malls were closed not for security reasons, but out of respect for victims. Most said they will re-open today. International Plaza will open Friday, as scheduled.

22. Why did they close Disney World and Busch Gardens? When will they reopen?

Out of an abundance of caution. Both theme parks will re-open today.

23. I'm expecting an important package by overnight delivery. When can I expect to get it?

Expect delays. The U.S. Postal Service is accepting express packages but won't guarantee 3 p.m. delivery. FedEx says all deliveries are likely delayed 24 to 48 hours. UPS suspended next-day service for delivery today and won't assure delivery times. New York City and Washington, D.C., deliveries are suspended indefinitely.

24. What about ordinary postal delivery?

Expect delays. Forty percent of the mail from the Tampa International Airport processing center goes out by air. All 16,000 pounds of U.S. Postal Service mail that would have flown via Federal Express planes Tuesday was sent via truck. Post offices remain open.

25. There are rumors gas prices are about to take off, as much as 50 cents a gallon overnight. Is this true?

Partially. Anxiety over future oil supplies drove the price of petroleum up significantly on global exchanges Tuesday. Gas stations responded differently. Some held prices steady. One company imposed a 30-cent price increase because they feared major fuel terminals were being closed.

Panic caused by rumors of a pending gasoline shortage sent prices skyrocketing in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Michigan and other states. One station in Oklahoma City charged $5 a gallon -- and had long lines of people waiting to buy.

Bottom line: Expect some price increases. How high, and whether they are here for the short or long-term, is unclear.

26. When will the stock markets re-open?

The markets will remain closed today, marking the first time that news has kept the New York Stock Exchange closed for two full days since the Great Depression. The New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market planned to remain closed at least through Wednesday.

27. When will the federal courthouse in Tampa re-open?

Today.

28. What about schools?

Schools are open in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties and are making counseling available for families and students who want it. Many after-school activities have been canceled.

29. Where can I give blood?

Florida Blood Services will be accepting blood at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and Legends Field in Tampa beginning at 8 a.m. today. All regular blood donation centers will be open as well.

30. With the ban on air travel, can emergency helicopters operate?

Yes. After grounding the trauma helicopters that bring injured people to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg early Tuesday, the FAA exempted law enforcement and medical emergency aircraft from the flight ban.

- From Times staff and wire reports.

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From the Times wire desk
  • Day of terror shatters confidence of a nation
  • U.S. spying ability questioned anew
  • Military put on highest alert; Navy ships sent to N.Y., D.C.
  • President, leaders govern in shadow of day's chaos
  • Amid his anguish, Bush vows retaliation
  • Hijackers penetrated security with apparent ease
  • Report: Victims alive in rubble
  • Experts: Impact, fire too much for twin towers
  • 50,000 worked in towers each day
  • Shaken survivors tell tales of luck and bravery
  • Workers flee in panic, only to sit in gridlock
  • Official's wife was aboard jet
  • Jet had turned toward Washington
  • A blur in the sky, then a firestorm
  • Plane slams into Pentagon
  • Attacks in Afghanistan fuel rumors
  • Pained world condemns acts, but some cheer
  • State-by-state precautions
  • Airline numbers
  • Some of the major attacks on U.S. targets
  • A thud, then a sprint to safety
  • Terror, minute by minute
  • Flight stoppage has widespread repercussions

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