Inside the Terrorist Network
should we have
personal stories
al qaeda
reporter's notebook
the interior of a 757 and a flight simulator screen showing the pentagon
join the discussion: What do you think motivated the Sept. 11 terrorists? And should the U.S. have been able to prevent the attacks?



The September-11 attack on the United States, was the direct consequence of decades of American meddling in the Mideast and the Persian Gulf. America's ill conceived foreign policy as it is conducted in that region has been characterized by a profound disdain for the Moslem people in general and the Arab people in particular. The incessant anti-Arab propaganda disseminated by the American media's friends of Israel, and especially by Hollywood, has taken root in the minds of the average American, including our president..... It should really be no mystery to anyone that the majority of the September-11 terrorists were Arabs. The president's open appeal to the American people for tolerance of our Arab neighbors grew out of the necessity for avoiding bloodshed on our streets which, in turn, would have further alienated the Arab nations and kept them from joining the coalition for the war on terrorism. Their participation is crucial for the ultimate success of the campaign.

Rather than diverting attention from the real causes for which the terrorists are ready to give their lives, we should listen to them, not to what the biased media pundits would have us believe. Usama bin-Laden is probably the mastermind behind the September-11 attacks and he is the leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Yet, we are told by our government and the pundits not to believe his proclamations that state very clearly what his motives are. It boggles the mind to think that even today we are searching for the motives of the attacks on the World Trader Center and the Pentagon, when they have been clearly enunciated on several occasions by the only person in the world who is in a position to so.

Bin-Laden has stated on more than one occasion that he wants U.S. military forces to get out of Saudi Arabia, as well as for Israel to stop its occupation of Palestinian territory as mandated by a number of United Nations Security Council resolutions that were issued over thirty years ago.

He has also made it clear that Americans and Jews remain targets for terrorists as long as the prevailing conditions in the Mideast remain. Despite Bin Laden's pronouncements, it is the friends of Israel in the U.S. who want us to believe that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is not one of the causes that motivated the attack of September-11. They dismiss Bin Laden's claim on the grounds that he had never mentioned it before the attacks. So what? Even if that were true, why would that make any difference? Maybe he gave up on hoping that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would be resolved peacefully.

The American news media obviously fears that Americans will connect the dots and conclude that our government's unquestioning support of Israel's expansion into Palestinian territory is one of the dominant motives for the Septemeber-11 attacks.

Could the attacks have been prevented? Certainly, if the FBI had not dropped the ball. They just couldn't fathom the significance of the information provided to them by the flight school operator, who had observed suspicious behavior of the suicide pilots in flight training. Can it happen again? Absolutely, as long as there are people who feel they are being exploited by more powerful nations. To minimize the possible recurrence of terrorist attacks on our country, we should concentrate on fighting the root causes of terrorism rather than just its symptoms. There is no question that those who committed the crime must be brought to justice. However, sticking our heads in the sand, denying reality, and refusing to accept the stated motives of the terrorists will get us nowhere in the war to eradicate this menace.

Andrew Howard
san francisco, california


I first wish to commend you on the report of 9-11. The events that occurred on 9-11, considering the world population of 6 billion were unstoppable. What we must learn from this, is the only way you win the game is by playing the same way. The United States government has the resources, the money and the know how to prevent these events. The IDF (Israel Defense Force) have used calculated assassination in the battle against terrorism, and the fact is if we don't change our philosophy to more mirror the actions of the IDF, the next 9-11 will be worse.

Jason Wooden
arlington , ma


Why was there little to no information given on the 4th pilot who flew into the Pentagon? I believe you mention his name, but that was about it.

Other than that, "Inside the Terrorist Network" was classic Frontline. Thanks in advance.

Dan Bonadeo
boonton, new jersey

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
FRONTLINE focused on the planners of the 9/11 plot. Had Hani Hanjour--the pilot of the plane that flew into the Pentagon--been in the Hamburg cell of planners, he would have figured more prominently in the program. However , Hanjour was a last minute replacement pilot. The man originally believed to have been the designated the 4th pilot--Ramzi Bin Alshib-- was repeatedly denied a U.S. visa. Supposedly , Alshib then recruited Zacarius Moussaoui . But Moussaoui was arrested in the U.S . So Hanjour in the end became the 4th pilot , but very late in the conspiracy.


Again, an excellent informative piece of work.. The one thing I feel we miss in all of this is underestimating the intelligence and differences of the people that carry out these acts.

The American people tend to underestimate just how much money, thought and connections are involved in these attacks.. We feel everyone thinks like us and we do not have the capacity or imagination to absorb the scope of thoughts and ideas of these terrorists.

I also feel that for the sake of being politically correct we lost are sense of questioning what seems so obviously suspicious. Things get ignored that should be reported and investigated. We have an urgency not to offend. Society has become too sensitive and therfore have lost some of our natural defenses. We seem always to skirt around issues rather than meet them head on...

As for the question, could we have stopped this, I don't know enough about our intelligence network. I do know if I was on one of those planes my thoughts would never have let me believe that I would be on a suicide mission to destroy as many Americans as possible.. For you see I am also one of these people that have underestimated the actions of others. So therefore am I guilty too?

Ellen Lury
burrillville, ri


Thanks for the details. They were young, well educated, intelligent, and committed -- a very 60's style dedication. America has not seen that in a long while.

And for these actions to be mostly coming from abroad, and from a varied mixture of people, their fight is seemingly working.

Most of the U. S. reactions are proving to be knee-jerk, and virtually nonsensical.

tulsa, ok


I found this program very intriguing - I think that it is very important that Americans understand what it is that motivates people like Atta to do what he did.

I think that attacks like this could be prevented if Congress and the Presidency beef up the American intelligence budget - in order to win the first war of the 21st century, we are going to have to learn how Islamic terrorists think.

In many ways, I think that Americans will never completely understand the motivations of Islamic terrorists. Their way of life is so different from the West, and the men that killed many innocent people on 9/11/01 were poisoned with the worst kind of hatred possible.

From watching this program and looking at this web site, I can see that the terrorists were motivated by a combination of religious ideas and political motivations. It will take time and skill for U.S. intelligence to get into that kind of thinking, but for the sake of future generations, it must be done.

Susan Yusko
columbus, ohio


congrats on an excellent program. you were so right. no imagination. all because so many americans believe the WORLD is between ny and the west coast. therefore they are ignorant about the world beyond our own borders. if you are ignorant you cannot be sensitive. we paid the price for not being aware of and therefore sensitive to the needs of the rest of the world.

also our foreign policy over many years has been wrong in backing israel right or wrong against the palistinians and in so doing against the whole arab world. america wuold be wise to listen to her foreign born loyal citizens who have a wider view of the world.

last century britain learned that might is not right. america would do well to remember that.

bethpage , ny 11714


Congratulations on another superbly produced and informative piece of journalism!

I believe that complacency and lack of imagination is partly to blame for the tragic events that transpired on September 11th. Its clear that government and law enforcement agencies missed numerous opportunities to thwart the terrorists destructive plans.

While I do believe these agencies are at fault to a certain extent, I also believe they are not totally to blame for the tragedy. Its unfortunate that there are individuals and entities that feel threatened by Americans way of life and feel obligated to seek vengeance for wrong doings and injustices committed by the USA, real or imagined. Its a grim reality, but one that has to be faced head-on if we are to survive as a nation.

It is imperative that Government and law enforcement agencies take a more aggressive stance in terms of monitoring the activities of terrorist networks abroad as well as domestic. Whats truly needed are stricter rules, regulations and guidelines concerning issuance of Visas and other types of documentation that allow individuals from abroad to reside in the United States.

But..bottom line...they will be ultimately useless if not enforced to the fullest extent by the agencies assigned to protect us.

Robert Ortiz
phoenix, az


Excellent program. What is most astonishing about the 9/11 attacks is the relative ease with which the men actually took over those planes. To hope that a group of true heroes, as where on the plane that crashed in PA, would have been on the three other planes is too much to hope for and we'll never know, but passengers on those flights probably tried fighting back too.

This leads me to my point, while there are many other tactics other than flying planes into buildings that terrorists can and undoubtedly will use again, our airline security system is a complete joke and the terrorists knew that. If nothing else, cockpit doors should have always locked from the inside and should be thicker than cardboard! Also, while it would be impossible to have one on every single passenger flight, the fact that the sky-marshall program was long ago discontinued, was a mistake. The power of not knowing if a sky-marshall was on their flight or not, may have been enough of a deterent to keep those 19 men from even attempting what they succeeded at!

R. Camp
st louis, mo


One thing which stands out (within the context of the terrorist-hijacking of airliners) is the abdication of responsibillity for their own safety on the part of most Americans.

One might ask, had a event similar to 9-11 occured one hundred years ago, what would have been the reaction of the passengers? Right; the hijackers would have been shot dead on the spot by their intended victims!

Public perception and public policy have created a new class of potential victims; the unarmed (and therefore helpless) air travelers. Much of the public, virtually all of the press, and the government(s) insists that travelers be denied possession of the tools of self defense while conceding (when pressed) that no amount of "law" is going to keep the determined terrorist from getting his means of destruction aboard an airliner.

If they could somehow speak from the grave, how many of the passenger-victims of 9-11 would exclaim "If even one of us had had a gun!"

Norman Cobb
keizer, oregon


As a survivor of the attack on the WTC, I have tried to absorb all of the information about the people, planning and aftermath of that event as possible.

As shown by your insightful program, these events were perfectly preventable. Unfortunately, guilt by association is the perfect tool to expand the net of security. Just as engineers are examining the wreckage of those buildings in an attempt to build safe, stronger and more durable buildings, so too must we do with our society. The citizens must learn to educate themselves not only about the methods of terrorists, but about the things that our government does which fuels their motivation.

James O'Brien
harlem, nyc


First of all great Frontline as usual. I don't believe any Americans can truly understand what motivates these terrorists to take such extreme actions. Growing up in the conditions and education has a major factor. Some of these terrorists are born with war and death in their backyards and that's something none of us can say we have experienced. This would obviously make one very callus to bloodshed and the value of life.

They are also exposed to a more bias controlled media if any. ...On the issue of prevention it seems it always takes a tragedy to block the next one. Hopefully this will allow the intelligence specialist to look outside the box and to try and think more like a terrorist than a security guard.

Kelly Stewart
charleston, sc


An excellent piece of work.

The complacency that allowed 9/11 to happen is the same complacency that made the United States distant from the rest of the world after the end of the Cold War.

A more 'engaged' US would have had better foreign connections, more up to date information and more of a worldly perspective. The US has responsibilities as the world's only superpower, which it abbrogated benignly during the Clinton regime and brutally in the first months of the Bush Administration. Even now after the Afghanistan campaign, I already detect a "let's get out of here" attitude coming to the fore.

Pajoh Lublewski
san francisco, ca


In 1997 Bin Laden announces to the world, on videotape, that American civilians are legitimate targets. In 1998, Bin Laden's men blow up two of our embassies and kill hundreds of people. At some point between these two events, and certainly no later than the second event, Al Qaeda was in a state of war with the U.S. But unfortunately, we did not respond by declaring war on Al Qaeda. Our response was to attempt the assassination of Bin Laden, and to try to disrupt plot after terrorist plot, which some counter-terrorist folk refer to as "swatting at flies". ...

...We didn't know about Al Qaeda's war because nobody told us about it. Some people did know about it, and even wrote lengthy reports about it (such as the now-famous National Commission on Terrorism report with the World Trade Center in crosshairs on the cover). Those reports went to the President of the United States and his national security advisers. And news stories about Bin Laden and various foiled terrorist plots did sporadically get reported by the media.

But the man in charge of setting our foreign policy, of overseeing our national defense, and of mobilizing the public and their imagination, that man never got around to telling us that we were actually in a war with Al Qaeda. I do not hold President Clinton responsible for the September 11th massacres. Only the hijackers and their supporters get the blame for that. But the Frontline report on the hijackers seems to make it clear that presidential leadership would have made a crucial difference and could have even averted the attacks.

Matthew Goggins
the bronx, new york


Normally I try to respond with restraint to reports which anger me; however, this time I will not wait to cool off and allow more reasoned thought.

I watched the entire Frontline presentation with interest until the end of the show when the narrator began the doltish diatribe wondering aloud if America was to blame for the September 11 attacks.

No. America is NOT to blame for people so full of hate that they killed others, including those of their own faith. I will never, in all my life, ever accept these repugnant assertions.

Rosanna Gowan
redding, california


If there had been someone who had thought that any of these hijackers' activities were suspicious, further investigation may have been discouraged because of fear of accusations of profiling. This is happening now, and this is why we may be victims again in the near future. Logic dictates that potential terrorists will be Muslim, and to discount this is to be foolish. You may say "Look at McVeigh", but he was an aberration.

colorado springs , co


home + introduction + should we have... + their personal stories + inside al qaeda + reporter's notebook
producer's chat + discussion + tapes & transcripts + press + credits + privacy
FRONTLINE + wgbh + pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation