Motivations of the September 11 attacks: Wikis


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The September 11th attacks were an organized political act carried out by 19 hijackers, and organized by numerous members of al-Qaeda.

Information regarding the intention and the motives of those responsible has been the subject of great deal of study in political science. Motivations for the attacks have been stated explicitly, in many places, by Bin Laden and his supporters.[1] Notable sources include the Fatawā of Osama bin Laden, the videos of Ayman al-Zawahiri, videos of Osama bin Laden, and interviews of Osama bin Laden. Ideas concerning the motives behind the attack often reference US support for Israel, US presence in the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, and sometimes the US enforcement of sanctions against Iraq.



Before the attacks, bin Laden issued a number of public threats to America and its allies, including two fatawā, citing US support of Israel in its war with Lebannon and the occupation of 'Palestine'. Since the attacks, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have published dozens of public videos concerning the attacks and what they meant.[2]

"The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. This bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorised and displaced......So with these images and their like as their background, the events of September 11th came as a reply to those great wrongs, should a man be blamed for defending his sanctuary?"

Many of the eventual findings of the 9/11 Commission regarding motives have been supported by others. Counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke explains in his 2004 book, Against All Enemies, that U.S. foreign policy decisions including "confronting Moscow in Afghanistan, inserting the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf", and "strengthening Israel as a base for a southern flank against the Soviets" contributed to al-Qaeda's motives.[3] Others, such as Jason Burke, foreign correspondent for The Observer, focus on a more political aspect to the motive, stating that "bin Laden is an activist with a very clear sense of what he wants and how he hopes to achieve it. Those means may be far outside the norms of political activity [...] but his agenda is a basically political one."[4]

Explicit motives


US support of Israel

Bin Laden strongly objects to U.S. policy regarding Israel. He has argued Israel "was killing and punishing Palestinians with American money and American arms."[5]

In 2001, Noam Chomsky argued that bin Laden has been:

outraged by long-standing US support for Israel’s brutal military occupation, now in its 35th year; Washington’s decisive diplomatic, military, and economic intervention in support of the killings, the harsh and destructive siege over many years, the daily humiliation to which Palestinians are subjected, the expanding settlements designed to break the occupied territories into Bantustan-like cantons and take control of the resources, the gross violation of the Geneva Conventions, and other actions that are recognized as crimes throughout most of the world, apart from the US, which has prime responsibility for them. [6]

Bin Laden has noted that key figures, Madeline Albright, Sandy Berger, and William Cohen who were all Jewish, "drove Washington's undoubtedly pro-Israel policy" during the Clinton administration.[7]

Gulf war sanctions

On 6 August 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 661 which imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, providing for a full trade embargo, excluding medical supplies, food and other items of humanitarian necessity, these to be determined by the Security Council sanctions committee. After the end of the Gulf War and after the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, the sanctions were linked to removal of weapons of mass destruction by Resolution 687 [2]. From 1991 until 2003 the effects of government policy and sanctions regime led to hyperinflation, widespread poverty and malnutrition.

In the 2004 Osama bin Laden video, Osama calls this "the greatest mass slaughter of children mankind has ever known"[8]

During the latter part of the 1990s the UN considered relaxing the sanctions imposed because of the hardships suffered by ordinary Iraqis. According to UN estimates, between 500,000 and 1.2 million children died during the years of the sanctions.[9] The United States used its veto in the UN Security Council to block the proposal to lift the sanctions because of the continued failure of Iraq to verify disarmament. However, an oil for food program was established in 1996 to ease the effects of sanctions.

Operation Southern Watch

Since the Gulf war, the US has had a continued presence of 5,000 troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. [10] Operation Southern Watch enforced the no-fly zones over southern Iraq set up after 1991, and the country's oil exports through the shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf are protected by the US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain.

Since Saudi Arabia houses the holiest sites in Islam (Mecca and Medina) — many Muslims were upset at the permanent military presence. The continued presence of US troops after the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia was one of the stated motivations behind the September 11th terrorist attacks,[10] the Khobar Towers bombing, as well, the date chosen for the 1998 United States embassy bombings (August 7), was eight years to the day that American troops were sent to Saudi Arabia.[11]Bin Laden interpreted the Prophet Muhammad as banning the "permanent presence of infidels in Arabia".[12] In 1996, Bin Laden issued a fatwa, calling for American troops to get out of Saudi Arabia. In the December 1999 interview with Rahimullah Yusufzai, bin Laden said he felt that Americans were "too near to Mecca" and considered this a provocation to the entire Muslim world.[5]

Suggested motives


Bernard Lewis is the best-known exponent of the idea of the "humiliation" of the Islamic world through globalisation. In the 2004 book The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, he argues animosity toward the west is best understood with the decline of the once powerful Ottoman empire, compounded by the import of western ideas— Arab socialism, Arab liberalism and Arab secularism.

During the past three centuries, the Islamic world has lost its dominance and its leadership, and has fallen behind both the modern West and the rapidly modernizing Orient. This widening gap poses increasingly acute problems, both practical and emotional, for which the rulers, thinkers, and rebels of Islam have not yet found effective answers.[13]

In an essay titled 'The spirit of terrorism', Jean Baudrillard described 9/11 as the first global event that "questions the very process of globalization".[14]

Secularism in the Middle East

Some middle-east scholars like Michael Scott Doran and Peter Bergen have argued that 9/11 was a strategic way to provoke America into a war that incites a pan-Islamisic revolution.

Michael Scott Doran argues the attacks are best understood as being part of a religious conflict within the Muslim world. In an essay, Somebody Else's Civil War Doran argued that Bin Laden's followers: "consider themselves an island of true believers surrounded by a sea of iniquity".[15] Hoping that U.S. retaliation would unite the faithful against the West, bin Laden sought to spark revolutions in Arab nations and elsewhere. Doran argues the Osama bin Laden videos were attempting to provoke a visceral reaction in the Middle East and ensure that Muslim citizens would react as violently as possible to an increase in U.S. involvement in their region.[16]

As well, in The Osama bin Laden I Know, correspondent Peter Bergen argues that the attacks were part of a plan to cause the United States to increase its military and cultural presence in the Middle East, thereby forcing Muslims to confront the idea of a non-Muslim government and establish conservative Islamic governments in the region.[17]

See also

Further reading

  • The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
  • Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11 - by Gerald Posner
  • The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened. Where We Are Now. How We'll Win - by Michael A. Ledeen
  • Understanding September 11 - edited by Craig Calhoun, Paul Price and Ashley Timmer
  • Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror- by Mary Habeck
  • Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers, Who They Were, Why They Did It - by Terry McDermott


  1. ^ Berube, Michael. The Left at War. pp. 62.   Noam Chomsky Quoted during interview by Radio B92: ... a sensible person would try to ascertain Bin Laden’s views, and the sentiments of the large reservoir of supporters he has throughout the region. About all of this, we have a great deal of information....
  2. ^ "So I shall talk to you about the story behind those events and shall tell you truthfully about the moments in which the decision was taken, for you to consider."[1] -2004 Osama bin Laden video
  3. ^ Clarke, Richard (2004). Against All Enemies. New York: Free Press. p. 35. ISBN 0-7432-6024-4.  
  4. ^ Burke, Jason (2004). Al-Qaeda - The True Story of Radical Islam. London, New York: I.B. Tauris. pp. 23, 162–163. ISBN 1-85043-666-5.  
  5. ^ a b "Face to face with Osama". The Guardian. September 26, 2001.,3604,558075,00.html.  
  6. ^ "Interviewing Chomsky Radio B92, Belgrade". Septmeber 18, 2001. Retrieved 14 December 2009.  
  7. ^ Bergen, Peter L. (2001). Holy War Inc.. Simon & Schuster. p. 5.  
  8. ^ "Full transcript of bin Ladin's speech". aljazeera. Retrieved 29 November 2009.  
  9. ^ "Iraq surveys show 'humanitarian emergency'". Wednesday, 12 August 1999. Retrieved 29 November 2009.  
  10. ^ a b "US pulls out of Saudi Arabia". Retrieved 29 November 2009.  
  11. ^ Plotz, David (2001) What Does Osama Bin Laden Want?, Slate
  12. ^ Bergen, Peter L. (2001). Holy War Inc.. Simon & Schuster. p. 3.  
  13. ^ The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. Bernard Lewis. 2004
  14. ^ Baudrillard. "The spirit of terrorism". Retrieved 15 December 2009.  
  15. ^ "somebody-elses-civil-war". foreignaffairs. Retrieved 05 December 2009.  
  16. ^ Doran, Michael Scott (2005). Understanding the War on Terror. New York: Norton. pp. 72–75. ISBN 0-87609-347-0.  
  17. ^ Bergen, Peter (2006). The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader. New York: Free Press. p. 229. ISBN 0-7432-7891-7.  


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