Law enforcement officers inspect the bomb crater after the 1993 World Trade Center attack.

Law enforcement officers inspect the bomb crater after the 1993 World Trade Center attack. Photo by Richard Drew, AP Photo.

Antecedents of 9/11

Who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and why did they attack the United States?

The terrorist organization al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Founded by Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda is responsible for multiple terrorist attacks since its founding in the 1980s. Their aim has been to overthrow governments in the Middle East, and elsewhere in the Muslim world, which does not strictly enforce a narrow, fundamentalist version of Islam. U.S. support for these governments was viewed by al-Qaeda as a major obstacle to this goal, and they hoped these attacks would weaken American support for these governments. Al-Qaeda represents only a tiny fraction of the world’s Muslim community.

Primary Sources

These primary resources include speeches, executive orders, legislative acts and debates, and government reports. 

Suggested Reading List

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

Lawrence Wright. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006

The 9/11 Commission Report

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. W.W. Norton, 2004

The Exile

Scott-Clark and Levy. Bloomsbury, 2017

Osama Bin Laden

Michael Schuer. Oxford University Press, 2011

Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America

Michael Scheuer. Potomac Books, Inc., 2006

Holy War Inc.: Insider the Secret World of Osama bin Laden

Peter L. Bergen. The Free Press, 2001

Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State

Ali Soufan. W.W. Norton, 2017

Related Resources

These related resources include lesson planspast public programs, and feature galleries on Inside the Collection.