On September 14, 2001, more than 2,000 citizens converge on downtown Seattle’s Westlake Park as part of a national “Day of Remembrance” and participate in a world-wide moment of silence following the terrorist attacks on Washington, D.C., and New York City, which killed more than 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. Public officials including Governor Gary Locke, King County Executive Ron Sims, and Seattle Mayor Paul Schell (1937-2014) join with prominent Christian, Jewish, and Islamic leaders in expressing the community’s grief and in calling for religious and social tolerance. Similar events are held in most other Puget Sound cities, and many Seattle-area citizens, paramedics, and firefighters volunteer to help search for survivors and victims in the rubble of New York City’s World Trade Center.
Local incidents of racial or religious violence were rare despite condemnation of the Islamic extremists responsible for the “9-11” attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., which destroyed the World Trade Center and four commercial jetliners, damaged the Pentagon, and claimed more than 3,000 lives. A Sikh cab driver was attacked on September 12, although Sikhs are not Muslims, and the vast majority of Muslims condemned the attacks.
All commercial and private air travel was banned for several days following the September 11 attacks, and armed Coast Guard and U.S. Navy vessels and aircraft were deployed to protect Puget Sound harbors and military bases. Federal investigators also scrutinized or temporarily closed several Seattle-area businesses in an effort to sever local ties which might benefit the al-Qaida terrorist organization and its allies.
A former Seattle resident and community activist, James Ujaama (born James E. Thompson) was later detained and indicted by a Seattle-based federal grand jury on September 9, 2002, for attempting to aid al-Qaida allies in establishing a “terrorist training camp” in Oregon. Ujaama pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Seattle was already sensitive to possible terrorist attacks following the arrest of Ahmed Ressam at Port Angeles as he tried to enter the United States from Canada on December 14, 1999, with bomb components. Ressam reportedly had reservations at a motel near Seattle Center, which led Mayor Paul Schell to cancel a planned “Millennium” celebration at Seattle Center on New Year’s Eve. Ressam later confessed to participating in a terrorist plot against the Los Angeles International Airport on behalf by al-Qaida (also spelled Al Queda), an Islamic extremist organization founded in the wake of the 1990 Persian Gulf War.
This group and its leader, Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian dissident, claimed responsibility for the 9-11 plot and previous attacks on American installations in Africa and the Middle East. The United States and its allies retaliated by invading Afghanistan in late 2001 and deposed its militant Taliban government, which hosted al-Qaida leaders and training camps. Although thousands of actual or suspected Islamic extremists were killed or captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Osama bin Laden’s fate remained unclear on the first anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.
In October 2003, officials exhaustively investigating each individual on the dead and missing list in the World Trade Center disaster determined that 2,752 people had lost their lives in that part of the calamity. This was 40 fewer than before, with names eliminated due to mistakes and fraud.