There can be no question that the defining event of the third millennium thus far has been the terrorist atrocities committed on September 11 2001; atrocities so breathtaking in their conception, so unimaginable in their execution, that they continue to beggar belief a decade afterwards. The world would never be the same again, its consciousness seared forever by three simple digits and a stroke.

New Yorkers had woken on that fateful late summer’s day to clear blue skies. On their way to their offices in downtown Manhattan, some would have looked up shortly before 09.00 and noticed a plume of thick smoke pouring from one tower of the World Trade Center. As they were starting to digest reports that a passenger aircraft had flown into the tower, thousands looked on in horror and disbelief as another airliner crashed into the second tower. The tops of both towers where now shrouded in smoke and flames, and office workers trapped on the upper floors made desperate telephone calls to families and loved ones. Barely an hour later the south tower suddenly collapsed, propelling a huge cloud of dust and ash through the streets of Lower Manhattan. Within minutes the north tower followed suit, and what was once one of the world’s tallest and proudest buildings had been reduced to a pile of rubble.

Both aircraft, were on routine scheduled flights when they were hijacked by al-Qaeda suicide terrorists after taking off from Boston. Almost simultaneously, another hijacked airliner was flown into the Pentagon building, 320 km (200 mi) away in Washington DC. A fourth passenger jet failed to reach its target – thought to have been the White House itself – and crashed into a field near Pittsburgh after the passengers fought back against their captors.

When: September 11 2001

Where: New York; Arlington, Virginia; near Shanksville. Pennsylvania, USA

Death toll: 2,973 people were killed in the attacks, including all the passengers on the four jets and 19 terrorist hijackers.

You should know: Not surprisingly, there has been endless debate over what, if anything, should occupy Ground Zero, as the World Trade Center site has become known. The site is slowly being re-developed, but at its heart there will be a National Memorial to the victims of 9/11, comprising two enormous pools set within the footprints of the Twin Towers, their edges inscribed with the victims’ names.

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