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Europe was forever changed by 9/11. Photo: Jose Jimenez
Europe was forever changed by 9/11. Photo: Jose Jimenez

The 9/11 attacks as seen from Europe

It was a normal day until three in the afternoon when everything changed. At first, there was talk of an accident after the first plane hit.

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Europe woke up on September 11, 2001 like any other day. It stayed that way until three in the afternoon, when the news took a different turn.

A wave of violence was shaking the relationship between Israel and Palestine. The EU was trying to get Israeli foreign minister, Simon Peres, and the Palestinian president, Yasir Arafat, to meet and tackle the crisis. Belarus, considered the last dictatorship in Europe, was also holding elections riddled with irregularities.

But at three in the afternoon, everything changed. In Spain, it was at the time the main news programs usually start. At first, they spoke of an accident at one of the Twin Towers, after the impact of a plane or helicopter. Live, thousands of people watched the second impact and TV presenters had to react in real time.

“Holy God! It is the other tower!” said a famous Spanish presenter. 

That expression has remained a reminder of the day in Spain and also speaks to how the broadcast of live news from anywhere in the world at any time was beginning to become a reality. The explosion of the Internet that followed made commonplace an immediacy that was not so on September, 11, 2001.

The next day, newspapers wrote about the event as the most notorious terrorist attack in American history. Many of them already suspected the beginning of the first great war of the 21st century. Others envisioned the war against an intangible enemy, terrorism.

The number of fatalities or the identity of the terrorists who had attacked the financial and military centers of the United States was still unknown.

Many European countries activated all alarms before the possibility of suffering their own attack. If the country with the highest spending on military intelligence in the world had just been attacked like this, what could happen in London, Paris or Berlin? Airspace was closed and all kinds of events were canceled, including that year's Champions' League, the main sporting event on the continent.

Europe would have to wait four more years to confront terror in a similar way: the attacks of March 11, 2004, in Madrid. Many more would follow in different parts of the continent. In all of them, the memory and fear of that September 11 would always resonate.

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