Around the world, lives changed by 9/11
September 5, 2003
NEW YORK — There is before, and there is after. The dividing line is September 11, 2001, the day the United States suffered the world's worst terrorist attack. But not only Americans felt the reverberations.
People around the world -members of history's supporting cast - saw their lives changed that day. These are some of their stories:
Before: Ruediger Bendlin was a marketing director. He worked in the image business, making sure the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg looked good.
After: He has the same job, goes to work each day. But the man
Ruediger Bendlin was - the "foundation," he calls it - has been
shaken. His faith in people is diminished, perhaps even dissipated.
Mohammed Atta and another of the Sept. 11 hijackers attended
Bendlin's school, as did several other members of Hamburg's
al-Qaida cell. When the news broke, Bendlin was the point man for
public statements. It was chaos, and he had to take all comers.
He tried, with his colleagues, to figure out whether there had
been signs that they had missed, whether there was something they
should have done.
Locals began calling his school "Terrorist University." When
Bendlin took the subway, he thought everyone was looking at him.
Were they blaming him? It started to eat into his job; suddenly,
the public-relations man didn't have much enthusiasm for the
The worst part: his dealings with Mounir el Motassadeq, a
Moroccan student convicted in of providing logistical support to
Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and other members of Hamburg's al-Qaida
Days weeks after Sept. 11, el Motassadeq asked Bendlin for help
dealing with the press. Bendlin obliged. El Motassadeq later
confessed to training with the hijackers in Osama bin Laden's
Today, Bendlin is damaged, left with echoes of distrust for
foreign students - something he acknowledges is irrational. He
realized it in May when he went to an annual spring party for
non-German students; almost immediately, he had to turn around and
"It was just too much," said Bendlin, 41, sitting in his office
a minute's walk from where Atta defended his thesis. "It has
nothing to do with the individuals. It was something in me,
Odds are you've never heard of Aicha el-Wafi. Perhaps her former
husband's surname is more familiar: Moussaoui.
El-Wafi's son, Zacarias Moussaoui, is the only person charged in
the Sept. 11 attacks. And across the ocean from her offspring, in
an ivy-covered stucco house along the Mediterranean Sea in southern
France, the Moroccan-born el-Wafi contemplates her life and awaits
news about what she calls "the problem with my son."
"All these dreams, washed up," she says. "The days for making
plans are over."
One of el-Wafi's daughters brought news of her new life. She
called to say Zacarias' picture was flashing on the television.
El-Wafi hadn't seen him since 1997.
"Tell me it's not true," she said to herself, pacing around the
house, looking at a picture from the time when he was a smiling
"The sky fell down on me," she says now, fighting her tears.
In a living-room cabinet, cast in plaster, is an echo - a model
of Zacarias Moussaoui's childhood hand. His mother pulls it out,
cradles it, kisses it.
"It's so small," Aicha el-Wafi says, and then wonders about the
real hand of her real son, so far away and in so much trouble. "I'm
afraid of never touching it again, of never kissing it again."
The United States of America: Mohammad Sohaeb Irfan Siddiqui is
kept from it. David Lee turned his back on it.
When Siddiqui flew from his adopted country, Mexico, to his
native Pakistan, he made a habit of traveling through the United
States. The flights are more direct that way. He'd go to the U.S.
Embassy in Mexico City, get a transit visa and that was that.
Today, that is no longer that.
His family's restaurant in Polanco, an upscale Mexico City
neighborhood, draws frequent visits from American Embassy staff who
come for the naan and mattar paneer. They helped him get his
five-year transit visa, which expired in 1999.
Last year, Siddiqui wanted to return to Karachi to visit his
father. He made an appointment for a new transit visa.
Before, the hassles were few. This time, he was taken to a room
with no other people, fingerprinted, grilled repeatedly about the
purpose of his visit to Pakistan and asked to fork over $80 for a
"I was so nervous," he said. "It was like Osama bin Laden
himself had arrived. ... I felt like a suspect in front of a
Lee, a 20-year-old college student, tells a different story. He
was preparing to transfer from Malaysia's Inti College to Purdue
University in West Lafayette, Indiana - a college town in a country
he had never visited.
Then the towers fell, and Lee decided America wasn't for him.
"My father said it might not be so safe to go, in case there
might be more terrorist attacks," Lee said.
Though those fears subsided, Lee feared the same tightened
regulations that stood in Siddiqui's way - the list of countries,
including Pakistan and Malaysia, that were undergoing special
scrutiny. But instead of ensnarling himself in them, Lee turned
Now he plans to transfer to the University of Adelaide in
And Siddiqui? As of late last month, he still hadn't heard about
his visa. He finally bought tickets for a flight that stopped in
Madrid, Rome, Dubai and finally Karachi. It took two days and cost
The U.S. Embassy, he's told, may be calling soon to tell him he
has a visa. But Mohammad Sohaeb Irfan Siddiqui doesn't need America
Somewhere in southern Thailand, in a town called Nakhon Sri
Thammarat, a connection was made between two young women who never
met and never will. On both sides of it lies tragedy.
Dendau Jongjitr, 19, grew up poor and is scrabbling by,
struggling financially to become a nurse. Abandoned by her parents,
she spent her childhood drinking gathered rainwater. In the past
year, she has lost both grandparents who raised her and her
27-year-old stepsister as well.
Dead, too, is another of the daughters of Nakhon, Saranya
Srinuan. She was born in New York City and met her end there too,
working as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald high in the World
Trade Center when the airplanes hit on Sept. 11, 2001.
But her father came from Nakhon, and she spent a year of her
childhood there. Last year, her parents, who live in New York, set
up the scholarship in her memory so someone in Nakhon could benefit
from their loss.
Now Dendau has an unimaginable 10,000 baht - about $240 - each
year to help her live and study.
"I thought Saranya was an old woman who died, so her children
established this scholarship for her," Dendau says. "I knew there
were Thais who died in the World Trade Center, but I didn't know
who they were."
Dendau Jongjitr, whose name means "shining star," has a better
chance to shine herself now thanks to Saranya Srinuan, who died in
an inferno a world away at age 23.
"I know about her life now," Dendau says. "Even though she has
died, we've met." –Sapa-AP
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