10 Major News Stories of the 2000s

These events shaped the first decade of the 21st century.

The first decade of the 21st century was filled with major news events that include tragic acts of terrorism, natural and humanitarian international disasters, and celebrity deaths. Some of the events that rocked the world in the 2000s continue to reverberate years later. They influence government policy, disaster response, military strategy, and more.

September 11 Terrorist Attacks

World Trade Center Attacked
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

People all over the United States remember where they were when news broke that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York City. The morning of September 11, 2001, would end with two hijacked airliners flown into each of the WTC towers, another plane flown into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashing into the ground in Pennsylvania after passengers stormed the cockpit. Nearly 3,000 people died in the country's worst terrorist attack, which made al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden household names. While most were horrified by the carnage, news footage from around the globe captured some people cheering in response to 9/11.

Iraq War

Saddam Hussein Ordered Back Into Court
Chris Hondros / Getty Images

The intelligence that led to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 remains a controversy, but the invasion changed the decade in a way that its predecessor, the Gulf War, didn't. Saddam Hussein, Iraq's brutal dictator since 1979, was successfully ousted from power; his two sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed fighting with coalition troops; and Hussein was found hiding in a hole on Dec. 14, 2003.

Tried for crimes against humanity, Hussein was hanged on Dec. 30, 2006, marking an official end to the Baathist regime. On June 29, 2009, U.S. forces withdrew from Baghdad, but the situation in the region is still unstable.

Boxing Day Tsunami

Armed Forces Distribute Aid To Tsunami Refugees
The aftermath 1 week after the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami. Getty Images / Getty Images

The wave struck on Dec. 26, 2004, with a catastrophic force usually confined to apocalyptic action flicks. The second-largest earthquake ever recorded, with at least a 9.1 magnitude, ripped the floor of the Indian Ocean west of Indonesia. It slammed 11 countries as far away as South Africa, with waves up to 100 feet high. The tsunami claimed victims in both poor villages and plush tourist resorts. In the end, nearly 230,000 people were killed, missing, or presumed dead. The devastation prompted a massive global humanitarian response, with more than $7 billion donated to the affected regions. The disaster also prompted the creation of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System.

Global Recession

Mass Protests Are Held During The G20 World Leaders Summit
Mass protests during the G20 Economic Summit in 2009. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

In December 2007, the U.S. experienced its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The recession showed that globalization means that countries aren't immune to the effects of foreclosures, rising unemployment rates, controversial bank bailouts, and a weak gross domestic product.

As various nations suffered the consequences of the downturns, world leaders grappled with how to counter the economic crisis in a unified manner. Then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown unsuccessfully tried to push his "global new deal" in response, but most leaders agreed that better regulatory oversight was needed to prevent a similar crisis in the future.

Darfur

UNAMID in Darfur
Susan Schulman / Getty Images

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 in western Sudan. Then, rebel groups began fighting the government and its allied Arabic-speaking Janjaweed militia. The outcome was mass murder and displacement of civilians leading to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. But Darfur also became a celebrity cause, attracting advocates such as George Clooney. It led to an argument at the United Nations about what constitutes genocide and what necessitates U.N. action. In 2004, however, U.S. President George W. Bush finally discussed the conflict, which took an estimated 300,000 lives between 2003 and 2005 and displaced two million people.

Papal Transition

Funeral Held For Pope John Paul II
Funeral mass of Pope John Paul II on April 8, 2005, Vatican City. Dario Mitidieri / Getty Images

Pope John Paul II, leader of the world's one billion Roman Catholics since 1978, died at the Vatican on April 2, 2005. This prompted what has been called the largest Christian pilgrimage ever, with four million mourners descending on Rome for the funeral. The service drew the most heads of state in history: four kings, five queens, 70 presidents and prime ministers, and 14 heads of other religions.

After John Paul's burial, the world watched in anticipation as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope on April 19, 2005. The elderly, conservative Ratzinger took the name Pope Benedict XVI, and the new German pontiff meant that the position would not immediately go back to an Italian. Pope Benedict served until his resignation in 2013 and the current pontiff, Pope Francis, was appointed. He is an ethnically Italian Argentine and the first Jesuit Pope.

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina Aftermath
Mario Tama / Getty Images

The people of the Gulf Coast braced themselves as the sixth strongest hurricane in Atlantic history hurtled their way. Katrina roared onshore as a Category 3 storm on Aug. 29, 2005, spreading destruction from Texas to Florida. But it was the subsequent failure of the levees in New Orleans that made the hurricane a humanitarian disaster.

Eighty percent of the city remained in stagnant floodwaters for weeks. Adding to the crisis was the weak government response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the Coast Guard leading rescue efforts. Katrina claimed 1,836 lives, and 705 people were categorized as missing.

The War on Terror

Combat ready special operation forces soldier.
MILpictures by Tom Weber / Getty Images

The U.S.-UK invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, toppled the brutal Taliban regime. It stands out as the most conventional action in a war that has rewritten the rules on conflict. The global war on terror was sparked by the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks on U.S. soil, though Osama bin Laden's group had previously struck U.S. targets. American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the USS Cole off Yemen were among them. Since then, a number of countries have committed to the effort to stop global terrorism.

Death of Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson Dies In Los Angeles
Charley Gallay / Getty Images

Michael Jackson's death at age 50 on June 25, 2009, led to tributes all over the world. The sudden death of the pop star, a controversial figure mired in sexual abuse allegations and other scandals, was attributed to a cocktail of drugs that stopped his heart. The medication that led to his death prompted an investigation of Jackson's personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray.

A star-studded memorial service took place for the singer at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It included his three children whom Jackson had famously sheltered from the press.

News of his death, which garnered massive worldwide attention, also revealed a major shift in the news media. Instead of a traditional press outlet, the celebrity gossip website TMZ broke the story that Jackson died.

Iran Nuclear Race

President Obama Departs The White House En Route To Philadelphia
Win McNamee / Getty Images

Iran steadfastly claimed that its nuclear program was for peaceful energy purposes, but various intelligence sources said the country was in dangerous reach of developing a nuclear weapon. The Iranian regime, which has continually railed against the West and Israel, left little doubt about its motivation for wanting a nuclear weapon or willingness to use it. The issue has been tied up in various negotiation processes, United Nations deliberations, probes, and sanctions debates.