Barack Obama proclaimed the weekend as National Days of Prayer and Remembrance, attending memorial services in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Security was tight following warnings of a possible al-Qaeda attack.
NEW YORK – Ten years ago, America’s sense of security was shattered in a series of attacks that tested the will and resolve of the American public. A surreal day of death and destruction emerged as planes plummeted from crystal blue skies and pierced through the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, averting what many believe would have been another catastrophic attack in Washington. America paused Sunday to mark the anniversary of the attacks that killed 2,977 people.
Silence spread across New York City on Sunday at 8:46 a.m. – the time when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center a decade ago.
Houses of worship tolled their bells throughout the city. And after a reading by President Barack Obama, 334 family members started reading the names of those who perished. The reading was interrupted by another moment of silence at 9:03 a.m. – the time when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Before the memorial ceremony began Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walked with former President George W Bush and Mrs Bush at the Ground Zero memorial.
Hosting the ceremony at the WTC site, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a “perfect blue sky” had turned into “the blackest of nights” on 9/11. President Obama read a passage from Psalm 46, which speaks of God’s refuge and strength, “a very present help in trouble”. Obama spoke from behind bullet-proof glass.
After a reading by former President George W Bush, it was the turn of Peter Negron, the son of Pete Negron, who worked on the 88th floor: “I wish my Dad had been there to teach me how to drive, to ask a girl out on a date and see me graduate from high school. I miss you so much.”
The moment was followed by remarks from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta. Relatives of victims have also gathered in Washington and Pennsylvania. The first plane hit the WTC’s North Tower at 08:46 (13:46 GMT), the second at 09:03.
As the names of the dead were read out, some of those present wiped away tears. An official memorial was unveiled at the site whose twin towers were destroyed in the attacks. New York’s National September 11 Memorial features two reflecting pools, each almost an acre in size, in the footprints of the twin towers. The names of those who died on 9/11, as well as the six people killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, are inscribed on the edge of the pools.
Metal barriers have been erected on nearby roads, while police in New York and Washington are stopping and searching large vehicles entering bridges and tunnels.
The CIA received a warning last week that al-Qaeda might have sent attackers, some of them possibly US citizens, to bomb one of the cities.
Meanwhile, more than 200 miles away at the Pentagon, mourners observed a moment of silence at 9:37 a.m. – the moment American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon and killed 184 people.
At 10:03 a.m., silence fell on Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 thwarted a hijacking plot and crashed the plane into the ground. President Obama traveled to all three sites.
Sunday’s ceremonies began at the US embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, where the flag was lowered to half-mast to remember those who died 10 years ago, as well as those who have died since. A piece of the twin towers is buried underneath the flag pole.
Obama: “Today, America is stronger, and Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat”
On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Obama called for continued vigilance against terrorist threats, but declared that Al Qaeda and other groups “are no match for the character of our people, the resilience of our nation or the endurance of our values”, The New York Times reports. In his weekly radio address, Obama claimed credit for counterterrorism policies that he said had crippled Al Qaeda, denied terrorists safe havens and improved detection and disruption of terrorist plots.
“We’ve taken the fight to Al Qaeda like never before,” the president said. “Over the past two and a half years, more senior Al Qaeda leaders have been eliminated than at any time since 9/11. And thanks to the remarkable courage and precision of our forces, we finally delivered justice to Osama bin Laden.” In his radio address, the US president offered a list of successes, saying his administration had overhauled intelligence gathering, expanded counterterrorism collaboration with allies and other countries, and improved security and screening at the nation’s airports, ports and borders. “Today, America is stronger, and Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat.” Citing the young people rising up against authoritarian rulers in the Arab world, Obama said that Al Qaeda’s narrative was exhausted and that “the future belongs to those that want to build, not destroy.”
Bush, Clinton speak at memorial for flight 93
Speaking in Shanksville on Saturday at the unveiling of a memorial to the 40 victims of flight United 93, former president George W. Bush said “the United States will never forget”. He lauded the passengers and crew of the flight, saying they launched “the first counter-offensive in the war on terror”. In a speech laced with similar themes of unity and resilience, Bill Clinton credited Bush and President Barack Obama for preventing another attack on American soil in the last decade – a statement that was met with strong applause. Clinton, whose term ended just nine months before the attacks, compared the acts on the plane to the Battle of the Alamo, as well as the Spartan offense against the Persian Empire 2,500 years ago.
Also on Saturday, firefighters from around the world attended a memorial service in New York’s St Patrick’s Cathedral to honour the 343 firefighters who died while rescuing people from the World Trade Center towers. The memorial service was held just minutes from ground zero, Euronews reports. The names of all 343 New York firefighters who died during the tragedy 10 years ago on Sunday were read out during the ceremony. The firefighters and police officers and workers were not invited to the memorial ceremony this year, a decision that sparked controversy and saddened many rescuers. Authorities said the focus of this year’s ceremony was the victims’ families.
UK remembers its victims
Survivors of the September 11 attacks and families of the 67 British victims have commemorated the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. Relatives attended an early morning service at Grosvenor Chapel in London, which is known as the “American church”, Sky News reports. Relatives of about 10 UK victims have also travelled to New York for the events organised by the US authorities at Ground Zero. Ahead of the commemorations, Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed the “courage and dignity” of the American people. Hague said the attacks and subsequent terrorist incidents had only served to bind nations more tightly together. He claimed al Qaeda was at its weakest now than at any time since 9/11 and becoming “increasingly irrelevant.
(With reports from CNN, the BBC,Euronews and Sky News)