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Silent tribute marks 9/11 anniversary

india Updated: Sep 14, 2006 18:43 IST
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The World Trade Centre site fell silent four times - twice each to mark jetliner crashes and the collapse of its iconic towers - and solemn remembrances were held around the United States on Monday to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.

At ground zero, a cavernous pit still largely unchanged from the first anniversary, spouses, partners and significant others handled the annual recitation of the 2,749 names of New York's 9/11 victims. They held photos of loved ones, crossed themselves and sobbed quietly, standing beneath a bright, cloudless sky reminiscent of that morning in 2001.

Among those who died in the Sept 11 attacks were 202 foreigners, including 67 Britons, 23 Japanese, 16 Jamaicans, 15 Colombians, 15 Filipinos, and 12 Indians.

The 16-acre (6.5-hectare) site went quiet at 8:46 am and 9:03 am, the moments American Airlines Flight 11 and United Flight 175 hit, and again at 9:59 am and 10:29 am, when the south and north towers fell. "We've come back to remember the valour of those we've lost, those who innocently went to work that day and the brave souls who went in after them," former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said. As they read the victims' names aloud, the spouses and partners added brief personal tributes.

"My love for you is eternal," said Maria Acosta, who began the annual reading of the names, including her lost boyfriend, Paul John Gill. "And we all love you very much."

President George W Bush opened the day at a historic New York firehouse, mingling with fire fighters and police officers who were among the first to rush to the burning skyscrapers. He was to visit the crash sites in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon later in the day before giving a prime-time address from the Oval Office. At ground zero, family members clutching bouquets of roses had descended to the lowest level of the trade centre site, gathering around two small reflecting pools that marked where the two towers once stood.

The scene has played out on each of the five anniversaries of the Al-Qaeda attack. And the landscape has remained mostly the same: Construction on a Sept 11 memorial and on the 1,776-foot (540-meter) Freedom Tower began only this year.

"I think it's important that people remember as years go on," said Diana Kellie, of Acaconda, Montana, whose niece and niece's fiancé were killed on one of the planes. "The dead are really not dead until they're forgotten."

At the Pentagon, where 184 people died when American Flight 77 ploughed into the building, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld walked side-by-side to a platform. They sang along to "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and observed a moment of silence at 9:37 am, the time the plane struck. "We have no intention of ignoring or appeasing history's latest gang of fanatics trying to murder their way to power," Cheney said. In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 crashed into the ground, killing 40, hundreds of people gathered at a temporary memorial - a 10-foot (3-meter) chain-link fence covered with American flags, fire-fighter helmets and children's drawings. They opened the ceremony with prayer.

United 93 crashed after passengers apparently rushed the cockpit in an effort to wrest control from the terrorists. "These men and women stood in solidarity so others would receive salvation," said Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and the nation's first homeland security secretary.

At Logan International Airport in Boston, where the two planes that hit the trade centre towers took off, security screeners stopped checking passengers for a moment and turned to an American flag. Passengers in line joined in the silent tribute. "It's a difficult moment for everybody," said National Guard Cpl Christopher Jessop, who joined the Guard on Sept 12, 2001. In Chicago, people filled churches to pray and remember the victims. In Virginia Beach, Virginia, fire fighters and residents planned to form a human flag. And in Ohio, volunteers aimed to put up 3,000 flags over 10 acres at a spiritual centre. Around the world, heads bowed at Sept 11 remembrances. "Nine-Eleven will be in our memory forever," Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said at a downtown piazza. "We all remember where we were, what we were doing, what our first reaction was." Iraqi President Jalal Talabani wrote to Bush, expressing condolences to the families of Sept 11 victims: "On this sad and memorable day, I would like to reiterate the gratitude of the people of Iraq for the people of America."

German Chancellor Angela Markel warned that "tolerance and respect for other cultures" must be hallmarks of the international fight against terror, and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said the world was not safer since 2001.

"It took about 30 years for this terrorism to develop," Giuliani said on Monday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America" as he stood at the trade centre site. "It's going to take more than five years to deconstruct them."

"I'm kind of surprised at the progress we've made," he said. "We haven't been attacked in five years. I thought we would be. I thought for sure we would be. I thank God we haven't. But we have to prepare for it."

The anniversary dawned on a nation unrecognisable a half-decade ago - at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, governed by a colour-coded terror alert system, newly unable to carry even hair gel onto airplanes.

Bush administration officials had made the case on Sunday it was no accident that the United States had not faced an attack since Sept 11.

On the anniversary, there were indications of the tension that remains.

New York's bustling Pennsylvania Station was briefly evacuated on Monday and rush-hour train service was suspended when a suspicious bag was found. In the skies, a United Airlines jet headed from Atlanta to San Francisco was diverted to Dallas when an unclaimed BlackBerry e-mail device was found on board. A Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman later said the flight was secure.

There was also a fresh reminder of the terrorist threat: An hour long videotape posted online Sunday showed previously unseen footage of Osama bin Laden, smiling, and other commanders apparently planning the New York and Washington attacks.

An unidentified narrator said the plot was devised not with computers and radar screens and military command centres but with "divine protection" for a brotherly atmosphere and "love for sacrificing life."

Al-Jazeera aired a new videotape on Monday in which bin Laden's top deputy warned that Persian Gulf countries and Israel would be Al-Qaeda's next targets, and urged Muslims to intensify their resistance of the United States.

Bush had made a more private visit to the trade centre site on Sunday, when he and first lady Laura Bush set wreaths in small, square reflecting pools in the pit of the trade centre site, one for each tower.

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