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Obama on 9/11 trip : We will never forget

world Updated: May 05, 2011 23:10 IST

AFP
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President Barack Obama took a defiant message to the New York epicenter of the 9/11 attacks on Thursday, warning that Osama bin Laden's death proved America will never fail to bring terrorists to "justice."

"When we say we will never forget, we mean what we say," Obama said, standing in a firehouse that lost 15 men in the inferno wrought by bin Laden's al Qaeda in the worst terror attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001.

In a highly symbolic visit, intended to bring a measure of closure to Americans still haunted by a day of death and fire, Obama placed a wreath at Ground Zero, the side of the felled World Trade Center twin towers.

He was also meeting relatives of some of the nearly 3,000 people that died in a day seared into America's psyche, which saw the government launch a massive manhunt for bin Laden and a global war on terrorism which still rages.

"Our commitment to making sure that justice is done is something that transcended politics, transcended party; it didn't matter which administration was in, it didn't matter who was in charge,

"We were going to make sure that the perpetrators of that horrible act -- that they received justice," Obama said, referring to Sunday's clandestine raid deep into Pakistan by navy SEAL special forces.

"Those guys (who) took those extraordinary risks going into Pakistan ... they were doing it in part because of the sacrifices that were made in the States," Obama told the firemen.

"They were doing it in the name of your brothers that were lost."

Earlier, Jay Carney, Obama's spokesman said the president hoped his visit would help "New Yorkers and Americans everywhere to achieve a sense of closure."

Al Qaeda militants plowed two hijacked planes into the World Trade Center, collapsing the twin towers, and bringing death and destruction to the city.

A third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth in a field in Pennsylvania when the passengers overpowered the hijackers.

A crowd of onlookers gathered in lower Manhattan hoping to see the president, who's credentials as commander-in-chief have been bolstered by the rough justice meted out to bin Laden.

"Obama, you're da man!" one handmade banner read.

Resident Gina Goldman, living in the same block as Ground Zero, said Obama would not bring a triumphalist tone in his first visit as president to the site, which has almost sacred status in New York.

"He's going to give exactly the right message: that you don't glorify death," Goldman, 45, said.

Security became increasingly heavy as his visit approached. Police with dogs, horses and automatic rifles could be seen. Officers erected metal barriers along nearby streets to keep back the growing crowds.

The usually noisy cranes, diggers and jack hammers also fell silent for the first time in months on the now rapidly advancing effort to build a new World Trade Center at Ground Zero.

"Outstanding," said construction worker Alfred Douglas, 49, who witnessed 9/11 and is now employed on the future new Tower Four.

"I'd like to tell Obama that he did a great job. Mission accomplished."

But Douglas wished Obama would reverse his decision not to make public photos of bin Laden's corpse -- he said he wanted the satisfaction.

"I saw people jumping out of windows on 9/11. I saw what they looked like. That's why I'd like to see the end result."

Joining Obama was New York's senior US Senator Charles Schumer, who rejected a suggestion that the president's visit was an unnecessary victory lap.

"He deserves huge credit and should be here," Schumer told CNN.

"The shoulders of Americans and people throughout the world stand a little taller because we know now this is a turning point in the war on terror."

Obama notably invited former president George W Bush, who earned widespread international opprobrium for his so-called "war on terror," to join him at Ground Zero.

It was there that Bush addressed rescuers through a bullhorn days after the attacks, vowing to go after those responsible for the carnage. Bush, however, declined the invitation.

The White House has sought to maintain an atmosphere of dignity in the wake of bin Laden's killing, after jubilant celebrations broke out across America on Sunday.

Obama has personally ordered that photographs of bin Laden's corpse remain secret.

"It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence, as a propaganda tool," Obama told CBS program 60 Minutes.

"That's not who we are. You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies," Obama said.