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Video by Josh VARDEY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-09-12

Church bells tolled Saturday morning in New York to mark the start of memorial services for the nearly 3,000 people killed when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001.

Nine years after the worst terrorist attacks on US soil, the country is marking its most tumultuous anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks amid an acrimonious debate over an Islamic centre near Ground Zero and a US pastor’s incendiary threat to burn the Koran.

The commemoration at New York’s Ground Zero started, as it has each year, at 8:46 am local time, marking the moment American Airlines Flight 11 smashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It was the first of four hijacked planes to crash on a horrifying day that saw nearly 3,000 people killed and changed the course of US and world history.

The families of the nearly 2,700 people killed in New York gathered at the memorial site on Saturday morning.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed a gathering shortly before 8.46 am and then paused for a moment of silence before the audience, many of whom held aloft photographs of their loved ones.

Shortly after, the now-familiar reading of the names of victims who perished at the World Trade Center commenced.

Reporting from Ground Zero, FRANCE 24’s Nathan King said September 11 had turned into a day of carefully choreographed respect for the lives lost.

“Every year we go through this and every year it’s a solemn moment here – not just for New York, but for the entire country, and the world, because we all remember where we were and the shock we all felt as we saw those towers hit and then come down,” said King.

Four moments of silence are maintained at Ground Zero every 9/11 anniversary to mark the time when the two airliners crashed into the Twin Towers and also when the towers collapsed.


A moment of silence was also maintained at 9.37 am local time at the Pentagon to mark the exact time when, nine years ago, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building, killing 184 people.

Addressing the gathering at the Pentagon minutes later, US President Barack Obama maintained that the US will "never" be at war with Islam.

"As Americans, we will not, and never will, be at war with Islam," said Obama before adding, "It was not a religion that attacked us that September day. It was al Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion."

Linking the Koran-burning proposal to the ‘Ground Zero mosque’

Obama’s remarks followed months of an acrimonious public debate over terrorism and Islam.

Protests broke out near the former site of the World Trade Center, a site considered hallowed ground for many Americans.

Disregarding New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s call to refrain from making Sept. 11 “a time for protest and division”, demonstrators for and against the building of an Islamic centre near Ground Zero are planning to hold rival rallies.

According to King, many families of the victims were distressed that a day of loss and remembrance had been politicized. “The New York archbishop put it very well when he said we must not let September 11 become a time for protests,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s a bit too late for the ninth anniversary. Perhaps for the tenth, we can manage that.”

The controversy over the Islamic centre - dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque” - took a bizarre twist over the past few days, when Florida pastor Terry Jones linked his proposition to burn the Koran to the mosque project.

The controversial cleric - who heads a congregation of roughly 50 people in Gainsville, Florida – has been giving mixed messages over the past few days about whether he intended to carry out his plan.

As the media frenzy in the US peaked and the international fury across the Muslim world mounted, Jones set off for New York City on Friday evening.

In an interview with NBC’s "Today" show on Saturday morning, Jones said his church would never burn a Koran.

Anger across the Muslim world

In the lead-up to Saturday's anniversary commemorations, Jones’ Koran-burning stunt sparked angry demonstrations across the world, with leaders of countries such as Indonesia and Afghanistan imploring Obama to intervene to stop such an event.

Protests broke out in Indonesia, Pakistan and India, countries with the world’s largest Muslim populations. In Afghanistan, demonstrations turned deadly when one protester was shot dead on Friday, which also happened to be the day Muslims marked Eid ul-Fitr, one of the biggest feasts in the Muslim calendar.


Date created : 2010-09-11

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