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.
SLIDESHOW: 9 YEARS LATER
At 8.46 am on Sept. 11, 2001, a hijacked airliner smashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower. As the world watched in horror, three planes then crashed into the WTC's South Tower, the Pentagon building, and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
After nine years of financial infighting that has bogged the reconstruction at 1 World Trade Center, the centrepiece tower in the vast reconstruction project is set to be completed in 2013. The memorial opening is set for next year.
A plan to build an Islamic Cultural Centre at 51 Park Place, near Ground Zero, sparked an acrimonious public argument over terrorism and Islam.
As the clash between opponents and supporters of the Islamic Centre plan threatened to divide the city and the nation, President Barack Obama was compelled to weigh in, when he reminded Americans that freedom of worship is one of the foundations of US democracy.
Days before the 9/11 ninth anniversary commemorations, Terry Jones, a pastor at a tiny Florida church, sparked another controversy when he announced a plan to burn Korans to mark the occasion.
Responding to Pastor Jones’ Koran-burning plan, thousands took to the streets in Afghanistan, as Muslims in Indonesia, India and Pakistan voiced their outrage. Leaders of countries including Afghanistan and Indonesia issued dire warnings against the provocative act.
On Sept. 11, for the past nine years, families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks have gathered at Ground Zero to commemorate their loved ones.
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, not only altered one of the world’s most famous skylines, but also left an indelible mark on history. Nine years later, the world is still coming to terms with the events that changed the course of US – and world – history.
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.
FRANCE 24 FOCUS
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.
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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