NEW YORK/WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the Sept. 11 victims would be remembered “no matter how many years pass” as Americans marked the 11th anniversary of the attacks in which nearly 3,000 people were killed by airliners hijacked by Islamist militants.
Two of the passenger jets brought down the Twin Towers of New York City’s World Trade Center, another hit the Pentagon outside Washington and a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania when passengers aboard that flight fought back against the hijackers.
Obama, speaking at the Pentagon where 184 people were killed, told victims’ families that the whole country shared their loss.
“Eleven times we have paused in remembrance and reflection, in unity and in purpose,” Obama said. “This is never an easy day, but it is especially difficult for all of you, the families of nearly 3,000 innocents who lost their lives.”
“But no matter how many years pass, no matter how many times we come together on this hallowed ground, know this: That you will never be alone, your loved ones will never be forgotten.
“They will endure in the hearts of our nation because through their sacrifice they helped us make the America we are today, an America that has emerged even stronger.”
Speaking under clear blue skies that recalled the crisp morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Obama said America’s fight is not with Islam but with Al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks, and its allies.
This is a line he has used several times since taking office promising to mend ties with the Muslim world.
“I’ve always said our fight is with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, not with Islam or any other religion,” he said. “This country was built as a beacon of freedom and tolerance.”
At ground zero in New York where the towers once stood, the annual reading of the list of 2,983 people killed at the three sites began at 8:39 a.m.
The first names were read by Patricia Abbott, wife of Alan Jay Richman, who died at the trade center, and by Allison Adams, wife of Patrick Adams, who also died in the trade center’s collapse. It took 198 people more than three hours to read the list alphabetically.
The list excludes the 19 hijackers, who died carrying out the attacks.
Moments of silence were observed at 8:46 a.m., 9:03 a.m., 9:37 a.m. and 10:03 a.m., the times of impact for the four planes, and again at 9:59 a.m. and 10:28 a.m., the times that the north tower and then the south tower fell.
As the time of the reading approached, family members, uniformed police and firefighters milled about the vast, twin reflecting pools that mark the footprints of the towers, their edges etched with the names of the victims.
Many brought pictures of their loved ones.
In Washington, Obama and first lady Michelle observed a moment of silence for the Sept. 11 victims on the South Lawn of the White House before heading across the Potomac River to the Pentagon.
After the Pentagon ceremony, Obama stopped at Arlington National Cemetery, where he and the first lady paid their respects at the graves of military service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Vice President Joe Biden delivered remarks in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where 40 passengers aboard United Flight 93 were killed when that plane crashed as they fought back against their hijackers.
“What they did for this country is still etched in the minds of not only you, but millions of Americans, forever,” Biden said. “No matter how many anniversaries ... the terror of that moment returns.”
U.S. authorities say the hijackers planned to crash that plane into the U.S. Capitol in Washington.