November 2, 2001

US Leaders Talk of War As Rescuers Comb Blitz Debris

US leaders, putting aside political differences in the wake of a deadly terror attack, vowed Wednesday to wage war without mercy on those responsible as hope of finding more survivors faded.

US President George W. Bush vowed to avenge the murders of thousands by waging a "monumental struggle of good versus evil," while US lawmakers called for war amid signs that the carnage, which many observers are already blaming on Saudi-born Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, could have been even worse.

Authorities fear thousands may have died, possibly more than the 2,400 killed in the Japanese attack December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after three hijacked US airliners slammed into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon military headquarters near Washington.

A fourth airliner -- which US officials said was aiming for the White House -- crashed in western Pennsylvania with 45 people aboard.

The US Congress unanimously passed a resolution which "condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorists who planned and carried out the September 11, 2001, attacks against the US as well as their sponsors."

Meanwhile, hopes faded of finding more survivors in the pile of rubble that was all that remained of one of New York's most recognizable skyscrapers, as the lower seven floors collapsed late Wednesday.

Rescuers, in vain hopes of miracles, had scoured the skeletal remains of the building all day, mortgaging their own safety as nearby structures tottered.

"We so far have recovered 82 bodies. We have rescued five people. We have that information, but beyond that we are going to have keep searching and looking," said city mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Earlier Giuliani said that "a few thousand people" were believed to be trapped in each of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, which once soared 110 floors.

With US opinion solidly in favor of a firm response to a national tragedy, Bush promised to rally the world against a faceless enemy.

"The deliberate and deadly attacks which were carried out yesterday against our country were more than acts of terror, they were acts of war," he said after meeting his national security team.

"This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil, but good will prevail."

Bush's spokesman said that the terrorists had also planned to attack the president.

"We have specific and credible information that the White House and Air Force One were also intended targets," said Ari Fleischer.

Bush visited the Pentagon Wednesday and admitted he was overwhelmed at the devastation.

"Coming here makes me sad on the one hand, but it also makes me angry," Bush said. "Our country will, however, not be cowed by terrorists."

There was still no full toll of victims. Bush had said on Tuesday the number of dead was in the thousands.

Firefighters finally extinguished the blazes that ravaged the Pentagon's rooftop and other spots into Wednesday, while search teams combed the remains of the building's collapsed west side.

"They don't believe there's anyone alive," a Pentagon official said. "No signs of life."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cautioned that figures appearing in the media, speculating on 800 deaths in the Pentagon alone, may be on the high side.

Meanwhile thoughts were turning to retribution.

"Freedom and democracy are under attack, the American people need to know we are facing a different enemy than we have ever faced," said Bush.

"This enemy attacked not just our people, but all freedom loving people everywhere in the world. The United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy; we will rally the world."

Bush signaled he would immediately ask Congress for emergency funding and said the US government was prepared to spend whatever it might take to rescue victims and protect national security.

Some lawmakers called for stronger action.

"Terrorists are at war with us, and we have to deal with this in a very dramatic and firm way," said Senator Trent Lott, the US Senate minority leader.

In a first sign of a concerted international response to the tragedies, the 19 NATO allies delivered a powerful message of solidarity to the United States.

The alliance agreed to invoke the collective defence clause of the North Atlantic Treaty, if Washington determines that Tuesday's attacks were masterminded from abroad -- clearing the way to support any potential US military action.

At the same time, the United States warned Pakistan that it expected full cooperation with its probe into the attacks -- Washington has accused Islamabad of doing too little to force the Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to expel bin Laden.

On Thursday, US ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain was due to meet Pakistan's military leader Pervez Musharraf as the US piled pressure on Islamabad to deliver bin Laden.

Secretary of State Colin Powell meanwhile cautioned that any US response would not be targeted at Islam in general, but at terrorists.

"It should not be seen as something done by Arabs or Islamics," Powell said.

Bin Laden, a Saudi-born, Afghanistan-based multimillionaire, is already sought by the FBI on charges of organizing the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

In remarks to a Pakistani newspaper, Bin Laden denied any part in Tuesday's strikes. Afghanistan's ruling extremist Taliban militia also said he was not involved but added it was willing to discuss extradition if US investigators had hard evidence.

With nerves on edge in New York and elsewhere, the Empire State building, the tallest structure left standing in New York, was briefly evacuated late Wednesday in a bomb scare that turned out to be a false alarm.

Top transportation officials indefinitely delayed a full re-opening of civil airspace because of security fears raised by intelligence services. Officials had closed US airspace Tuesday for the first time ever in the wake of the attacks.

"I cannot give you a date or time as to when we will be back in operation," Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said.

Only diverted planes were being allowed to breach a general shutdown to allow passengers to reach final destinations, and only under stringent new security rules.

Attorney General John Ashcroft promised the most "massive investigation ever conducted" in the United States and said authorities already had a number of credible leads.

Justice officials said some of the suspected terrorists had been identified, and that some had even received pilot training in the United States, but that no one had yet been arrested and authorities were not prepared to "make an attribution of specific responsibility."

Ashcroft said the planes were taken over by between three and six individuals each, wielding knives and box cutters and in some instances, making bomb threats.

A team of as many as 50 people who carried out or supported Tuesday's attacks have been identified, CNN reported.

But still unanswered was how the terrorists were able to pull off the virtually simultaneous hijackings of two American Airlines and two United Airlines domestic flights with a total of 266 people aboard.

Also unanswered was how they were able to fly towards two of the most visible US landmarks without interception, particularly after the first plane hit its target.

Meanwhile, the US military downgraded its alert status on Wednesday as tensions heightened by Tuesday's terrorist attacks on major US buildings began to subside, Rumsfeld said.

"We've already moved from a force protection condition called Delta, the highest level, down to Charlie, which is the next highest," the defense secretary told NBC News.

(chinadaily.com.cn 09/13/2001)

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