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US marks 20 years since 9/11, in shadow of Afghan war's end

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By AP with Euronews
US President Joe Biden attends the ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York, on September 11, 2021.
US President Joe Biden attends the ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York, on September 11, 2021.   -   Copyright  JIM WATSON / AFP

The United States is marking the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on Saturday with commemorations at all three attack sites — New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The ceremonies began on Saturday with a tolling bell and a moment of silence, exactly 20 years after the start of the deadliest terror attack on US soil.

President Joe Biden, former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton joined a crowd of victims' relatives and first responders at the September 11 memorial plaza in New York. The memorial stands where the World Trade Center’s twin towers were rammed and felled by hijacked planes.

The milestone anniversary takes place just weeks after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the return to power of the Taliban, the faction that sheltered the terrorist group founded by Osama bin Laden that carried out the attacks.

It is also happening amid continuing concern over the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now killed more than 11 times as many people in New York City as the nearly 3,000 that perished in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

In a video released Friday night, President Joe Biden mourned the ongoing losses of 9/11.

“Children have grown up without parents, and parents have suffered without children,” said Biden, a childhood friend of the father of a Sept. 11 victim, Davis Grier Sezna Jr.

But the president also spotlighted what he called the “central lesson” of September 11: “that at our most vulnerable ... unity is our greatest strength.”

"Unity doesn’t mean we have to believe the same thing. But we must have fundamental respect and faith in each other and in this nation."

Biden, who will hold the rank of commander in chief as he marks the anniversary of the nation's worst terror attack, is scheduled to travel to all three sites of the 2001 attacks.

Former President George W. Bush, the nation's leader on 9/11, is due at the Pennsylvania memorial and his successor, Barack Obama, at Ground Zero. The only other post-9/11 US president, Donald Trump, is planning to be in New York, in addition to providing commentary at a boxing match in Florida in the evening.

Other observances — from a wreath-laying in Portland, Maine, to a fire engine parade in Guam — are planned across a country now full of 9/11 plaques, statues, and commemorative gardens.

For the families of the victims, the anniversary is a reminder of what they lost, and not just in New York.

In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, mourners remembered the 40 passengers and crew members on the United Airlines Flight 93 who overpowered their hijackers, perhaps preventing an even greater loss of life.

Students in Utah paid tribute to the emergency workers on September 11 by climbing 110 steps, the same number the firefighters who rushed into the burning Twin Towers climbed.

Using hijacked planes as missiles, the assailants inflicted the deadliest terrorist attacks on US soil, taking nearly 3,000 lives, toppling the twin towers, and ushering in an age of fear.

Security was redefined, with changes to airport checkpoints, police practices, and the government's surveillance powers. In the years that followed, virtually any sizeable explosion, crash, or act of violence seemed to raise a dire question: “Is it terrorism?” Some ideological violence and plots did follow, though federal officials and the public have lately become increasingly concerned with threats from domestic extremists after years of focusing on international terror groups in the wake of 9/11.

New York faced questions early on about whether it could ever recover from the blow to its financial hub and restore a feeling of safety among the crowds and skyscrapers. New Yorkers ultimately rebuilt a more populous and prosperous city but had to reckon with the tactics of an empowered post-9/11 police department and a widened gap between haves and have-nots.

A “war on terror” led to invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the longest US war ended last month with a hasty, massive airlift punctuated by a suicide bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 American service members and was attributed to a branch of the Islamic State extremist group. The US is now concerned that al-Qaida, the terror network behind 9/11, may regroup in Afghanistan.