The US president did not mince his words as he commemorated the 16th anniversay of the September 11, 2001 attacks. He also sought to provide comfort for the family and friends of the nearly 3,000 victims.
US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump headed Monday morning to the flag-draped Pentagon to lay a wreath in tribute to the 2,977 killed 16 years ago on September 11 when Al-Qaeda hijackers slammed airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, as well as crashing another plane in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Their visit to the Department of Defense building in Arlington, Virginia where 184 people lost their lives came after a moment of silence on the south lawn of the White House alongside other White House and administration officials at 8:46 a.m. — the moment when the first plane struck the north Twin Tower. A moment of silence was also held at Ground Zero in New York City.
'Our entire nation grieves'
In his first commemoration of the attack as US president, Trump had words of comfort for those whose loved ones were killed. "For the families with us on this anniversary, we know that not a single day goes by when you don't think about the loved one stolen from your life. Today, our entire nation grieves with you," he told an audience that included US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
Trump later added that "the living, breathing soul of America wept with grief for every life taken on that day" and said it surpassed the 1941 attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base by imperial Japanese pilots that spurred American entry into World War II.
"It was the worst attack on our country since Pearl Harbor and even worse because this was an attack on civilians — innocent men, women and children whose lives were taken so needlessly," he said. The September 11 attacks are the deadliest to have occurred on US territory.
In New York City, photos and flowers were left at the victims' memorial at the National 9/11 Memorial
No place for American enemies to hide
Trump also took the occasion to issue a strong warning to those who would attempt to intimidate or attack the US.
"The terrorists who attacked us thought they could incite fear and weaken our spirit," Trump said. "But America cannot be intimidated and those who try will join a long list of vanquished enemies who dared test our mettle."
In response to the September 11 attacks, the US invaded Afghanistan under then-President George W. Bush, initiating more than a decade-long era of military engagement in the region. Despite criticizing prior presidents' US military policy there and promising to end US deployment in Afghanistan, Trump recently announced that he would seek to up troop numbers in the country.
And despite campaign rhetoric that signaled the withdrawal of the US from engagement on the world stage, Trump underscored that the US would do whatever it would take anywhere in the world to protect its citizens from harm.
"We're ensuring that they never again have a safe haven to launch attacks against our country," he said. "We are making plain to these savage killers that there is no dark corner beyond our reach, no sanctuary beyond our grasp and nowhere to hide anywhere on this very large earth."
In the afternoon, Trump took to Twitter to praise American strength and unity in the face of challenges.
Prior outrageous remarks
Trump's previous remarks in relation to September 11 — given as a private citizen — caused consternation and outrage. In November 2015, Trump claimed that "thousands and thousands" of people in New Jersey had cheered as the Twin Towers collapsed. He later reiterated his claim on television, stating that the cheering took place in an area with "a heavy Arab population." Investigative and police reports proved Trump's claims baseless.
In early 2016, Trump also claimed he had lost "hundreds of friends" in the attacks, a claim which was contested by The Daily Beast. The American political news website asked Trump to come foward and name one of his friends who had perished, but the then-real estate mogul remained silent.
cmb/rc (AP, AFP)