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US President Joe Biden held a silent tribute at the World Trade Center site, attended a memorial ceremony in Pennsylvania and visited the Pentagon. Other world leaders sent messages of sympathy.
People around the world commemorated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which left 2,977 people dead in 2001.
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The US president visited the Pentagon at the end of his busy schedule commemorating the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The president saluted as a bugler played Taps, the US military funeral tune along with his wife First Lady Jill Biden.
Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff stood alongside Biden as he laid a wreath at the Pentagon 9/11 memorial to mark the place where 125 people lost their lives.
The US president has now visited each of the sites where hijacked planes crashed in 2001, honoring the victims of the devastating attacks
"We never forget the children who have grown up without parents," tweeted Biden earlier in the day. "Parents who have suffered without children. Husbands and wives who had to find a way forward without their partners. Brothers, sisters, loved ones. Jill and I hold you close in our hearts."
Biden began the day in New York, where he and first lady Jill Biden attended a ceremony at the site where the World Trade Center's twin towers once stood before planes struck the buildings and caused them to collapse.
They then flew to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the president laid a wreath at the Flight 93 National Memorial, where names of the deceased are etched on a marble wall.
In the last few minutes, Biden visited the Pentagon, the symbol of US military might that was pierced by another of the planes that were used as missiles that day.
The president was not scheduled to deliver remarks at any of the sites. He released a video on Friday to express his condolences to the loved ones of the victims and highlight the national unity that resulted, at least initially, after 9/11.
Joseph Dittmar was in the South Tower of New York's World Trade Center when the first hijacked plane hit the North Tower. He managed to get out by running down 105 flights of stairs. He told DW what happened when the plane struck:
"The fire stairwell that we were inside, the concrete bunker started to shake so violently from side to side, the handrails breaking away from the wall, the concrete spidering out, the steps were like waves in the ocean under our feet."
He then described a "heat ball blowing by as we smell jet fuel ... This thing [stairwell] is just rocking back and forth. It felt like forever, it was seconds, maybe a minute. When it settled, you would have thought there would have been pandemonium, but we responded with just a stunned silence."
Dittmar said those who got out are still haunted by the attacks, 20 years on:
"We see, hear, smell, feel this every day and it's something that's in our hearts and souls. In order to move forward, we have to manage it, we need to be strong and powerful as we can," he said.
Al-Qaeda released a new video of the terror group's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri Saturday — the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The one-hour video was an apparent bid to refute rumors about al-Zawahiri's death after reports emerged in November suggesting he had died of natural causes.
During the video, he mentions the US withdrawal from Afghanistan but does not mention the Taliban's recapture of Kabul.
Al-Zawahiri was named the head of the terrorist group in 2011 after Osama bin Laden was killed by US special operations forces at his hideout in Pakistan.
European leaders have sent messages of support to the United States, saying the 9/11 attackers had failed to destroy Western values. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen paid tribute to "those who lost their lives" as well as "those who risked everything to help them."
European Council chief Charles Michel wrote on Twitter: "The horrific attacks of #September11 20 years ago changed the course of history ... The EU stands by the US and @POTUS in the continued fight against terrorism and extremism in all its forms."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that the war on terror had "not achieved all our goals."
Referring to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, she added: "That is why it is important for us on the German side to safeguard what we have been able to achieve, education for girls and the like, although we know that this will not be easy with the Taliban."
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: "We will #NeverForget. We will always fight for freedom."
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the jihadis had "failed to shake our belief in freedom and democracy. They failed to drive our nations apart, or cause us to abandon our values, or to live in permanent fear."
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg paid his respects to the victims of 9/11 and said the alliance would keep countering the threat of global terrorism.
"The fight against terrorism will continue, and NATO will continue to play its part, as the only place where Europe and North America come together every day for our shared security," Stoltenberg said at a ceremony at the alliance headquarters in Brussels.
The flags of the 30 NATO allies flew at half-mast Saturday as a sign of respect for some 3,000 people who died in the attacks.
In an editorial published in Germany's Die Welt newspaper among other outlets, Stoltenberg said NATO had already "launched a thorough assessment" of the almost 20-year mission in Afghanistan to see which lessons must be learned.
The last US troops withdraw from Kabul last week after the Taliban regained control of the war-ravaged country in a matter of days.
George W. Bush, who was president when the 9/11 attacks unfolded, said that today's disunity made him feel "worried" about the future of the United States. "In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people," Bush said in Pennsylvania.
"When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own," he continued. "So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear, and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his condolences and praised the heroes of 9/11. "Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on September 11, 2001," he tweeted. "Twenty years later, we remember them, and the incredible sacrifice and bravery of the first responders. My thoughts are with the survivors and loved ones whose lives were changed forever that day."
"As we reflect on the tragedy of 9/11, let’s not forget all the people who stepped up and met the horror and heartbreak of that day with courage and kindness."
The US president made an appearance at the commemoration ceremony in Pennsylvania for the victims of United Airlines Flight 93.
"We honor those lives lost on Flight 93 on that dark day in history 20 years ago," Biden said on Twitter. "No matter how much time has passed, these commemorations bring everything painfully back for their loved ones. Your courage gives us courage."
Earlier Vice President Kamala Harris, former President George W. Bush and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf spoke at the remembrance. Wolf said the passengers and crew of Flight 93 offered a lasting lesson of courage and hope.
"This story and this place remind us each day what it means to be an American,'' said Wolf. "In times of strife, we Americans, we come together. We comfort each other. We protect each other and we stand up for each other. This memorial is a powerful reminder of what we have lost. But it's also a powerful reminder of the strength of the American spirit.''
Flight 93 crashed to the ground near the city of Shanksville after a passenger revolt caused the hijackers to abandon their mission of targeting the US Capitol.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden lay a wreath at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania
Russia said it was ready to resume anti-terrorism cooperation with the US. In a statement released by Moscow's diplomatic mission in Washington, ambassador Anatoly Antonov said Russia was grieving together with the US and proposed reviving cooperation on the fight against terrorism problems in bilateral ties.
"We should put aside all contradictions and disputes and cooperate for the benefit of security and prosperity of not just Russia and the United States, but all of humanity," Antonov said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that "we remember not just who our fallen teammates were, but the mission that they shared," at a ceremony at the Pentagon. "We recall their common commitment to defend our republic, and to squarely face new dangers.''
"Almost a quarter of the citizens who we defend today were born after 9/11,'' including many of the 13 American service members killed in the recent attack in Afghanistan, he added. He says that "as the years march on, we must ensure that all our fellow Americans know and understand what happened here on 9/11, and in Manhattan, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.''
Firefighters and first responders from across the US went to the iconic O'Hara's bar, which withstood 9/11, DW correspondent Oliver Sallet reported. The gathering followed the commemoration ceremony. The bar is located just one block from where the twin towers once stood.
Former US President Donald Trump slammed Biden's "inept administration" for its "incompetence" over the Afghan withdrawal via video message.
"This is a very sad day," Trump said in the message, adding that September 11 "represents great sorrow for our country."
"It is also a sad time for the way our war on those that did such harm to our country ended last week," he continued. He also blamed "bad planning, incredible weakness and leaders who truly didn't understand what was happening."
Survivor Wendy Lanski was on the 29th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower when she felt the building shake.
"I could see debris out the window. And then I heard the sound of people jumping and the connection of those people to the ground which I will never ever forget," she said.
Biden was seen talking with former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton at the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York as the solemn commemoration ceremony starts. The timing is set to match the exact moment of the first plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a. m. local time (12:46 GMT) in 2001.
The dignitaries observed a moment of silence, followed by relatives of the victims reading out the victims' names.
Mike Low, whose daughter was a flight attendant on the airliner that struck the North Tower, gave the first remarks after the moment of silence, describing the "unbearable sorrow and disbelief" experienced by his family over the past 20 years.
"As we recite the names of those we lost my memory goes back to that terrible day when it felt like an evil specter had descended on our world, but it was also a time when many people acted above and beyond the ordinary," he said.
Relatives then began to read aloud the names of the victims, an annual ritual that will last four hours.
Former President Barack Obama hailed the heroes of 9/11. "One thing that became clear on 9/11, and has been clear ever since, is that America has always been home to heroes who run towards danger in order to do what is right,'' said Obama. He also referenced the effects of climate change in his speech.
"Over the last 20 years, we've seen the same courage and selflessness on display again and again,'' he said.
"We saw it a decade ago when, after years of persistence, our military brought justice to Osama bin Laden. And we're seeing it today, in the doctors and nurses, bone tired, doing what they can to save lives; the service members, some of whom weren't even born 20 years ago, putting themselves at risk to save Americans and help refugees find a better life; the first responders battling roaring fires and rising waters to bring families to safety.''
Unconfirmed reports had circulated all week that the Taliban may use the anniversary of Sept. 11 to swear in their new government, but the day unfolded without formal recognition.
"This is a day for America, not for Afghanistan," Muhammad Alzoad, a bank clerk, told AFP. "This was nothing to do with Afghanistan, but it made us suffer. "The attacks against the United States were planned by al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who had taken refuge in Afghanistan after the Taliban took power in 1996.
Twenty years on, Germany is still grappling with militant Islamism. Kerstin Eppert, an Islamism expert from Bielefeld, observed that various German groups are already exploiting developments in Afghanistan for propaganda purposes, following the withdrawal of US troops. According to her, the Taliban's takeover of Kabul was "a gift for the movement in Germany. After the downfall of IS in Syria, Islamists are now again talking about a 'victory for Islam.'"
The increase in Islamist movements worldwide and in Germany has to do with the way the "war on terror" — proclaimed two decades ago by then US President George W. Bush — was conducted, some critics say.
Clifford Chanin, the executive vice president at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum built at the site of the World Trade Center attack, said the anniversary would serve as a "moment of high emotion" for the country, a time to consider "where we've been and where we are headed."
"Of course, we are in the middle of another unimaginable event right now with the COVID pandemic, but if 9/11 brings us anything in terms of what happened here and at the other attack sites, it is a message of resilience," Chanin told reporters this week.
In New York City, the ceremony at the Sept. 11 Memorial will begin with a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. local time (12:46 UTC), the exact time when the first plane flew into one of the World Trade Center's twin towers. After that, family members will recite the names of 2,977 victims, an annual ritual that will last four hours.
Biden is set to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 with stops at all three attack sites.
He will begin the day in New York, where he will attend a ceremony at the site where the World Trade Center's twin towers once stood. He will then travel to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 crashed into a field after passengers overtook the hijackers and prevented another target from being hit.
The president will end the day in the Washington DC area to visit the Pentagon, which was also hit by a plane on 9/11.
Biden was not scheduled to deliver remarks at any of the sites, but he released a video on Friday to express his condolences.
"It's so hard. Whether it's the first year or the 20th, children have grown up without parents and parents have suffered without children," Biden said.
The president noted the heroism that was seen on the day of the attack and the period that followed.
"We also saw something all too rare: a true sense of national unity," he added.
A survivor told DW that there was simply no way for her to rationalize what had happened on the day of the attacks. "It is the most irrational act when people take their personal animus out on civilians," Lauren Manning, who was in the World Trade Center's North Tower when the first jet slammed into the building, told DW.
When United Flight 711 slammed into the tower, a fire engulfed Manning. She experienced 80% burns to her body.
"That I actually did survive was because of tenacity, resilience, luck," she said. "I knew as I watched bodies come pummeling to the ground that some of those were my colleagues, my friends from Cantor Fitzgerald [financial services company], and I had the slimmest chance to fight."
Manning also touted the acts of bravery and heroism that she witnessed. "The most dominant emotion for me is the heroism that people who were not clothed in uniforms showed each other that day, the grace of colleagues and friends and strangers helping each other."
Britain's Queen Elizabeth said that her prayers remained with the victims and survivors.
"My thoughts and prayers — and those of my family and the entire nation — remain with the victims, survivors and families affected, as well as the first responders and rescue workers called to duty," the queen said in a message to US President Joe Biden.
"My visit to the site of the World Trade Center in 2010 is held fast in my memory."
"It reminds me that as we honor those from many nations, faiths and backgrounds who lost their lives, we also pay tribute to the resilience and determination of the communities who joined together to rebuild."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday said that the September 11 attackers failed to make people in open societies live in "permanent fear." In a video message to be played at a ceremony on Saturday, Johnson said the US was the "world's greatest democracy" and it was a reflection of its openness that "people of almost every nationality and religion" were among the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks.
"But while the terrorists imposed their burden of grief and suffering, and while the threat persists today, we can now say with the perspective of 20 years that they failed to shake our belief in freedom and democracy; they failed to drive our nations apart, or cause us to abandon our values, or to live in permanent fear,'' Johnson said.
Sixty-seven British nationals were among those killed.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed his "deepest sympathies" and says South Korea will continue to support the US as a key ally in its efforts to fight terrorism.
In a message posted on Twitter and Facebook on Saturday, Moon said the "shock of that day still remains as deep wounds in the hearts of so many'' and that "no violence can win against peace and inclusiveness.''
mm ,lc/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)