WASHINGTON – America remembers: Ceremonies held in New York City, the White House and the Pentagon marked the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks – the worst terror attack in the United States' history.
Scores gathered in the National September 11 Memorial plaza in New York City for the reading of the victims' names and the memorial service.
The ceremony in New York
The New York ceremony began with a moment of silence to mark the moment that the first hijacked jetliner crashed into the World Trade Center in 2001.
The reading of nearly 3,000 victims' names in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania continued as usual this year.
The 11th anniversary marked the first year that politicians will not speak at the ceremony.
The ceremony at the Pentagon
"Eleven years ago, on a morning very much like this, terrorists attacked the symbols of American strength – our economy, commerce, military might and democracy, and took the lives of citizens of over 90 countries," US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking at the Pentagon ceremony said.
"This was the worst attack in our history. Today people gather across the US and around the world to remember 9/11… and all of us take a moment to remember again where we were at that fateful moment… Today we pause to remember."
The attacks, Panetta continued, have spurred the United States to fight terror with new tenacity: "We have sent a resounding message to our enemies – no one attacks the US and gets away with it."
"From these attacks, came a new sense of unity and resolve that this would not happen again… Fierce determination to fight back and defend our way of life."The terror unleashed a greater strength, – Americans fighting for their country… Our nation is stronger and safer today than it was on 9/11. We have brought Osama bin Laden to Justice and decimated al-Qaeda's leadership. And while they are still a threat, we dealt them a heave blow," Panetta said.
"We will continue to pursue and fight our enemies wherever they hide. We will never stop – until we make sure America is safe."
The ceremony at the White House (Photo: EPA)
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and White House staffers observed a moment of silence Tuesday on the White House south lawn in memory of the attacks.
The White House marked the attacks with three bell tolls and a bugler playing taps.
Obama and the first lady also attended the ceremony at the Pentagon. ""Today we remember a day that began like so many others... Even now, all these years later, it is easy for those of us who lived through that day to close our eyes and to find ourselves back there – and back here – back when grief crashed over us like an awful wave, when Americans everywhere held each other tight, seeking the reassurance that the world we knew wasn’t crumbling under our feet." Obama said.
"Eleven times we have marked another September 11th come and gone. Eleven times, we have paused in remembrance, in reflection, in unity and in purpose."
"Most of the Americans we lost that day had never considered the possibility that a small band of terrorists halfway around the world could do us such harm. Most had never heard the name al Qaeda. And yet, it's because of their sacrifice that we've come together and dealt a crippling blow to the organization that brought evil to our shores. Al-Qaeda's leadership has been devastated and Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again. Our country is safer and our people are resilient.
"Eleven years ago," Obama continued, "Memorial services were held for Americans of different races and creeds, backgrounds and beliefs. And yet, instead of turning us against each other, tragedy has brought us together. I've always said that our fight is with al Qaeda and its affiliates, not with Islam or any other religion. This country was built as a beacon of freedom and tolerance. That’s what's made us strong, now and forever."
Ground Zero memorial site in New York (AFP)
"As painful as this day is and always will be, it leaves us with a lesson that no single event can ever destroy who we are. No act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for. Instead, we recommit ourselves to the values that we believe in, holding firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.
"That’s the commitment that we reaffirm today. And that’s why, when the history books are written, the true legacy of 9/11 will not be one of fear or hate or division. It will be a safer world; a stronger nation; and a people more united than ever before," the US president concluded.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the memorial service in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed.
"We wish we weren't here. We wish we didn't have to be here. We wish we didn't have to commemorate any of this," Biden told relatives and guests at the memorial for United Airlines Flight 93, the jet on which passengers fought hijackers for control before it crashed near Shanksville.
"Today is just as monumental a day for all of you, for each of your families, as any Sept. 11 has ever been," he said.
This year, the anniversary takes lace in the midst of the US presidential race, both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have suspended their campaign, out of respect for the victims and their families.
AP and AFP contributed to this report
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