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U.S.: Congress Readies Money, Support While Probe Continues

  • Grant Podelco

The death toll in the mass terrorist attack against the United States on 11 September is expected to exceed 5,000. As the grim rescue efforts continue, the U.S. Congress is nearing agreement on a resolution that would support any decision by George W. Bush to use military force to retaliate in what the U.S. president is calling "the first war of the 21st century." Congress also is expected to adopt a $40 billion emergency package to aid reconstruction and combat terrorism.

Prague, 14 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States was preparing today to mark a national day of prayer and remembrance on for the victims of this week's catastrophic terrorist attacks.

Millions in Europe also paused for three minutes at noon today to remember the dead. More than 5,000 people are now believed to have died in the two attacks in New York City, on the U.S. Defense Department outside Washington, and in a plane crash in rural Pennsylvania -- exceeding the combined death tolls from Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the sinking of the Titanic. Hopes that more survivors will be found are dimming.

The overwhelming majority of victims -- buried under tons of rubble -- have not been recovered. Identification of the bodies and body parts will be difficult. New York brought in 30,000 body bags to carry human remains found in the wreckage of the collapsed World Trade towers. Tens of thousands of residents are still unable to return to their homes in lower Manhattan.

U.S. President George W. Bush plans to pray today at Washington's National Cathedral, as well as visit New York to -- as he put it -- "thank and hug and cry" with its citizens. Bush said yesterday that efforts to find and punish those responsible for the terror attacks will consume the energies of the U.S. government for the foreseeable future:

"This is now the focus of my administration. We will be very much engaged in domestic policy, of course. I look forward to working with Congress on a variety of issues. But now that war has been declared on us, we will lead the world to victory. To victory."

The U.S. Congress early Friday was nearing a vote on a $40 billion emergency package that would fund efforts to combat terrorism, as well as contribute to the relief and rebuilding effort. The figure is double what Bush had requested. Lawmakers are also expected to consider a separate measure that would back the use of "necessary and appropriate force" to deal with those responsible for the attacks.

Some 4,000 federal agents and 3,000 support personnel in the U.S. are aggressively pursuing their investigation into the attacks. As many as 10 people were detained in New York yesterday after attempting to board airliners. One of the men is reported to have held a fake pilot's license, but the connection of the 10 people to this week's hijackings -- if any -- is unknown. A suspect was also detained for questioning in Hamburg, Germany, and released, and a hotel in the Philippine capital, Manila, was searched yesterday for clues. Mexico says it is looking for at least nine people who may have helped plan the attacks. The investigation is also leading investigators to Canada and the U.S. states of Massachusetts, Florida, and New Jersey.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says at least 18 hijackers commandeered the four passenger jets that crashed. Ashcroft:

"The total number of hijackers, to our best estimate and our best knowledge given the information at this time, on the four planes that crashed, was at least 18. Unless contradicted by evidence, which we wouldn't anticipate, two planes had five hijackers and two other planes had four hijackers each."

Ashcroft says as many as 50 people may have collaborated in the entire operation. A security perimeter has been widened around the White House -- the U.S. executive mansion -- while Vice President Dick Cheney moved to the presidential retreat of Camp David in Maryland so that America's two top leaders are separated.

Meanwhile, the flight data recorder from the jet that crashed in Pennsylvania has been recovered and may yield more clues about what happened in the final minutes of the doomed flight. The plane's crucial cockpit voice recorder is still missing, however. Authorities also recovered both black boxes from the jet that smashed into the Pentagon outside Washington.

Dick Bridges, a spokesman for Arlington County, Virginia -- where the Pentagon is located -- described the dangerous conditions that rescue workers face at the site:

"That particular part of the building is extremely fragile. It is unstable. We have been spending quite a bit of time trying to shore up that area. The columns down on the bottom floors are basically gone and they've been trying to shore it up with wooden beams. It is dangerous working in there, but we are trying to maximize the safety of those personnel in the building when they are working on this stuff."

Flights at airports across America resumed yesterday amid tightened security measures, but only a small portion of the normal 35,000 to 40,000 daily flights took off as the airlines coped with tens of thousands of stranded passengers and the time needed to accommodate the added security. U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said:

"Safety is always of paramount importance and in these extraordinary times, we will be vigilant. Therefore, I have ordered a variety of security measures to be instituted at our nation's airports upon reopening to improve the security of our national aviation system." More than 90 bomb threats -- all fake -- were received in New York City alone yesterday, while part of the U.S. Capitol building was also evacuated because of a suspicious package. Nearly every major sporting event in the U.S. has been canceled through the weekend. The New York Stock Exchange remains closed through Monday.

But theaters on Manhattan's fabled Broadway reopened last night to show that the city's tragedy is now moving into its second act -- recovery.