Three months ago, terrorists struck in the United States, killing an estimated 3,300 people and plunging Americans into grief. Since then, that grief has turned into resolve, and America's leaders are devoting their energies to bringing the authors of the attacks to justice. Yesterday (11 December), Americans, and people around the world, paused to remember the victims.
Washington, 12 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Three months after the 11 September terrorist attacks, America's leaders led their nation in solemn remembrance of the anguish, anger, and resolve that grew out of the cruelest day in the nation's history.
President George W. Bush began yesterday's commemorations with a ceremony at the White House. He said Americans always will remember that day as a call to duty and a day when they found what he called the "determination to right this huge wrong."
The killers, believed to be acting on behalf of Osama bin Laden, hijacked four jetliners to attack the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. One of the planes, apparently destined for a second Washington target, crashed in Pennsylvania. An estimated 3,300 Americans and citizens of other countries perished.
"For those of us who lived through these events, the only marker we will ever need is the tick of a clock at the 46th minute of the eighth hour of the 11th day. We will remember where we were and how we felt. We will remember the dead and what we owe them. We will remember what we lost and what we found."
Not only will Americans not forget, Bush said, but they will also act. The president cited the continuing military success that the U.S. and its allies are enjoying in Afghanistan.
"Our enemies have made the mistake that America's enemies always make. They saw liberty and thought they saw weakness. And now they see defeat."
About an hour later, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led a similar ceremony at the site where the jetliner crashed into the Pentagon. Standing in a chilly drizzle, Rumsfeld told the assembled Defense Department employees that the nation's response to the terrorist attacks helped unify its spirit.
"We will remember their lives, and the reason for their deaths, until freedom triumphs over oppression, over fear, and long beyond. We will remember them and the other victims of that day -- their children, their families, their friends -- and the heroes, both living and dead, whose strength and courage prevented the loss of still more."
The secretary said the 184 people killed at the Pentagon were targeted because they work for a government agency that stands for America's power to remain free. He said the attack also reminded the country that it still has heroes -- those who retrieved the living and the dead after the attacks.
New York held its own commemoration ceremony at the site of the World Trade Center, whose two 110-story towers collapsed into rubble after the attacks. Firefighters, police officers, and construction workers paused there for a prayer service. Presiding were a Roman Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, and a Muslim imam.
People in 80 other countries marked the day as well. In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and visiting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell attended a ceremony outside Blair's Downing Street office to hear somber renditions of the two nations' anthems.
In Canberra, Australia, diplomats met at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer and planted a symbol of life -- an oak tree. And in Copenhagen, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller told American officials that his country will stand by America in its war on terrorism.
The remembrance was not limited to the planet Earth. Astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the U.S. space shuttle "Endeavor" and the international space station listened to the U.S. and Russian national anthems. Frank Culbertson, completing his tour as space station commander, said the attacks have given crew members greater resolve to promote international cooperation in space.
Similarly, the remembrance was not limited to somber ceremonies. The U.S. Justice Department issued the first indictment to arise from the 11 September attacks. Attorney General John Ashcroft marked the day this way: "Today, three months after the assault on our homeland, the United States of America has brought the awesome weight of justice against the terrorists who brutally murdered innocent Americans. The first indictment has been brought against the terrorists of 11 September. Al-Qaeda will now meet the justice it abhors and the judgment it fears."
The indictment charges Zacarias Moussaoui with conspiracy in the acts of terror. Also named in the 30-page indictment was bin Laden, although he was not formally charged.
Ashcroft said Moussaoui received the same training as the 19 terrorists who died in the three hijacked airliners. And he said the evidence leaves no doubt that bin Laden and his organization, Al-Qaeda, were responsible for the 11 September attacks.
"The indictment issued today is a chronicle of evil, a carefully documented, year-by-year, month-by-month, day-by-day account of a terrorist conspiracy that gathered both force and intensity in the weeks before 11 September. Zacarias Moussaoui is alleged to have been an active participant in this conspiracy alongside the 19 terrorists who carried it out."
Moussaoui has been held since 17 August after a flight school notified law enforcement that they were suspicious of him. Teachers said he wanted to learn only how to steer a jetliner, not to take off or land. This was all the training that was needed by the 11 September hijackers.
Since the attacks, Moussaoui has been held as a material witness in the terrorism probe. A material witness is someone who is believed to have important information about a criminal case and is held to ensure his continued availability to investigators.