hide captionA woman wipes away tears during ceremonies in New York marking the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
A woman wipes away tears during ceremonies in New York marking the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
Americans across the globe observed the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Tuesday, with soldiers in Afghanistan lowering the flag to half-staff at a U.S. base while victims' relatives gathered at ceremonies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
In New York, the ceremony began at 8:40 a.m. with the sounds of drums and bagpipes, as an American flag saved from the site was carried onstage. The Star-Spangled Banner was performed before the first moment of silence was observed at 8:46 a.m. — the minute the first plane struck the north tower.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg led the ceremony near the site where the World Trade Center toppled and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani spoke after a bell tolled to commemorate the collapse of the South Tower.
"In the midst of our great grief and turmoil, we also witnessed uncompromising strength and resilience as a people," said Giuliani, whose performance as mayor during the attacks have catapulted him to lead the list of Republican presidential contenders.
As in years past, people clutched framed photos of their lost loved ones or held bunches of flowers against their chests.
For the first time, the firefighters and first responders who helped in the rescue and recovered the dead read the victims' names. Many of those rescuers now have respiratory ailments and cancer that they blame on exposure to toxic dust from the towers.
Another first: The name of a victim who survived the towers' collapse but later died of lung disease blamed on the dust she inhaled was added to the official roll. Felicia Dunn-Jones, an attorney, was working a block from the World Trade Center. She became the 2,974th victim linked to the four crashes of the hijacked airliners in New York, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa.
Construction of four new towers where the World Trade Center once stood forced the movement of the New York ceremony to a nearby park, but family members were not discouraged.
Kathleen Mullen, whose niece Kathleen Casey died in the attacks, said she was happy the ceremony was not abandoned. "Just so long as we continue to do something special every year, so you don't wake up and say, 'Oh, it's 9/11,'" she said.
At the Pentagon, a large flag was draped where American Airlines Flight 77 struck the building. Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at the site where the plane crashed into the building's wall.
Pace told the victims' families that their loved ones will always be remembered.
"I do not know the proper words to tell you what's in my heart, what is in our hearts, what your fellow citizens are thinking today. We certainly hope that somehow these observances will help lessen your pain," he said.
Pace also spoke of the military, calling the anniversary "a day of recommitment."
At the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, service members bowed their heads in memory of the victims and lowered a flag to half-staff.
A moment of silence was also held in Shanksville, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed as passengers fought terrorists for control of the plane.
A memorial service honoring Flight 93's 40 passengers and crew began at 9:45 a.m., shortly before the time the airliner nosedived into the empty field.
"As American citizens, we're all looking at our heroes," said Kay Roy, whose sister Colleen Fraser, of Elizabeth, N.J., died when the plane went down. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff also spoke to the mourners.
In all, 2,974 victims were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, not including the 19 hijackers. Most of the deaths — 2,750 — were associated with the World Trade Center attack; 40 died in Pennsylvania and 184 were killed at the Pentagon.
National intelligence director Mike McConnell said U.S. authorities remain vigilant and concerned about "sleeper cells" of would-be terrorists inside the United States.
"We're safer but we're not safe," McConnell said on ABC's Good Morning America.
Another reminder of that was a new videotape of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary. In it, bin Laden praised one of the Sept. 11 suicide hijackers, while urging others to become martyrs.
Al-Qaida traditionally issues a video every year on the anniversary.
Barry Zelman, who lost his 37-year-old brother in the attack on the World Trade Center, said was angered by bin Laden's latest videotape.
"That we're still hearing from Osama bin Laden six years later, there's no excuse. They should have gotten him long ago," Zelman said. "It's embarrassing."
hide captionLast week, German officials disrupted a plot to attack Frankfurt's international airport. Germany's interior minister has said the suspects trained at a camp in Pakistan.
Thomas Lohnes/AFP/Getty Images
hide captionMany radical groups claiming ties to al-Qaida have cropped up since Sept. 11, 2001. Click here to learn about them.
Lindsay Mangum, NPR
Six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, there have been wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; sweeping reforms of U.S. intelligence and domestic security operations; and hundreds of billions of dollars spent overseas on what has come to be known as the war on terror.
Yet, the threat from al-Qaida remains grave.
U.S. intelligence officials speak of a terror network that is far from declining and, in fact, appears to be gaining strength.
Six years ago, al-Qaida was a shadowy terrorist network bent on attacking the U.S. It was led by two men — Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri — who were hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Now, the broad outlines of the threat look pretty much the same. In the two videos bin Laden released to commemorate the Sept. 11 anniversary, bin Laden's beard may be blacker, but his hatred of the United States is clearly undiminished.
Bin Laden declares that U.S. policy in Iraq has failed. The Bush administration dismissed the tape. On Fox News last weekend, White House adviser Frances Fragos Townsend suggested bin Laden is not capable of much beyond bluster these days.
"This is about the best he can do," she said. "This is a man on the run from a cave who is virtually impotent other than these tapes."
But others disagree.
"Frankly, I think Ms. Townsend is trying to give us a spin, to explain why this president took his eye off the ball, and failed to kill this man or bring him to justice, when he had the opportunity," said Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer and National Security Council staffer.
He argued bin Laden and his deputies today are far from "impotent."
"Every major terrorist operation in the United Kingdom, over the last five years — including the July 2005 attack on the London subways and last year's plot, which was thwarted before it was able to destroy 10 jumbo jets over the north Atlantic — was linked back to al-Qaida in Pakistan and to the senior leadership of al-Qaida in Pakistan," Riedel said.
That pattern was apparent last week when officials in both Denmark and Germany announced they had thwarted bomb plots and arrested men with suspected ties to al-Qaida.
Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany's interior minister, told reporters the three men arrested there trained at a camp in Pakistan.
According to a National Intelligence Estimate completed this summer, al-Qaida has rebuilt a safe haven inside Pakistan. The terrorist network remains determined to attack the U.S. and would like to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to do so.
"We assess, with high confidence, that al-Qaida is focusing on targets that would produce mass casualties, dramatic destruction and significant economic aftershocks," CIA Director Gen. Michael warned five days ago.
National intelligence director Mike McConnell told Congress Monday that, while al-Qaida has rebuilt, the group is still not as strong as it was on Sept. 11, 2001. That is the argument President Bush has made when confronted with evidence of a revitalized al-Qaida.
"Al-Qaida is, would have been, a heck of a lot stronger today had we not stayed on the offense," President Bush said. "And it's in the interests of the United States to not only defeat them overseas, so we don't have to face them here, but also to spread an ideology that will defeat their ideology every time."
Defeating the terrorists overseas, so we don't have to face them here is a favorite refrain of the president. He has used it to defend ongoing U.S. military operations in Iraq.
But former senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar says it is misleading. "It's as if terrorists were polite enough to, you know, have the courtesy to fight us only one place at time. They aren't like that," he said.
Riedel is also skeptical of the administration's claims of progress in the war on terror. He noted that, while there was progress right after Sept. 11, no senior al-Qaida leaders have been killed or captured in Pakistan in more than a year.
Riedel also said that al-Qaida's media wing has released at least 10 tapes this year and has succeeded at launching new franchise groups across the Middle East.
"There's one in Iraq that's extremely deadly. There's another one in Saudi Arabia, which looks to be temporarily in eclipse, but which I wouldn't rule out coming back big time in the future. And there's a stronger and more deadly one now in North Africa," Riedel said.
Last week, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb tried to assassinate Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Riedel said there are now smaller al-Qaida franchises popping up across Europe and that is the sign of an enemy that is today more determined and deadly than ever.