Last Updated: Mon Sep 12, 2011 08:02 am (KSA) 05:02 am (GMT)

Obama leads 9/11 memorial as anniversary is marked worldwide with reflection

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive at the Pentagon Memorial on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon in Washington. (Photo by Reuters)
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive at the Pentagon Memorial on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon in Washington. (Photo by Reuters)

US President Barack Obama arrived in New York Sunday to take part in ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Obama will visit the Ground Zero site of the felled World Trade Center towers to pay homage to about 3,000 people who perished in the attacks.

On Saturday, Obama vowed that the United States would never waver in its fight against terrorism.

“Ten years ago, ordinary Americans showed us the true meaning of courage when they rushed up those stairwells, into those flames, into that cockpit,” the president said in his radio and Internet address.

“We will protect the country we love and pass it safer, stronger and more prosperous to the next generation,” he added.

Worldwide reflection, prayers

A mother in Malaysia greeted her dead son. People in Manila left roses for the victim who helped give them homes. And mourners in Tokyo stood before a piece of steel from ground zero, remembering the 23 bank employees who never made it out alive.

A decade after 9/11, the day that changed so much for so many people, the world’s leaders and citizens paused to reflect Sunday. But there were also those ─ including a former Malaysian prime minister ─ who reiterated old claims that the US government itself was behind the attacks.

From Sydney to Spain, formal ceremonies paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 who perished from more than 90 countries. And, in a reminder that threats remain, Swedish police said four people were arrested Sunday on suspicion of preparing a terror attack, as authorities in Washington and New York beefed up security in response to intelligence about possible plans for a car bomb attack.

For some people, the pain never stops. In Malaysia, Pathmawathy Navaratnam woke up Sunday in her suburban Kuala Lumpur home and did what she’s done every day for the past decade: wish her son Vijayashanker Paramsothy “Good morning.”

The 23-year-old financial analyst was killed in the attacks on New York.

“He is my sunshine. He has lived life to the fullest, but I can’t accept that he is not here anymore,” said Navaratnam. “I am still living, but I am dead inside.”

In Manila, dozens of former shanty dwellers offered roses, balloons and prayers for another 9/11 victim, American citizen Marie Rose Abad. The neighborhood used to be a shantytown that reeked of garbage. But in 2004, Abad’s Filipino-American husband Rudy built 50 brightly colored homes, fulfilling his late wife’s wish to help impoverished Filipinos.

The village has since been named after her.

“It’s like a new life sprang from the death of Marie Rose and so many others,” said villager Nancy Waminal.

Players from the American Eagles rugby team were among the first to mark the anniversary at a memorial service in the town of New Plymouth in New Zealand. The players, who are participating in the Rugby World Cup tournament, listened to a speech by US ambassador David Huebner, whose brother Rick survived the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“We watched live on television the brutal murder of 3,000 individuals,” Huebner said. “We reacted with near unanimous horror and sadness.”

The Sept. 11 attacks spawned many conspiracy theories around the world, especially among Islamists who allege American or Israeli involvement.

Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a vitriolic critic of the West, wrote on his blog that Arab Muslims are incapable of “planning and strategizing” such attacks. He added “it is not unthinkable” for former President George W. Bush to have lied about who was responsible for 9/11.

He wrote that the World Trade Center twin towers “came down nicely upon themselves” and looked more like “planned demolition of buildings” than collapse, he wrote.

In Pakistan, supporters of an Islamist political party staged anti-US protests to mark the anniversary, holding up banners that repeated conspiracy theories. The protests by about 100 people were held in the capital Islamabad and Multan city.

But little attention was paid to such events and comments on a day dominated by sorrow and pain of the memories.

In Japan, families gathered in Tokyo to pay their respects to the 23 Fuji Bank employees who never made it out of their World Trade Center office. A dozen of the workers who died were Japanese.

One by one, family members laid flowers in front of an enclosed glass case containing a small section of steel retrieved from Ground Zero. They clasped their hands and bowed their heads. Some took pictures. Others simply stood in solemn silence. There were no tears, just reflection.

Sydney resident Rae Tompsett, 81, said she’s never felt angry over the murder of her son Stephen Tompsett, 39, a computer engineer who was on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower when it was hit by a hijacked plane.

“No, not anger,” she said. “Sorrow. Sorrow that the people who did this believed they were doing something good.”

The retired school teacher and her husband Jack, 92, were among more than 1,000 people who packed Sydney’s Roman Catholic cathedral St. Marys for a special multi-faith service.

“It’s incredible that it is 10 years - it feels a bit like yesterday,” Tompsett said.

At a commemoration at The Grosvenor Chapel in London, Courtney Cowart, who was nearly buried alive when the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, described her fears when she returned to the site for a church service five days later.

“Entering the heart of darkness, I was terrified. We were dwarfed by immense wreckage looming around us. It was a landscape drained of all color,” she said.

Elsewhere in Europe, Pope Benedict XVI, at an outdoor Mass in Ancona, Italy, prayed for victims and urged the world to resist what he called the “temptation toward hatred” and instead work for solidarity, justice and peace.

In Paris, where an array of commemorations were planned, an association of French “friends” of America was preparing to unveil a temporary nine-story scaled-down replica of the Twin Towers bearing the victims’ names across.

About 150 people, some waving American flags, turned out in Madrid for a commemorative planting of 10 American oak trees in Juan Carlos I park by crown Prince Felipe, his wife Princess Letizia, and other dignitaries.

Rome was preparing to light up the Colosseum late Sunday in a show of solidarity, and special commemorations were planned at Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral and London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Meanwhile, authorities in New York and Washington are increasing security for their 9/11 memorial services after intelligence agents got a tip that three al-Qaida members could be planning to set off a car bomb in one of the cities. Officials have found no evidence any terrorists have sneaked into the country.

The Taliban marked the anniversary by vowing to keep fighting against US forces in Afghanistan and saying they had no role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Each year, 9/11 reminds the Afghans of an event in which they had no role whatsoever,” a statement e-mailed to news organizations said. “American colonialism shed the blood of tens of thousands of miserable and innocent Afghans.”

Hours later, a Taliban suicide bomber in a large truck blew it up at the gate of a NATO combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan, killing two civilians and injuring 77 US troops. None of the US injuries were life-threatening, the Atlantic alliance said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at his Cabinet’s weekly meeting on Sunday, said Islamic terrorism continued to threaten Israel and urged democracies to “act together against this blight.”

“It is clear that this threat will be incomparably larger if radical Islamic forces or regimes acquire the ultimate weapon ─ weapons of mass destruction ─ and then terrorists will stand together and will be able to act under the nuclear umbrella of a radical regime, or even with tools of mass destruction given to them,” Netanyahu said.

The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, after the Taliban who then ruled the country refused to hand over the Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. The al-Qaeda leader was at the time living in Afghanistan, where the terror network retained training camps and planned attacks against the US and other countries. Bin Laden was killed four months ago at his Pakistan hideout by US forces.

“Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, my brother’s soul will finally rest in peace,” said Yambem Laba, whose younger brother Jupiter Yambem was among the victims.

Jupiter, an Indian, was manager at the “Roof of the World Restaurant in the World Trade Center.

About 100 family members and close friends gathered at his ancestral home in the northeastern state of Manipur for prayers Sunday.

“Osama is dead but the threat from al-Qaeda has not ended,” Laba said.

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