2002: The Wall Street Journal, New York
Award for Deadline News Reporting

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Terrorists destroy World Trade Center, hit Pentagon in raid with hijacked jets

Nation stands in disbelief and horror: streets of manhattan resemble war zone amid clouds of ash

September 12, 2001

By Bryan Gruley in Washington

They were like scenes from a catastrophe movie. Or a Tom Clancy novel. Or a CNN broadcast from a distant foreign nation.

But they were real yesterday. And they were very much in the U.S.

James Cutler, a 31-year-old insurance broker, was in the Akbar restaurant on the ground floor of the World Trade Center when he heard “boom, boom, boom,” he recalls. In seconds, the kitchen doors blew open, smoke and ash poured into the restaurant and the ceiling collapsed. Mr. Cutler didn’t know what had happened yet, but he found himself standing among bodies strewn across the floor. “It was mayhem,” he says.

Around the same time, Nestor Zwyhun, the 38-year-old chief technology officer of Tradecard, an international trading firm, had just stepped off the New Jersey commuter ferry and was walking toward the World Trade Center when he heard a sound “like a jet engine at full throttle,” he says, then a huge explosion. Smoke billowed in the sky and sheets of glass were falling everywhere. “I stood there for two seconds, then ran,” Mr. Zwyhun said.

More than 100 floors above him at the Trade Center offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, someone put a call from the company’s Los Angeles office on the speaker phone. What was happening there? The Los Angeles people heard someone say, “I think a plane just hit us.” For more than five minutes, the Los Angeles people listened in horror as the sounds of chaos came through the speaker phone, people screaming, “Somebody’s got to help us. . . . We can’t get out. . . . The place is filling with smoke.” Then the phone went dead.

Three hundred miles to the south, in Washington, D.C., a jet swooped in from the west and burrowed into the side of the Pentagon building, exploding in a tower of flame and smoke. Mark Thaggard, an office manager in the building, was there when the plane hit. People started running this way and that, trying to get out. “It was chaotic,” Mr. Thaggard says. “It was unbelievable. We could not believe this was happening.”

The nation stood in shock and horror yesterday after three apparently hijacked jetliners, in less than an hour’s time, made kamikaze-like crashes into both towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing hundreds, maybe thousands, of people and leaving countless others maimed and burned.

The streets of downtown Manhattan were strewn with body parts, clothing, shoes and mangled flesh, including a severed head with long, dark hair and a severed arm resting along a highway about 300 yards from the crash site. People fleeing the attacks stampeded through downtown and streamed across the Brooklyn Bridge while looking over their shoulders at the astonishing sight of the World Trade Center collapsing in a pile of smoke and ash.

Andrew Lenney, 37 years old, a financial analyst for the New York City Council, was walking to work a few blocks from the trade center when, he said, “I saw the plane out of the corner of my eye. You’re accustomed to a plane taking up a certain amount of space in the sky. This plane was huge. I just froze and watched the plane.

“It was coming down the Hudson. It was banking toward me. I saw the tops of both wings,” he said. “It was turning to make sure it hit the intended target. It plowed in about 20 stories down dead center into the north face of the building. I thought it was a movie,” Mr. Lenney said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was such a perfect pyrotechnic display. It was symmetrical.”

Outside the Pentagon, hundreds of workers who felt the building shake on impact poured outside amid spewing smoke. Inside, lights had switched off and alarms were blaring. “We heard a loud blast, and I felt a gust of wind,” said a civilian Pentagon worker who asked not to be identified. “I heard a loud explosion, and somebody said, `Run, let’s get out of here.’ And I ran.”

The president learned of the initial plane crash in New York before joining a class of schoolchildren in Sarasota, Fla. At 9:04 a.m., Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispered word of the second attack into his ear as Mr. Bush was reading to the children. About a half hour later, he appeared on television to inform the nation that terrorists were behind the tragedy. He said he had ordered a full-scale investigation to “hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.”

Shortly before 9 a.m., American Airlines’ Flight 11 from Boston, hijacked by suspects with knives, slammed into one trade center tower. Eighteen minutes later — as millions watched the first tower burn on live national television — a second hijacked jet crashed into the other tower. By midmorning, the south tower had exploded and collapsed, raining debris and sending choking dust and smoke across lower Manhattan. Within half an hour, the second tower caved in.

As that scene unfolded, a third hijacked jet crashed into the Pentagon. The side of the building caved in, with secondary explosions bursting in the aftermath and huge billows of smoke rising over the Potomac River, where they could be seen all the way to the White House.

A fourth plane, also hijacked, crashed about 80 miles south of Pittsburgh. United Airlines said it was a Boeing 757 en route from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco. It crashed in a remote field, killing all 45 on board. Virginia Rep. James Moran, a Democrat, told reporters after a military briefing yesterday that the rogue plane could have been headed to the Camp David presidential retreat in the mountains of southern Maryland.

The FBI, with 20 agents at the site, said that it was treating the crash as a crime scene. Early reports indicate that there were no ground fatalities.

In Pennsylvania, Daniel Stevens, spokesman for the Westmoreland County public-safety department, confirmed that its 911-call center received a call from a man aboard United Flight 93 over Pittsburgh at 9:58 a.m. The caller, claiming he was locked in a bathroom, said “the plane is being hijacked,” and repeatedly stressed that his call was “not a hoax.” Mr. Stevens said he thinks the call was bona fide. On the same flight, a flight attendant from Fort Myers, Fla., called her husband on a cellphone shortly before the plane crashed.

A federal official said a crew member on one of the American flights called the company’s operations center and reported that several crew members had been stabbed and relayed the seat number of one of the attackers.

The crashes shattered a placid, clear morning in New York and Washington. By early afternoon, fighter jets were patrolling Manhattan, and downtown New York hospitals were turning away people offering to give blood because of long lines. With cellphones not working, people swarmed pay phones and huddled around radios. And the trade center towers had disappeared from the skyline.

Vincent Fiori was on the 71st floor of the first tower that was hit. “I’m sitting at my computer and I heard a rumble and my chair spun around,” he said. Most people weren’t sure what had happened. On the street, people gazed up at the gaping, smoking hole in the building, some holding handkerchiefs over their mouths, more curious than frightened.

The mood changed quickly when the second plane hovered into view and swerved into the other tower. Mr. Zwyhun, the Tradecard executive, was on the upper deck of a ferry, returning to New Jersey, when he saw the second crash and realized “this wasn’t an accident.”

Panic ensued, as stock traders, secretaries, construction workers and store clerks ran for cover. But there was bizarre calm, too, as some businesspeople rescheduled meetings on cellphones. Police showed up in numbers, ordering everyone to move uptown as fast as possible.

The top floors of the buildings were engulfed in smoke, and people began leaping from windows, one at a time, hitting the ground, shrubbery, and awnings. On the Brooklyn Bridge, dust-covered New Yorkers trooping homeward jammed the pedestrian walkway. A man in shorts and a T-shirt, running toward Manhattan with a radio to his ear, shouted “The Pentagon is burning, the Pentagon is burning!” and a young woman talking on her cellphone shouted, “My mother works there. I don’t know where she is. What is happening? What is happening?”

Pedestrians streaming off the Williamsburg Bridge were met by local workers who had dismantled office water coolers, stacked mountains of plastic cups and hauled cases of water to the foot of the bridge. Tom Ryan, a burly ironworker who was handing out cups of water, said, “Our lives are never going to the the same. Now we’re going to go through the same things as other countries.”

Ferries, police boats and pleasure craft cruised up to the side of the promenade near the towers to whisk people away — children and the injured first.

Paul and Lee Manton, who moved to New York only a month ago from Australia, were holding their two children, ages 3 and 5, and frantically trying to find out where to go. The family lives near the towers, and after the planes hit, Mr. Manton stared out his window at the flaming buildings. “I said, `These are going to go down,’ and just as I said it the building started falling.” Fifteen minutes later, he and his wife rushed their children outside in search of escape.

For more than 45 minutes after the second plane smashed into the second World Trade Center tower, the skyscrapers still stood — burning but apparently solid. Workers in the nearby buildings flooded out, and the promenade along the Hudson River was where many of them went. When the tower started to cave, it began with a low rumble. Slowly, amid a dark cloud of smoke, the debris rained down. “My God, it’s falling,” someone shouted. Mesmerized, no one moved.

A firefighters union official said he feared an estimated 200 firefighters had died in rescue efforts at the trade center — where 50,000 people worked — and dozens of police officers were believed missing.

Father John Doherty, a Roman Catholic priest, was on the street not far from the Marriott Hotel adjacent to the World Trade Center. “I was buried and dug my way out,” he said, speaking on a stretcher in Battery Park City a few blocks south of the ruins. He paused to spit, and out came a wet, gray wad of ash. In the pitch dark of the smoke, he said, he made it to safety only by following a guard rail that runs along the riverside. “It’s only the finger of God that saved me,” he said.

Timothy Snyder and two other employees of Thermo Electron were in their 85th floor office in the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the plane hit three floors above them. They didn’t know it was a plane; Mr. Snyder believed it was a bomb.

“We were just working,” he says. “All of a sudden, we heard this slamming sound that was so loud. The debris started falling outside the windows, and the door to the office blew open. The building started swaying, and it was hard to say if the building would remain standing. I was in my chair, and I just grabbed onto my desk.

“After five or 10 seconds, the building stopped moving, and we knew we had to leave. We all grabbed our bags and headed out.” They walked down to the 78th floor where they were guided to another stairwell, crossing a lobby with a bank of elevators. The marble walls of the lobby were buckled.

As they walked down, the stairwells were crowded but calm. “There was air you could breathe,” he says. “We didn’t feel we were being suffocated.” They were guided through the mall under the World Trade Center. Just as they came out, World Trade Center Two collapsed. “Being in the cloud of smoke was like being in this very dense, unbreathable air that was so black no sun was getting through.” He ran for safety and made it.

“We feel, since the plane hit only three floors above us, amazingly thankful we’re all alive. But there were emergency workers going up those steps while we were going down. They were trying to save others and they didn’t make it.”

In New York, officials set up a triage center in Jersey City, N.J., in front of the Datek Online Holdings building on the Hudson River. At Chelsea Piers, a recreational complex along the Hudson River, emergency officials set up a makeshift trauma center in a cavernous room that appears to be used as a set for TV shows and films. “Trauma” was spray-painted in orange letters over one entryway, and inside there were more than 50 beds — many converted from fold-out tables and lit with the aid of television studio lights. Some 150 surgeons, in town for a medical conference, reported to the trauma center and were prepared to take patients. Emergency workers prepared several dozen volunteers who were to be assigned one-on-one to accompany patients as they came in for treatment.

But as of 4:30 p.m. more than seven hours after the first plane struck one of the World Trade Center towers, there weren’t many patients — only a handful of emergency personnel had come in for treatment of minor injuries. One emergency official, communicating through a bullhorn, told the waiting doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians that the New York Fire Department at the scene wasn’t permitting rescue workers to head into the rubble. “It’s still too hot,” the official said. And the city’s hospitals still had vacant beds.

Mike Athemas, a 46-year-old volunteer fireman, headed downtown once the bomb went off and didn’t leave until midafternoon. “Everywhere you turned, there was someone taking bodies out of the rubble,” he said. Making matters worse, documents that had been blown from the building were catching fire and igniting vehicles outside the World Trade Center. “There were 20 cars and trucks — police cars and emergency vehicles — on fire,” said Mr. Athemas. One New York city firefighter sobbed aloud, “My company is dead. They’re all dead.”

After the first plane hit the World Trade Center, New York City firefighter Craig Gutkes was part of a ladder company in Brooklyn that was called in to Manhattan. When he was still on the Brooklyn side, his company saw the second plane roar over their heads, “It sounded like a freight train,” he said. They watched that plane plow into Tower No. 2. When he arrived on Liberty Street, “It was like a war zone when we got there. There were body parts all over the street.”

In midtown, in front of St. Bartholomew’s Church, an Episcopal church, assistant rector Andrea Maier stood in the street in white vestments, handing out a specially printed prayer for peace to the dazed throngs walking uptown. Dozens of people prayed inside the church. Special services for peace were being held every hour to accommodate people walking in off the street to pray. “We’ll just do this all night if we have to,” said the church rector, the Rev. William Tully.

Amir Chaudhary, a 24-year old taxi driver, watched the second tower collapse from across the Hudson River in Jersey City. “In a blink of my eye the Twin Towers were gone. There was no boom even. Didn’t hear anything. Guys were on their knees crying, begging me to give them a ride away. I feel like maybe it’s a bad dream: If I wake up, I could get the Twin Towers back.”

Although the White House was not damaged, its people were not untouched by the tragedy. Barbara Olson, wife of U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, was on board the Los Angeles-bound airplane that took off from Dulles Airport and crashed into the Pentagon. Ms. Olson, a frequent political commentator, used a cellphone to call her husband just moments before she died. Late in the day, President Bush took time from his security briefing to call Mr. Olson and offer his condolences.

Before sending his aides home, Sen. John Warner of Virginia recalled to them, “I was in Washington when I heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This is another Pearl Harbor, and now your generation will have to meet the challenge.”

By yesterday evening, military vehicles were patrolling the city, and police had cordoned off a three-square area near the White House.

In Arlington, Va., abutting Washington, fishermen plunking for catfish at a marina near the Pentagon said they could feel the heat from the explosion. The White House, the Capitol, and the Treasury and State departments were evacuated shortly after the crash at the Pentagon. “Get out! Get out!” police yelled as they swept through federal buildings. As legislators streamed out of the Capitol, the memorial chimes across the street played “God Bless America.”

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Death toll, source of devastating attacks remain unclear U.S. vows retaliation as attention focuses on Bin Laden

September 12, 2001

By David S. Cloud and Neil King

By successfully attacking the most prominent symbols of American power — Wall Street and the Pentagon — terrorists have wiped out any remaining illusions that America is safe from mass organized violence.

That realization alone will alter the way the U.S. approaches its role in the world, as well as the way Americans travel and do business at home and abroad.

The death toll from the hijacked jets’ attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, and damaged the Pentagon, was impossible to gauge immediately. But it could eclipse the loss of life the country suffered in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when more than 2,300 perished.

It wasn’t immediately clear who was responsible for the attack, though official attention focused on Middle East terrorist Osama bin Laden and his organization. One U.S. official said intelligence agencies already had gathered “strong information” linking Mr. bin Laden to the attacks. If the bin Laden organization isn’t directly responsible, U.S. officials suspect, it could have sprung from a network of Islamic terror groups he supports and finances.

The gravity of the challenge to the country was summarized by Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, who said: “These were not just crimes against the United States, they are acts of war.”

Yet a war against terrorism is unlike a conventional war, and in some ways is far scarier. As a traumatized nation saw in gruesome detail on its television sets, terrorists attack civilians, not soldiers. And while the wars of the past century involved nation-states that could ultimately be defeated, a war against terrorism involves a less distinct enemy, whose defeat will be hard to ensure.

President Bush nearly promised armed response in his response to the tragedy. “America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time,” he said in nationally televised address from the Oval Office. In a pointed warning to terrorists as well as to nations such as Afghanistan, which hosts Mr. bin Laden, the president declared: “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them.”

Leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate-shuttered yesterday amid the threat-plan to reconvene today in a special session to consider a bipartisan resolution condemning the terrorist attacks.

The sheer sophistication of the terrorists was remarkable. The FBI is operating on the assumption that there were multiple hijackers on each of the flights that struck New York and Washington. They apparently were armed with knives, and investigators believe that in at least two of the planes they “corralled and put in the back” the regular pilots, leading to the assumption they were experienced in handling jets. The FBI has been poring over airport security videos and flight manifests, and officials said they are finding strong leads to the identities of the hijackers from the names found there.

Last night, a law enforcement official said the FBI was seeking warrants to search a former residence of one of the hijackers in Daytona, Fla. The official added that airport video surveillance, as well as names on the manifests, suggested that the hijackers were of Arab nationality. In some cases they were armed with box cutters in addition to knives. One passenger, Barbara Olson, the wife of solicitor general Theodore Olson, telephoned the Justice Department in an attempt to reach her husband during one of the harrowing flights and said passengers were being held in the back of her plane before it smashed into the Pentagon.

In a clear sign of the operation’s professional nature, a government official said the hijackers knew how to shut off the planes’ transponders, which transmit airline flight number, speed and altitude. The official said it wasn’t clear when the transponder in American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston, the first plane to strike the World Trade Center, was turned off, but it happened before it hit its target.

Meanwhile, average Americans far from the attack sites already are feeling the aftershocks. Many suddenly are worrying about a matter that had never previously occurred to them: the safety of their cities from coordinated attack. Shortly after the World Trade Center attack, Peggy Smith, an office administrator with the law firm of Conley Rose & Tayon, left her downtown Houston office clutching computer-tapes and copies of account data for safe-keeping. “This is the end of the world as we know it,” she said. “The United States will never be the same.”

Underscoring that sentiment, American F-16 fighter jets were scrambled and two aircraft carriers were dispatched, not to some distant foreign destination, but to protect the skies and seas around Washington and New York. For the first time ever, all airline flights were grounded across the country. Financial markets were closed.

The events occurred without any apparent warning, prompting immediate questions in Washington and elsewhere about a failure of U.S. intelligence. How did such a broad and coordinated attack on multiple sites occur without U.S. intelligence officials getting wind of it? How were so many commercial airplanes hijacked and diverted hundreds of miles out of their flight paths toward the nation’s largest population centers? “Today our government failed the American people,” said Rep. Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Yet there were some hints of trouble that were, in retrospect, under-appreciated. A senior U.S. intelligence official who left the government earlier this year said that the joint FBI-CIA counter-terrorism center had been receiving what it considered solid intelligence during the past two months pointing to possible imminent attacks by Islamic extremists. The intelligence consisted of a noticeable uptick in communications activity among Islamic extremist groups.

Some officials believed, though, that the attacks were likely to occur overseas, as did recent attacks against American embassies in Africa and against the USS Cole in Yemen “We’ve known for the last two months that something was planned; just nobody knew where,” the former senior official said.

At the same time, there had been heightened concern for several weeks about a possible attack on a military target in the Washington area, said a current U.S. official. For that reason, checkpoints at Fort Myer and Fort Belvoir, both in the Washington area, have been more strict. At the White House, even the cars of members of Congress have been checked for explosives, and there was a partial evacuation several weeks ago when a car suspected of carrying a bomb was spotted outside the executive mansion. “Who the hell would think they would fly airplanes?” one official asked.

There are multiple reasons to suspect Islamic extremists, which explains the immediate focus on Mr. bin Laden or liked-minded compatriots. Earlier this year, in a Manhattan courtroom only a short walk away from the World Trade Center, four of his followers were convicted on all charges in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. At one point, sentencing had been set for today, though that had been postponed.

At the same time, Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, the spiritual leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Egypt’s largest militant group, sits in a U.S. prison in Minnesota for his role in planning an earlier but failed attempt at terrorism in New York. His followers have been seething ever since he was convicted in 1995 for his role in a plot to stage a series of terrorist attacks in New York, and officials say he may have helped inspire a bombing in a parking garage of the same World Trade Center destroyed. “I’ve never forgotten about that blind sheik and what a symbol he was to radical Islamists,” said Robert Blitzer, the FBI’s former domestic terrorism chief. “This could be revenge.”

Ties between Sheik Abdul Rahman’s followers and the bin Laden world appear to have tightened. Just last month, the foreign minister of the Taliban, the Islamic organization that effectively runs Afghanistan and harbors Mr. bin Laden, suggested the U.S. could trade Sheik Abdul Rahman for several Western aid workers under arrest in Kabul.

The violence raging between Israel and Palestinians has given Islamic extremists more reason to be agitated at the U.S. Such anti-American entities as Iraq and the Hamas and Hezbollah extremist organizations have rallied to the side of the Palestinians, railing against both Israel and its American ally.

In any event, the attacks themselves were so intricately planned and so vast in scope that they transcend any past terrorist action. Some experts speculated that the enormity of the plot could even point to the involvement of a hostile government, such as Iraq or Iran.

Many experts, though, agreed the simultaneous nature of the attacks and other trademarks pointed to the larger terror network run or somehow inspired by Mr. bin Laden.

The list of non-state actors even remotely capable of pulling off such an attack is quite small. The only group generally known for staging simultaneous, complex terrorist attacks is Al Qaeda, the loose organization led by Mr. bin Laden. The U.S. has indicted him for the two 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa, and U.S. officials say that evidence points convincingly to his involvement in the bombing last year of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden.

Other groups such as Hamas on the West Bank, or Hezbollah, in Lebanon, have staged truck bombings and suicide attacks in Israel and elsewhere across the region. But no one has ever pulled off a series of attacks of this magnitude. Nor, experts say, are either of those groups prone to targeting Americans, despite the fact that anger is now high toward the U.S. across the Arab world.

James Steinberg, former deputy national security adviser under President Clinton, said he believed that an attack of this size was likely the work of several groups within Mr. bin Laden’s greater orbit. Of those, he listed the Algerian-based Armed Islamic Jihad and the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Egypt’s largest militant group. Mr. bin Laden’s Al Qaeda has been known for several years to be in close contact with operatives from a wide range of militant groups across North Africa and the Middle East.

Other terrorism experts said the attacks, in their sheer audacity, bore many trademarks of the bin Laden strategy. The African embassy bombings, one in Tanzania and the other in Kenya, occurred less than 10 minutes apart, while the attacks on the two World Trade Center towers happened within 18 minutes. The fact that the World Trade Center was at the center of the plot also points to the actors behind the 1993 Trade Center bombing, many of whom were later found to have had close ties to the bin Laden network, according to U.S. officials involved in the investigation.

Yet some experts also said the complexity of the operation made it unlikely that Al Qaeda could have pulled it off without help from other terrorist organizations more experienced at hijackings and the technical problems of overcoming airport security. Al Qaeda has been building ties with groups like Islamic Jihad, the Iranian-backed Palestinian terrorist group, which has threatened attacks against U.S. interests recently in response to Israeli use of U.S.-supplied fighters and helicopters on the West Bank.

One official noted that several of the crashed jets were laden with fuel, which would make it more difficult for hijackers who took control of the jets to maneuver them unless they were experienced or had some training at controlling large airliners.

“If it turns out that bin Laden claims responsibility for these attacks, he couldn’t have done it without help from professionals, like Islamic Jihad,” said Robert Baer, a former CIA officer and Middle East specialist.

Certainly the attack would signal a frightening increase in Al Qaeda’s deadly skills. Its previous attacks have used truck bombs and other crude devices. Other attacks linked to the group have been plagued by problems. More than a year before the bombing of the Cole, another attempt to bomb a U.S. warship failed when a boat carrying explosives sank. A Los Angeles airport bombing was thwarted altogether.

On a more ominous note, some former terrorism officials also speculated that the attacks may reveal that Mr. bin Laden now has a large and sophisticated domestic terror network operating within the U.S.

“It is not to be ruled out that there are tacticians, bomb-makers and plotters now fully active in the U.S., many of whom have been here for years,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton White House.

The diffuse and overlapping organization of today’s terror groups became particularly clear after the aborted millennium plot in December 1999, when U.S. border agents arrested an Algerian crossing into Washington state with a trunk-load of explosives. Tentacles of that plot, which targeted the Los Angeles airport and other sites, extended from Canada and cities across the U.S. to actors in Algeria, Sudan, Egypt and Afghanistan.

In a bizarre twist, some experts suspect that the bin Laden organization may also have had a hand in a suicide bomb attack against Ahmed Shah Massoud on Sunday in northern Afghanistan. Mr. Massoud leads the opposition force fighting Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders, who control about 90 percent of the country. The Taliban have given refuge to Mr. bin Laden since the mid-1990s. There are conflicting reports as to whether Mr. Massoud survived the blast.

For many Americans, a more tangible and bitter image of anti-American sentiment abroad will be the scenes of some abroad celebrating the terrorist attacks on Americans. In the West Bank, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to herald the attacks and express their happiness. And in Sierra Leone, Pakistani members of a United Nations peacekeeping force were laughing, smiling and slapping hands at the mission headquarters in Freetown.

If the attack was launched by a non-state entity, choosing when and where to retaliate may not be easy.

After the bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, President Clinton ordered cruise-missile strikes on a site where Mr. bin Laden and his top lieutenants were supposed to be meeting. As it turned out, the meeting had ended and the strikes came too late.

“The big question for everyone now is how much intelligence do we have? Do we have the kind of intelligence that we need?” said retired Gen. Dennis Reimer, former Army chief of staff and now head of the Oklahoma National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

The U.S. could move more easily to punish any state that abetted Mr. bin Laden, especially Afghanistan, which has refused repeated demands to turn him over. A devastating military strike on the Taliban’s headquarters could be one course.

Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders were clearly very nervous about that possibility, denying Mr. bin Laden’s involvement and calling for American “courts” to seek justice. A series of explosions last night in Kabul, the Afghan capital, apparently were part of internal fighting between the Taliban and its internal foes, and not part of any U.S. response to the terrorist attacks.

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Hour of horror forever alters American lives attacks will force people to make adjustments in ways large and small

September 12, 2001

June Kronholz in Washington, Christina Binkley in Los Angeles and Clare Ansberry in Pittsburgh

An hour of terror changed everything.

Far from the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, Florida shut down its state universities yesterday. San Francisco closed its schools, as well as the TransAmerica building and pedestrian access to the Golden Gate Bridge. Major league baseball games were canceled.

The popular, needlelike Stratosphere tower on the north end of the Las Vegas strip was closed; so was the Paris casino’s mock Eiffel Tower. University of Virginia psychologist Dewey Cornell canceled his lecture on student threats and violence inside the schools — so his audience of principals could go back to their schools to deal with the violence outside.

“You just thought America was the safest country,” said Jesse Strauss, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Pelham Middle School, a Manhattan suburb. His mother added, “Our world as we know it isn’t going to return to normal for a long time.”

Yesterday’s terrorism darkened, marked and forever altered the way Americans live their lives.

“We are going to have to learn what a lot of other countries have gone through: to manage fear at a cultural and national level,” said Charles Figley, a professor of trauma psychology at Florida State University. “We’re getting a lesson in the way fear works.”

In a country long proud and even boastful of its openness — a country where an ordinary citizen can stroll through the U.S. Capitol unescorted — the terrorist attacks are likely to force Americans to watch their steps and look over their shoulders. We already do a lot of that. Metal detectors now mark the front door of many government buildings, and security guards are a fixture in the lobby of most large office buildings.

‘It’s a Test of Us’

But tightening still further carries its own danger of allowing terrorists to change a fundamental of American life. “It’s a test of us,” said Fred Dutton, a former aide to John and Robert Kennedy who now represents the government of Saudi Arabia in Washington. “Are we going to become insecure, and feel the need to have a less open, government-controlled society?”

“The worst thing we could do is say, `This is the way things are going to be from now on,’ “ said Robert Butterworth, a Los Angeles psychologist who heads a disaster response network. Avoiding crowds, popular events and high profile venues like Disneyland or Sea World — which also closed yesterday — is a logical response, but we also “have to figure out constructive things to do,” he insists.

Retaliation is another logical response. Indeed, President Bush promised as much. In an example of the country’s mood, a scrawled sign outside a blood bank in New York ordered, “Mr. Bush, Bomb the bastards now.”

But retaliation carries the risk of setting off a tightening spiral of violence and counterviolence not unlike the Middle East or Northern Ireland. Unlike countries that have had to learn to live with violence, “We are new at this,” said Florida’s Dr. Figley, who heads a project that has trained trauma teams in Yugoslavia. “My fear is we will overreach and make things worse rather than better by retribution, revenge, racism and marginalizing ethnic groups.”

Double Security at Services

That fear is especially true for Jews and Arabs. In Brookline, Mass., Congregation Kehillath Israel, like many other Jewish congregations, plans to double the security detail at next week’s services for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the Yom Kippur holy day 10 days later. Police cars will be stationed outside, and uniformed and plainclothes police inside.

“I think I now understand what it is like to live in Jerusalem,” said the congregation’s rabbi, William Hamilton.

Meanwhile, the city of Dearborn, Mich., moved to ensure there isn’t a backlash against the city’s large Arab-American population by setting up an emergency operations center and putting 22 extra police officers on patrol.

Fear of terrorism is likely to lead Americans to tolerate more government surveillance — such as overhead video cameras at sporting events — than they have to date. “It’s very likely in the wake of today’s events that we’re going to see a greater acceptance on the public’s part — and on the court’s part — to approve certain kinds of police tactics,” said William Stuntz, a Harvard Law School professor.

“Today represents a real change in the world,” he added. “It’s not possible ever to think of these issues the same way.”

In Redding, Calif., the chief of police, Robert P. Blankenship, agreed. “We’re not going to be as comfortable and as secure as we once were. Looking at the TV, it’s obvious now that we’re vulnerable,” he said.

Stepping up security isn’t always possible, though. Fairfax, Va., already posts police officers in its secondary schools; unarmed security officers patrol the district; school doors are locked, teachers and staff wear identity badges. The effectiveness of metal detectors and surveillance cameras isn’t proved, and anyway, they “create in kids the sense of a jail,” said Daniel Domenech, the superintendent.

Violence From the Outside

Inner-city schools have spent heavily on security technology in the past decade; the Houston school district even has its own SWAT squad. School security has long looked inward for a threat — to students carrying weapons or picking fights. But rising violence from the outside — from disgruntled parents or former employees — is drawing increased attention.

In the wake of the events yesterday, much of the U.S. was closed down — the federal government, schools, airports, the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas and the 47-story Bank of America building in downtown Miami. Also shuttered were the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank; their fall meetings, scheduled for later this month and a planned target of antiglobalization protests, may be canceled, a bank official said. Other institutions and facilities also will reopen amid greater security, resulting in increased frustration and delays.

How to explain the day’s inexplicable events to their children will be a huge dilemma for parents. “You’re not going to be able to keep this one under wraps,” said Dr. Butterworth, the trauma psychologist. But he warned against using the tragedy as a teachable moment — a common response in the schools to huge national developments — and overwhelming children.

A further fear is the possibility of copycat incidents that often follow acts of highly publicized violence. Some people “deal with their fears by making other people afraid,” said University of Virginia’s Dr. Cornell. Indeed, a New York school was evacuated shortly after the planes hit the World Trade Center tower because of a bomb threat. And in Las Vegas, 30,000 people at the International Banking Expo were turned away from the city’s convention center after a bomb threat called in from a pay phone on the center’s premises.

Maxine Boarts, 71, a real-estate agent from Pittsburgh on a weeklong vacation in Las Vegas wasn’t planning to leave until Friday, but is worried about getting a flight home — “if we’re not afraid to” get on a plane then. Watching TV from a bar on Bally’s casino floor, she said she and five companions considered renting a car to drive home should they need to, but couldn’t find a car to rent. It would be a multiday car trip, “but we’d be alive when we get there.”

Ms. Boarts wondered if the events will disrupt her grandson’s wedding plans next June, but is more concerned about the effect this will have on the nation’s psychology. “We’ll look at people so differently now,” she said. “We’re an open people. We’re the kind that would talk to anyone. Now, it’ll take a second thought.”

A few things didn’t change yesterday. Gambling at nearly all Las Vegas casinos continued at near normal volumes, although many gamblers watched CNN as closely as their cards. Merrill Lynch & Co. pressed ahead with a media and entertainment conference for about 500 investors at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., after heated argument in the lobby between those Merrill officials who wanted to cancel it and Jessica Reif Cohen, a Merrill first vice president, who didn’t.

And Americans, as they have in past moments of shared national tragedy, rolled up their collective sleeves. So many volunteers showed up at a Rockville Centre, N.Y., blood bank that overwhelmed staffers began handing out numbers, then turning away donors with anything but O-negative blood, which is accepted by any recipient. Nonetheless, dozens of would-be donors sat in a line of folding chairs that snaked around the building, waiting their turn.

Copyright © 2001, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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