Government officials, including the US vice-president, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and families of the victims met at the site to begin the ceremony, that started with a minute of silence at 8:46 am, marking the time when the first hijacked commercial airplane struck one of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in Lower Manhattan.
A day of mourning for nearly 3,000 Sept. 11 victims began Saturday with moments of silence and tears near Ground Zero, and with observers bracing for protests over a mosque planned blocks away on what is usually an anniversary free of politics.
Chants of thousands of sign-waving protesters both for and against the planned Islamic center were expected after — and perhaps during — an annual observance normally known for a sad litany of families reading names of loved ones lost in the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Family members gathering at observances in New York and Pennsylvania brought flowers, pictures of loved ones and American flags, but no signs of opposition or support for the mosque. Reading victims’ names at ground zero in New York, they urged a restrained tone.
“Let today never, ever be a national holiday. Let it not be a celebration,” said Karen Carroll, who lost her brother, firefighter Thomas Kuveikis. “It’s a day to be somber; it’s a day to reflect on all those thousands of people that died for us in the United States.”
Bagpipes and drums played to open the ceremony, followed by brief comments by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“Once again we meet to commemorate the day we have come to call 9/11. We have returned to this sacred site to join our hearts together, the names of those we loved and lost,” Bloomberg said. “No other public tragedy has cut our city so deeply. No other place is as filled with our compassion, our love and our solidarity.”
Moments of silence were held at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m., the times hijacked jetliners hit the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were attending separate services at the Pentagon in Washington and a rural field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
But the rallies planned in New York embroiled victims’ family members in a feud over whether to play politics.
The heated mosque debate — pitting advocates of religious freedom against critics who say putting an Islamic center so close to ground zero disrespects the dead — led Obama to remind Americans on Friday, “We are not at war against Islam.”
In his Saturday radio address, he alluded to the contentious atmosphere.
“This is a time of difficulty for our country,” he said. “And it is often in such moments that some try to stoke bitterness — to divide us based on our differences, to blind us to what we have in common.”
But he added, “we do not allow ourselves to be defined by fear, but by the hopes we have for our families, for our nation, and for a brighter future.”
A threat to burn copies of the Muslim holy book on the anniversary — which had set off international protests — was apparently called off. The Florida pastor who made the threat flew to New York on Friday night and appeared Saturday on NBC’s “Today” show.
He said his church would not burn the Quran, a plan that inflamed much of the Muslim world and drew a stern rebuke from Obama.
“We feel that God is telling us to stop,” he told NBC. Pressed on whether his church would ever burn the Islamic holy book, he said: “Not today, not ever. We’re not going to go back and do it. It is totally canceled.”
Jones said his Gainesville, Florida, church’s goal was “to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical.”
“We have definitely accomplished that mission,” he said.
He said that he flew to New York in the hopes of meeting with leaders of the Islamic center but that no such meeting was scheduled.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, leader of the planned mosque, said Friday that he was “prepared to consider meeting with anyone who is seriously committed to pursuing peace” but had no meeting planned with Jones. [via Daily Telegraph (UK), NY Times, Fox News]