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Bush says terrorists will be brought to justice

Wednesday September 12, 2001

By Tom Raum 

Associated Press Writer 


WASHINGTON — President Bush and congressional leaders sought to calm a shaken nation and show the government was functioning and determined after Tuesday’s deadly terrorist attacks. From the Oval Office, Bush pledged to “find those responsible and bring them to justice.” 

As fires still smoldered at the Pentagon less than a mile away, Bush told the nation, “Our way of life, our very freedom, came under attack” when highjacked planes destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and severely damaged the Pentagon. 

Administration officials and members of Congress said early evidence pointed to suspected fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden, who has been sheltered in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s hardline Taliban rulers denied such suggestions. 

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, cited “strong information” implicating bin Laden. The official said Bush is considering a wide range of military options targeting bin Laden and, perhaps, Afghanistan. 

Retaliation is not imminent, but Bush is determined to act as swiftly as possible, the official said. 

Law enforcement officials trying to piece together a case linking bin Laden to the attacks were focusing some of their efforts on possible bin Laden supporters in Florida. They were aided by an intercept of communications between his supporters and harrowing cell phone calls from victims aboard the jetliners before they crashed. 

“The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger,” Bush said in his Oval Office address. 

Thousands died in the attacks, he said. 

“We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” Bush said without elaboration. 

As the president spoke, military police in combat fatigues guarded streets in the center of Washington and patrolled in armored vehicles. Major thoroughfares that normally have a steady flow of cars were almost empty. 

Bush began the day in Florida. For security reasons, he was taken to air bases in Louisiana and Nebraska before returning to Washington at dusk. 

Bush and other top administration officials and congressional leaders of both parties presented a united front in the face of what Attorney General John Ashcroft called “one of the greatest tragedies ever witnessed on our soil.” 

Across the Potomac at the Pentagon, which was still partly ablaze, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, “The Pentagon is functioning. It will be in business tomorrow.” Officials put the number of dead and wounded at the Pentagon at about 100 or more, with some news reports suggesting it could rise to as many as 800. 

“Make no mistake about it, your armed forces are ready,” said Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., standing at twilight with dozens of other lawmakers on the steps of the Capitol, said it was still not clear who was responsible “but we have our suspicions.” 

“And when that is justified ... we will act. We will stand with this president ... and we will stand as Americans together throughout this time.” 

The lawmakers then sang, “God Bless America.” 

The plane that hit the Pentagon tore through at least three of the rings of the five-ring Pentagon, hitting Navy and Army portions of the building, according to Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. 

“Pieces of the airplane were all over. I can’t see how there would be anything left of the people on the plan, given the crash site, with the fireball and all,” Skelton said after a briefing at the Pentagon. 

Other lawmakers were briefed by law enforcement officials late Tuesday said that knives seemed to be the weapons by the hijackers in three of the four planes, based on cell phone calls. 

Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., said law enforcement officials estimated three to five terrorists were on each plane. 

The fourth hijacked plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, after making a U-turn toward Washington. 

A senior administration official said the plane that crashed near Pittsburgh was viewed at the time as a potential threat to the White House and was a major reason for the evacuation of the presidential mansion shortly before the plane crashed. It was not known whether the White House, or perhaps Camp David in the Maryland mountains near the Pennsylvania border, was indeed the target. 

Hastert and other top congressional leaders were taken to the safety of a government bunker in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, about 75 miles west of Washington. Once the military and the Secret Service issued a green light, the congressional leaders and the president headed back to town. 

“None of us will ever forget this day,” a solemn Bush said in his Oval Office address, which lasted about five minutes. 

Among foreign leaders expressing support and sympathy was Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. officials said. Putin sent Bush “a powerfully friendly communication,” said one official. 

Israel offered a special emergency force designed to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack. The unit includes doctors, special technicians and trained dogs. But the administration did not take Israel up on the offer immediately, said Israeli Embassy spokesman Mark Regev. 

Earlier, Bush told his national security advisers in a telephone conference, according to spokesman Ari Fleischer, “We will find these people and they will suffer the consequences of taking on this nation. We will do what it takes. No one is going to diminish the spirit of this country.” 

Explosions were heard Tuesday night near Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, but U.S. officials denied any responsibility. “In no way is the U.S. government connected,” Rumsfeld said. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah., senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested U.S. officials had knowledge of an interception of a telephone conversation with two affiliates of bin Laden “who acknowledged a couple of targets were hit.” 

In an interview with The Associated Press, he declined to be more specific about the nature of the interception. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said the federal government was making emergency medical supplies available in both New York and Washington, and sending “disaster mortuary response teams” to both scenes. 

The government ordered all civilian air traffic halted until noon Wednesday, at the earliest, after directing all planes in the air to land after the attacks. 

Roads leading out of Washington became clogged with commuters as the government sent home all nonessential workers. Inbound lanes on bridges leading into Washington were closed. Workers traveling out of the city over the Potomac River could see dark plumes of smoke still rising from the Pentagon. 

States of emergency were declared in the District of Columbia and in neighboring Maryland and Virginia. 

The White House was evacuated, as had other top federal buildings, including the Capitol, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. 

Bush was in Sarasota promoting his education program at the time of the attacks. He took part in telephone conferences with his national security team during the day, and called New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani from his plane. 

Cheney remained in a nearly deserted White House, in a secure basement bunker, with a few other top aides, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. 

Black-uniformed Secret Service agents with machine guns patrolled the White House grounds. Fighter jets circled over the city. 

Bush ordered the nation’s military to “high-alert status.” 

Rumsfeld, in his Pentagon office when a jetliner blasted a gaping hole in the west side of the building, rushed to the scene and helped injured co-workers before seeking the security of a basement command center. 

The plane took out a huge section of one of the Pentagon’s five sides, sending up plumes of black acrid smoke and hampering rescue efforts. 

At the first reports of attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, Bush told his school audience that “we’ve had a national tragedy” and said he had to hurry back to Washington. 

However, he first went to the air base in Louisiana, then to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Command. Military fighter jets escorted the presidential aircraft. 

Several lawmakers compared the attacks to the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. 

The tragedy reached inside the Justice Department, where Solicitor General Theodore Olson learned his wife was aboard the American Airlines jetliner that crashed into the Pentagon. 

Barbara Olson, a former congressional staffer and Republican activist, was headed to Los Angeles and called her husband as her plane was being hijacked, officials said. 

Responding to criticism of the intelligence community for failing to predict the attacks, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said, “The CIA has worked diligently and relentlessly to try to counter terrorism.” 

“Our resources are being devoted to determining who was responsible for these horrendous attacks,” Mansfield said.