The United States marked six years since the September 11 attacks Tuesday with solemn ceremonies but still haunted by Osama bin Laden, who used the anniversary to praise the Al-Qaeda hijackers.
|A man throws flowers into a reflecting pool at the World Trade Center site, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007, in New York|
In an overcast New York, families of the 2,749 people killed when two planes plowed into the World Trade Center paid their respects near the site as rescue workers read the names of the dead, in what has now become an annual ritual.
With heads bowed, holding photographs of the dead and fighting to hold back the tears, relatives listened as the grim roll call was read out to the haunting strains of a solo cello, flute and guitar.
"We come together again as New Yorkers and as Americans to share a loss that can't be measured and to remember the names of those who can't be replaced," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, introducing the commemorations.
The day of the attacks six years ago was "a day that tore across our history and our hearts," he said.
As in previous years, Bin Laden used the anniversary to release two videotapes, mocking the United States, threatening to escalate the unpopular war in Iraq and praising hijacker Walid al-Shehri as a "champion."
The militant Islamist leader remains at large and is believed to be hiding in the mountainous region straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The New York ceremony was more muted than in past years. Last year, President George W. Bush laid a wreath at Ground Zero but this year attended a private memorial service and observed a moment of silence in Washington.
For the first time, most of the New York commemorations were being held at a park near Ground Zero, the area where the Twin Towers once stood, and not on the site itself, where several new buildings are under construction.
The reading of the names paused for four moments of silence to mark the exact times that the planes hit the towers and when the massive buildings collapsed into piles of rubble and choking dust.
Relatives of those killed descended a long ramp into the World Trade Center site to lay flowers and pause momentarily.
The decision not to hold the ceremony at Ground Zero was a controversial one, but Bloomberg said Tuesday that people needed to accept change.
In the evening, a "Tribute in Light" is to project two massive beams of light into the night sky above Ground Zero to symbolize the collapsed towers.
In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where hijackers brought down United Airlines Flight 93 in a field after a passenger uprising, tributes were being held to honor the 40 passengers and crew killed there.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates meanwhile led a ceremony in Washington for the 184 people killed when American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the Pentagon.
The Defense Department at the weekend honored the dead and showed support for US troops, more than 4,100 of whom have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since Bush declared a "war on terror" in response to the attacks.
The 9/11 attacks remain fresh in the minds of all Americans, not just New Yorkers. According to a recent survey carried out by the U.S. social research company Zogby International, 81 percent of U.S. citizens consider the day to be the most significant historical event in their lives. Sixty-one percent of Americans said that they think about the attacks "at least once a week," while 16 percent that they think about them "every day".
However, reflecting growing disillusionment with the White House, 44% of respondents said they believe President George W. Bush exploited the attacks to justify the invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, a mere third of New Yorkers now consider the decision to invade, to "wage a war to save civilization," as President Bush put it, to have been the correct one.