Islamic Militancy

President Barack Obama calls for unity on 15th anniversary of 9/11 – a day that remains seared into the soul of New York

More than 2,750 people were killed when two passenger jets destroyed the Twin Towers, the symbol of New York’s financial wealth and confidence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 12:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 12:15am

President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Americans to remain united in the face of terrorist attacks, in a barely veiled jab at Republican White House nominee Donald Trump 15 years after 9/11.

“In the face of terrorism, how we respond matters,” Obama said in his weekly radio and online address, delivered on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks in the United States. “We cannot give in to those who would divide us. We cannot react in ways that erode the fabric of our society,” he added.

“Because it’s our diversity, our welcoming of all talent, our treating of everybody fairly – no matter their race, gender, ethnicity, or faith – that’s part of what makes our country great. It’s what makes us resilient,” Obama said. “And if we stay true to those values, we’ll uphold the legacy of those we’ve lost, and keep our nation strong and free.”

We cannot give in to those who would divide us. We cannot react in ways that erode the fabric of our society
US President Barack Obama

On several occasions Obama has denounced Trump’s bombastic rhetoric towards Muslims. Following the December shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California for example, Trump called for a temporary ban on the entry to the United States of all Muslims. Obama was speaking two months before the presidential election in which real estate magnate Trump will face Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Evoking “one of the darkest in our nation’s history,” Obama noted that much had changed over the past 15 years since the attacks.

“We delivered justice to [al-Qaeda leader] Osama bin Laden. We’ve strengthened our homeland security. We’ve prevented attacks. We’ve saved lives,” Obama said.

But at the same time, he said, referring to attacks in Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando, Florida, “the terrorist threat has evolved.”

“So in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and beyond, we’ll stay relentless against terrorists like Al-Qaeda and [the Islamic State group] ISIL,” he said. “We will destroy them. And we’ll keep doing everything in our power to protect our homeland.”

New York marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks more resilient, wealthier and more diverse than ever, yet that terrible day is forever seared into its DNA.

The al-Qaeda hijackings of September 11, 2001 – the first foreign attack on the US mainland in nearly two centuries – ruptured a sense of safety and plunged the West into wars still being fought today.

More than 2,750 people were killed when two passenger jets destroyed the Twin Towers, the symbol of New York’s financial wealth and confidence. The remains of only 1,640 people have been identified.

Nearly 75,000 others live with mental and physical illnesses as a result of the attacks, many of them emergency workers who breathed in cancerous toxins as they valiantly tried to save lives.

In the last 15 years, New York has sought to craft a balance between remembering the victims and the carnage, and doing what it does best: endless regenerating, rebuilding and looking toward the future. Downtown Manhattan is today one of the most fashionable parts of New York, packed with luxury hotels, boutiques and smart restaurants.

The World Trade Centre site has been totally rebuilt, home to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the world’s most expensive train station, a performing arts centre and offices.

“People come to this site from all over the world. It is something that now is a symbol to people around the world of resilience,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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The jewel in its crown is World Trade Centre One, or Freedom Tower, which at 1,776 feet (the year of US independence), or 541 metres, is the tallest building in the Western hemisphere, its lights visible for miles.

Its observatory affords stunning views to rival the Empire State Building and the Oculus transport hub is an architectural marvel – a US$4 billion glass and steel oval designed by Santiago Calatrava. In the 15 months since it opened, the neighbouring 9/11 museum has welcomed nearly seven million visitors.

“Everybody who comes to New York – it’s like you have to stop here,” agreed Vincenzo Nardone, an Italian-American who has lived in New York 47 years and lost a friend in the Twin Towers.

He toured the museum “crying like crazy” but said the aftermath of the tragedy made the city friendlier and more accepting. But New York remains on edge. Stringent security checks are routine. New Yorkers are taught to speak up if they see anything suspicious.

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The city police department – already the richest and best equipped in the country – last year announced it was boosting numbers by an extra 1,300 officers in part to strengthen counterterrorism efforts. Elected officials speak constantly of making sure attacks never happen again, claiming to have thwarted 20 apparent terror plots.

“I think everyone’s a little more on guard,” said Hal Shane, 68, a retired Broadway performer who lives uptown and who visited the memorial for the first time this week.

It is the same all over the world, especially in Europe, he said.

“I feel like the guy in Marseille has as much as a problem as I do right now,” Shane said. “So we’re like a victim family, we now become attached to all those other places that have suffered the same horror.”