Afghanistan will never again be militant sanctuary: U.S. ambassador

U.S. soldiers take part in a memorial ceremony to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in Kabul, Afghanistan September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

By Josh Smith

KABUL (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said on Monday Washington would never allow militants to use the country as a sanctuary, as American and allied troops in Kabul commemorated the Sept. 11 attacks.

U.S. President Donald Trump in August committed nearly 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan as part of an open-ended campaign against Taliban insurgents who have made advances in recent years.

A U.S. led intervention sparked by the Sept. 11 attacks toppled the Taliban government in 2001. Since then more than 2,400 American troops and more than 1,000 international allies have died in Afghanistan.

“Today we remember how this conflict began but let us also remember how this must end, with Afghanistan never again serving as an ungoverned space, sanctuary or base for those who are bent on attacking us and our allies,” ambassador Hugo Llorens told a crowd of soldiers at the NATO coalition’s headquarters in Kabul.

The United states would also “completely annihilate” Islamic State militants in the region, Llorens said.

The Taliban on Monday claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing that wounded several NATO troops and Afghan civilians in a province north Kabul.

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Democrats want 9/11-style special commission to probe Russia

rainy day at Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic members of the U.S. Congress called on Monday for the creation of an independent commission to investigate Russia’s attempts to intervene in the 2016 election, similar to the Sept. 11 panel that probed the 2001 attacks on the United States.

Their “Protecting our Democracy Act” would create a 12-member, bipartisan independent panel to interview witnesses, obtain documents, issue subpoenas and receive public testimony to examine attempts by Moscow and any other entities to influence the election.

The panel members would not be members of Congress.

The legislation is one of many calls by lawmakers to look into Russian involvement in the contest, in which Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the White House race, confounding opinion polls. Republicans also kept control of the Senate and House of Representatives by larger-than-expected margins.

U.S. intelligence agencies on Friday released a report saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to help Trump’s electoral chances by discrediting Clinton.

Russia has denied the hacking allegations. A Kremlin spokesman said Monday they were “reminiscent of a witch-hunt.”

“There is no question that Russia attacked us,” Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a news conference.

Versions of the bill were introduced in both the Senate and House. In the Senate it has 10 sponsors. In the House it is backed by every member of the Democratic caucus, said Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

However, no Republicans currently back the bill, so its prospects are dim, given Republican control of both houses of Congress.

While a few Republicans, notably Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, have supported calls for an independent probe, party leaders have resisted the idea, saying that investigations by Republican-led congressional committees are sufficient.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, who just returned from a trip to the Baltic states, Ukraine and Georgia with Graham and McCain, said Russia’s actions justified a probe by an independent panel of national experts.

“This is not just about one political party. It’s not even about one election. It’s not even about one country, our country. It is a repeated attempt… around the world, to influence elections,” Klobuchar said.

After Sept 11, 2001, Congress established an independent commission to look into the attacks and make recommendations about how to prevent similar actions in the future. Many of the recommendations were adopted into law.

“The American people felt good about what they did,” Cummings said.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Grant McCool)

Families remember 9/11 victims 15 years after attacks

Honor guard observing silence for 9/11

By Melissa Fares

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Americans remembered the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on Sunday at a ceremony marking 15 years, with the recital of their names, tolling church bells and a tribute in lights at the site where New York City’s massive twin towers collapsed.

As classical music drifted across the 9/11 Memorial plaza in lower Manhattan, family members and first responders slowly read the names and delivered personal memories of the almost 3,000 victims killed in the worst attack on U.S. soil since the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Relatives in the crowd embraced and some held photos of loved ones and signs that read: “Never to be forgotten,” “We miss you,” and “Gone too soon.”

Tom Acquarviva’s 29-year-old son Paul was one of 658 employees of financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald who perished after the first plane struck the north tower just below where they worked on the 101st to 105th floors.

“Not a day goes by that we don’t remember him,” Acquarviva told Reuters.

Angela Checo honored her brother, Pedro Francisco, 35, who was a vice president at investment and wealth manager Fiduciary Trust on the 96th floor of the south tower.

“He was coming down but forgot someone and went back upstairs to save them,” Checo said. “That’s why he never made it down.”

The ceremony paused for six moments of silence: four to mark the exact times four hijacked planes were crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon near Washington D.C., and a Pennsylvania field. The last two record when the North and South towers of the Trade Center crumpled.

It was held by two reflecting pools with waterfalls that now stand in the towers’ former footprints, and watched over by an honor guard of police and firefighters.

More than 340 firefighters and 60 police were killed on the that sunny Tuesday morning in 2001. Many of the first responders died while running up stairs in the hope of reaching victims trapped on the towers’ higher floors.

“PIECE OF THEIR HEART”

At the Pentagon, a trumpet played as U.S. President Barack Obama took part in a wreath-laying ceremony.

“Fifteen years may seem like a long time. But for the families who lost a piece of their heart that day, I imagine it can seem like just yesterday,” Obama said.

No public officials spoke at the New York ceremony, in keeping with a tradition that began in 2012. But many dignitaries attended, including Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Trump said in a statement that it was a day of sadness and remembrance, but also of resolve.

“Our solemn duty on behalf of all those who perished … is to work together as one nation to keep all of our people safe from an enemy that seeks nothing less than to destroy our way of life,” Trump said.

Clinton said in a statement that the horror of Sept. 11, 2001 would never be forgotten, and paid tribute to the victims and first responders.

She fell ill after about 90 minutes at the service, becoming “overheated,” aides said, and was taken to her daughter Chelsea’s apartment in Manhattan. She emerged later and told reporters she was “feeling great.”

TRIBUTE IN LIGHT

Houses of worship throughout the city had tolled their bells at 8:46 a.m. EDT (1246 GMT), the time American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower.

A second pause came at 9:03 a.m. (1303 GMT), when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower. American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (1337 GMT), then the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m. (1359 GMT).

At 10:03 a.m. (1403 GMT) United Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the final moment of silence was observed at 10:28 a.m. (1428 GMT) when the North Tower fell.

As evening falls across New York City on Sunday, scores of 7,000-watt xenon light bulbs will project two giant beams of blue light into the night sky to represent the fallen twin towers, fading away at dawn.

The “Tribute in Light” was first set up in 2002, six months after the attacks, and has become part of the annual memorial service. The beams reach four miles (6.4 km) into the sky and can be seen as far as 60 miles (96.6 km) away on a clear night, organizers say.

In the twin towers’ place now rises the 104-story 1 World Trade Center. Also known as the Freedom Tower, it is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere, at 1,776 feet (541 meters). Fifteen years after the attack, the U.S. government marked its return to the site on Friday, moving its New York City offices there.

Nineteen hijackers died in the attack, later claimed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, which led directly to the U.S. war in Afghanistan and indirectly to the invasion of Iraq.

In Kabul, the top American commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, paid tribute to members of the NATO-led coalition and Afghan security forces who had been killed since the Taliban regime fell.

But in an address which touched on his own experience as an officer in Afghanistan, stretching back a decade, he also underlined how far from peace the country remains.

“As we know, sadly, the number of terrorist groups has only grown since 9/11,” he said. “Of the 98 groups now designated globally, 20 are in this region, the Afpak region.”

(Reporting by Melissa Fares; Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington and James Mackenzie in Kabul; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Where Was God on 9/11?

The Ground Zero Cross watching over workers

There is a minister who preached on the Sunday after 9/11 in one of our little churches here in the Ozarks.  The congregation came in that morning somber, still shaken and many were filled with an anger that troubled every moment.  The Pastor walked slowly to the podium and said,  “Even those with the most powerful faith are asking God a question.  Some of you have probably shouted it so all of heaven could hear you. Some of you have kept it quietly buried in your heart, but most of us have asked at least once,   ‘Our Heavenly Father, Where were you?’ ”  

His answer came from God’s word.

Joshua 1:9 Have not I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

There are those that are given a gift of creativity that communicates His Grace directly to our hearts.  

This poem, written by Stacy Randall, is truly God inspired and answered the question from that Sunday perfectly…

MEET  ME IN THE STAIRWELL’

By Stacey Randall

You say you will never forget where you were  when you heard the news On September 11, 2001.

Neither will I.

I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his  wife to say ‘Good-Bye.’  I held his fingers steady as he dialed.  I gave him the peace to say, “Honey, I am not going to make it, but it is OK.  I am ready to go.”

I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children.  I held her up as she tried to understand his words and as she realized he wasn’t coming home that night. I was in the stairwell of the 23rd floor when a woman cried out to Me for help.  “I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years!” I said.

“Of course I will show you the way home – only believe in Me now.”

I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls. I took him home to tend to his Flock in Heaven.  He heard my voice and answered.

I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer.  I was with the crew as they were overtaken.  I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faith has saved them.

I was in Texas, Virginia, California, Michigan, Afghanistan. I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news.

Did you sense Me?

I want you to know that I saw every face.  I knew every name – though not all know Me.  Some met Me for the first time on the 86th floor.

Some sought Me with their last breath.

Some couldn’t hear Me calling to them through the smoke and flames; “Come to Me… this way… take my hand.”  Some chose, for the final time, to ignore Me.

But, I was there.

I did not place you in the Tower that day.  You may not know why, but I do.  However, if you were there in that explosive moment in time, would you have reached for Me?

Sept. 11, 2001, was not the end of the journey for you.  But someday your journey will end.  And I will be there for you as well.  Seek Me now while I may be found.  Then, at any moment, you know you are ‘ready to go.’

I will be in the stairwell of your final moments.

 Love,God

U.S. House votes to allow Sept. 11 families to sue Saudi Arabia

Firefighter walks amid the 9/11 rubble

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Friday that would allow the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia’s government for damages, despite the White House’s threat to veto the measure.

The U.S. Senate in May unanimously passed the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act,” known as JASTA. The bill’s passage in the House by voice vote, two days before the 15th anniversary of the attacks that killed about 3,000 people, was greeted with cheers and applause in the chamber.

“We can no longer allow those who injure and kill Americans to hide behind legal loopholes, denying justice to the victims of terrorism,” said Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers who crashed airliners in New York, outside Washington and in Pennsylvania were Saudi nationals. The Saudi government, which strongly denies responsibility, has lobbied against the bill.

Opponents of the measure said it could strain relations with Saudi Arabia and lead to retaliatory laws that would allow foreign nationals to sue Americans for alleged involvement in terrorist attacks.

The White House on Friday reiterated that President Barack Obama would veto the bill. [nW1N12802E]

If Obama carries out that threat and the required two-thirds of both the Republican-majority House and Senate still support the bill, it would be the first time since Obama’s presidency began in 2009 that Congress had overridden a veto.

The House passed the measure by voice vote, without objections or recorded individual votes. That could make it easier for Obama’s fellow Democrats to uphold his veto later without officially changing their positions.

JASTA would remove sovereign immunity, preventing lawsuits against governments, for countries found to be involved in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. It also would allow survivors, and relatives of those killed in them to seek damages from other countries.

In this case, it would allow suits to proceed in federal court in New York as lawyers try to prove that the Saudis were involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Backers say passage is long overdue. They argue that if Saudi Arabia, or any other government, is innocent of involvement in attacks, they have nothing to fear from the legislation.

A member of the French parliament, Pierre Lellouche, said he would consider such legislation in France, and would anticipate it elsewhere, if the final version of JASTA does not include waivers for countries that are U.S. allies and actively involved in fighting terrorism.

“It may trigger similar acts all over the place, and then you enter into a ‘state of jungle’ where everybody sues everybody,” Lellouche, who runs a parliamentary committee on international law, told reporters on a conference call on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner and Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Grant McCool and Will Dunham)

Sept. 11 drama on Air Force One unfolds in Bush aide’s handwritten notes

Ari Fleischer

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The notes are handwritten on a legal pad and provide a verbatim account of the shock, pain and grim determination aboard Air Force One on Sept. 11, 2001.

They were scribbled by Ari Fleischer, press secretary for President George W. Bush, and he is releasing them to mark the 15th anniversary on Sunday of the worst attack on American soil since Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

There are six pages in all, the only original verbatim text of what Bush said on Air Force One as he and his senior aides absorbed the news.

“We’re at war,” Bush told Vice President Dick Cheney. Hanging up and turning to his aides, he added: “When we find out who did this, they’re not going to like me as president. Somebody’s going to pay.”

Fleischer adopted the role of presidential note taker as Air Force One lifted off from Florida after the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon were attacked by hijacked passenger jets.

“I always took notes. It’s how you do your job,” Fleischer told Reuters. “But on Sept. 11 it was instantly clear how much more important it was to have a record of what the president did and said. I basically glued myself to his side almost the entire day and remained in his cabin on Air Force One to listen and take notes.”

Much of the material has been part of the public record. Fleischer has used them for annual tweets about Sept. 11 and in speeches and made them available to the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks. But he has not previously released them in full to the public.

The story that unfolds in Fleischer’s penmanship begins with the raw emotions Bush and his aides experienced, the president already itching to retaliate.

“I can’t wait to find out who did it,” Bush said. “It’s going to take a while and we’re not going to have a little slap on the wrist crap.”

There is a dramatic period in which Bush tries to overcome opposition from the Secret Service to letting him return to Washington. The plane first took him to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, then Offutt air base in Nebraska. He got back to Washington that night.

“I want to get home as soon as possible,” Bush said. “I don’t want whoever this is holding me outside Washington.”

An aide responded: “Our people are saying it’s too unsteady still.”

Bush said that was the message he was hearing from Cheney as well.

Bush chief of staff Andy Card said, “The right thing is to let the dust settle.”

Fleischer’s notes include an eerie reference to a communication heard on the plane from the ground that “Angel is next.” Because Air Force One’s codename at the time was “angel,” there was worry onboard that the plane was a target.

He said an armed guard was stationed outside the door leading to the Air Force One cockpit, just in case someone was a threat on the plane itself.

A month later, Bush and his team were told the reference to “angel” was a miscommunication from the ground. One offshoot of the 9/11 attacks was a major renovation of Air Force One’s communications abilities.

The president, only in office for eight months, had another priority in mind as well: making sure his family was safe. Bush’s wife, Laura, and their two daughters were whisked to secure locations.

“Barney?” Bush said, inquiring about his beloved Scottish terrier.

“He’s nipping at the heels of Osama bin Laden now,” said Card.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Sorrow, selfies compete at New York’s 9/11 memorial 15 years on

9/11 Memorial

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The memorial in New York City at the site where the Twin Towers fell in the Sept. 11 attacks 15 years ago straddles two worlds: one of the living and one of the dead.

A marker for where more than 2,600 people were killed, it attracts tourists from around the world. Some are drawn there to pause and reflect, others to satisfy a morbid fascination with the site of the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941.

Clutching cell phones, cameras and selfie sticks, visitors generally take their time around the National September ll Memorial Museum. They are expected to turn out in droves on Sunday for the 9/11 anniversary.

More than 23 million people have seen the memorial and 4 million have been to the museum since they were opened five years ago, leaving some local people thinking the significance of the site as a place for mourning is fading.

Rosanne Hughes’ husband died on Sept. 11, 2001, while he was on a work visit at the Windows on the World restaurant high in the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

Now a board member of the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial Foundation, she said it was hard for victims’ relatives to sometimes see insensitive or even rude behavior at the plaza in Lower Manhattan.

“It’s very disrespectful for people to go there and take selfies and smile for the cameras and in the background is where the towers collapsed,” Hughes said.

“I saw people with their kids running around, you know laughing, having fun. I guess people just don’t understand that it’s just not that type of museum.”

Early on that bright Tuesday morning in 2001, two hijacked planes were slammed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center. A third plane was flown into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

MELANCHOLIC MUSEUM

The memorial and museum, which cost more than $700 million to build, feature twin pools with waterfalls, each covering nearly an acre. The pools stand in the footprints of the towers.

Flanking the pools are platforms dotted with Swamp white oak trees and ivy beds. The names of every person who died in the 9/11 attacks are inscribed on bronze panels that rim the pools.

Coins glistened from the inner ledges of the pools, sharing space with paper napkins, bottle caps and even a plastic coffee cup one recent Sunday.

A security guard, who declined to give his name, said that during patrols he had to ask children to not sit on the names of the dead and stopped adults from stubbing out cigarettes on them.

The mood inside the museum, beneath “Ground Zero,” is more solemn, its 110,000 square feet bearing witness to the attacks. People’s identification cards, blood-stained shoes, photographs of fathers, wives, brothers and co-workers, intimate stories of loss and recovery tell the story.

Outside once again, Hughes said it was upsetting to see hotdog vendors and souvenir stands near the memorial.

“We still have anger over what happened too, and we’ve moved forward from that. But this is something that just doesn’t go away,” she said.

“It may be a photo-op for them but for us it is still very painful to watch.”

Kenneth T. Jackson, a New York City historian and professor at Columbia University, said the attacks made the World Trade Center the most famous place in the world, and he believes visitors instantly realize its significance.

“It now joins the long list of New York City tourist attractions and, for better or worse, it is one,” he said. “Even if there was no memorial, even if they left some broken stuff there, people would visit.”

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Toni Reinhold)

Congress to receive 28 classified pages of 9/11 report today

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a media briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 7, 2016.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress on Friday will receive 28 classified pages of the official report on the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said.

“The documents are coming to Congress today,” she said at her weekly news conference, adding that she was not sure when the material would be made public.

Some U.S. lawmakers have alleged the 28 pages link Saudi government officials to the 2001 attacks. CIA chief John Brennan said in June that people should not take them as evidence of Saudi complicity.

The still-classified section of the report on the attacks, informally the 9/11 Commission Report, is central to a dispute over whether Americans should be able to sue the Saudi Arabian government for damages. The Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence has been reviewing the material to see whether it could be declassified.

Legislation allowing such lawsuits has been making its way through Congress. President Barack Obama has said he will not sign any such measure. His administration says the legislation could pose a national security threat to the country and is opposed by important U.S. allies.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Mohammad Zargham and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. to reveal details of Orlando nightclub gunman’s 911 calls

Mourning over Pulse Massacre

(Reuters) – U.S. authorities were due on Monday to release partial transcripts of 911 calls made during last week’s mass shooting by a gunman who slaughtered 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, before being killed by police.

Omar Mateen, 29, is said to have paused during a three-hour siege to telephone emergency dispatchers three times and to post internet messages from inside the Pulse nightclub professing his support for Islamist militant groups.

The FBI was due to hold a news conference near the club at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) to provide an update on the investigation and to release the partial transcripts of the 911 calls.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said they would include the “substance of his conversations” recorded as Mateen carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, but not any pledge of loyalty he is alleged to have made to the Islamic State militant group.

Authorities have said preliminary evidence indicates Mateen, who worked as a security guard, was a mentally disturbed individual who acted alone and without direction from outside networks.

Lynch, who is due to visit Orlando on Tuesday, told CNN on Sunday that investigators have been focused on building a full profile of Mateen, a New York-born U.S. citizen and Florida resident of Afghan descent, who has been described by U.S. officials as “self-radicalized” in his extremist sympathies.

The Pulse massacre, which also left 53 people wounded, led to a week of national mourning and soul-searching over access to firearms and the vulnerability to hate crimes of people in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

While in Orlando, Lynch will meet with investigators, as well as survivors and loved ones of the victims.

The massacre has triggered an effort to break a long-standing stalemate in Congress over gun control.

The Senate was set to vote on Monday on four competing measures – two from Democrats and two from Republicans – to expand background checks on gun buyers and curb gun sales for people on terrorism watch lists.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the Nov. 8 presidential election, has said he shares the goal of keeping guns out of the hands of people on watch lists.

Trump said on Monday he was referring to security staff, not patrons, when he said that if more people had been armed in the nightclub, fewer would have died.

(Reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Roselle Chen in Orlando; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Bill Trott)

Senate passes bill allowing Sept. 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia

An American flag flies near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York, in this file photo from September 11, 2001, taken after the collapse of the towers.

By Patricia Zengerle

(Reuters) – The U.S. Senate passed legislation on Tuesday that would allow survivors and relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks to file lawsuits seeking damages against the government of Saudi Arabia.

The legislation, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, passed in the Senate by unanimous voice vote.

If it passes the House of Representatives and is signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama, JASTA would allow lawsuits to proceed in federal court in New York as lawyers try to prove that the Saudis were involved in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The Saudis deny any involvement.