Video: 9/11 memorial: Firefighter remembered

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updated 9/11/2010 9:20:54 PM ET 2010-09-12T01:20:54

Tensions flared Saturday over plans to build a mosque near ground zero as rival demonstrations took place after family members of Sept. 11 victims recited loved one's names through tears at a somber ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S.

After the official ceremony, around 2,000 activists rallied about five blocks from the site of the 2001 attacks to support the proposed Islamic community center. About 1,500 mosque opponents gathered nearby, chanting "USA, USA" and "No mosque here."

Center supporters carried signs with such slogans as "The attack on Islam is racism" and "Tea Party Bigots."

Speaking at the Pentagon, where 184 people died on Sept. 11, 2001, President Barack Obama alluded to the controversy over the mosque — and a Florida pastor's threat, later rescinded, to burn copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book. Obama rejected the terrorists' efforts to spark conflicts among faiths.

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"They may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice," Obama said.

"As Americans we are not — and never will be — at war with Islam," the president said. "It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaida, a sorry band of men which perverts religion."

Family members 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. The names of all the people killed at the World Trade Center site were read aloud at a three-hour ceremony Saturday on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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."

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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.

"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."

But the rallies in New York embroiled victims' family members in a feud over whether to play politics.

Nancy Nee, whose firefighter brother was killed at the World Trade Center, is bitterly opposed to the Park51 proposed mosque and Islamic community center near ground zero. But she didn't plan to join other family members at an anti-mosque rally hours after the anniversary ceremony.

"I just wanted to be as at peace with everything that's going on as I possibly can," Nee said. Even nine years later, she said, her brother George Cain's death "is still very raw. ... And I just don't have it in me to be protesting and arguing, with anger in my heart and in my head."

In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, first lady Michelle Obama and her predecessor, Laura Bush, spoke at a public event together for the first time since last year's presidential inauguration. At the rural field where the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93 who fought back against the hijackers lost their lives, Obama said "a scar in the earth has healed," and Bush said "Americans have no division" on this day.

Pastor Terry Jones gave a television interview to NBC's "Today" after flying to New York in hopes of meeting with leaders of the mosque and persuading them to move the Islamic center in exchange for his canceling his own plans. No meeting had taken place, he said.

Nonetheless, "We feel that God is telling us to stop," he said. "Not today, not ever. We're not going to go back and do it. It is totally canceled."

Lending credence to Jones' comments, a "Burn a Koran Day" banner outside his Florida church was taken down.

Jones' plan had drawn opposition across the political spectrum and the world. Obama had appealed to him on television, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a personal phone call, not to burn the Islamic holy book. Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, said carrying out the plan would have endangered American troops.

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Nevertheless, copies of the Quran were desecrated Saturday in three unrelated instances — one behind the gates of a Christian religious compound in Kansas, one at a public park in front of the White House and a third in front of cameras not far from ground zero.

Afghans, meanwhile, set fire to tires in the streets and shouted "Death to America" for a second day despite Jones' decision to call off the burning. The largest protest, in Logar province near the capital of Kabul, drew a crowd estimated at 10,000.

In New York, the proposed Islamic cultural center, which organizers say will promote interfaith learning, would go in an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory clothing outlet store two blocks uptown from ground zero.

Muslim prayer services are normally held at the site, but it was padlocked Friday and closed Saturday, the official end of the holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers on Friday were redirected to a different prayer room 10 blocks away.

Critics said that putting the Islamic Center near ground zero would be a show of disrespect to the victims.

"Stop bending down to them. Stop placating them. No special treatment," said Alice Lemos, 58, speaking of Muslims and holding a small American flag on a stick. "This isn't about religion. This is about rubbing our faces in their victory over us."

Elizabeth Meehan, 51, rode a bus from her home in Saratoga, New York, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) away, to show support for the mosque. She said that as an observant Christian it was important to speak in favor of religious freedom.

"I'm really fearful of all of the hate that's going on in our country. People in one brand of Christianity are coming out against other faiths, and I find that so sad," she said. "Muslims are fellow Americans, they should have the right to worship in America just like anyone else."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Data: New plans for Ground Zero

Explainer: What they're saying about 9/11 anniversary

  • Image: World Trade Center site in New York City
    Mark Lennihan  /  AP file
    Construction continues at the World Trade Center site in New York. On Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010, the nation will observe the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.

    Many officials and others are commenting on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa. Official commerorations took place Saturday withi President Barack Obama at the Pentagon; Vice President Joe Biden at New York's ground zero; first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush in Shanksville. Here's a sample of remarks:

  • Former first lady Laura Bush, at Flight 93 ceremony in Shanksville, Pa.:

    Image: Former first lady Laura Bush
    Jason Cohn  /  Reuters
    Former first lady Laura Bush

    "Nine years ago in the skies above this field and in Washington and in New York City we saw the worst of our enemy and the best of our nation. On this day, Americans have no divisions. ... We saw that there is evil in the world but good at the heart of our country. America was attacked, but the deepest belief of our democracy was vindicated."

  • First lady Michelle Obama, at Flight 93 ceremony in Shanksville, Pa.:

    Image: First lady Michelle Obama
    Jason Cohn  /  Reuters
    First lady Michelle Obama

    "May the memory of those who gave their lives here continue to be an inspiration to you and an inspiration to all of America. ... It was clear that these 40 individuals were no strangers to sacrifice. Being a hero is not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of choice. ... It is truly my prayer today that all who come here will be filled with hope."

  • Former President George W. Bush, in a prepared statement:

    Image: George W. Bush
    Jim Young  /  Reuters file
    Former President George W. Bush

    "On September 11, 2001, Americans awoke to evil on our shores. We recall the many acts of heroism on that day, and we honor those who work tirelessly to prevent another attack."

  • President Barack Obama, at the Pentagon commemoration:

    Image: President Barack Obama
    Charles Dharapak  /  AP
    President Barack Obama

    "They may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice. As Americans we are not — and never will be — at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaida, a sorry band of men which perverts religion."

  • Karen Carroll, who lost her brother, firefighter Thomas Kuveikis:

    "Let today never, ever be a national holiday. Let it not be a celebration. 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."

  • Mark Kijas, 54, at Tampa, Fla., ceremony Saturday, was a security director at Oxygen Media in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001:

    "I never though I would run down there. I just did it. You get caught up in the moment and your emotion takes over. We just went down there to do what we could." About protesters: "They're forgetting what this day's about. It's about coming together."

  • House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va.:

    Image: Eric Cantor
    Harry Hamburg  /  AP file
    House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va.

    "On this ninth anniversary of 9/11, let us rededicate ourselves to seeing the world as it really is. Let us honor the brave men and women who have served in our armed forces and those who continue to fight to keep our country safe. Let us work together, Republicans and Democrats, to ensure that our troops have the funds and resources necessary to accomplish our mission in Afghanistan and defeat terrorists around the world. By standing together, we will face down our foes and remain the greatest source of hope and freedom that the world has ever known." (Full statement)

  • New York Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, to Daily News about collage of 343 firefighters killed in collapse of Twin Towers:

    Image: New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano
    Alli Harvey  /  Getty Images file
    New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano

    "I have to look them in the eye and tell them their losses were not in vain. We have to build on what they did and never, ever forget." (Full story)

  • New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in a statement about a Sept. 11 protest:

    Image: New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan
    Mary Altaffer  /  AP
    New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan

    "We must never allow September 11th to become a time for protest and division. Instead, this day must remain a time for promoting peace and mutual respect. It is my hope that September 11th will be a day when we resolve to continue working on those issues which divide us, and lay the foundation for a new and deeper understanding among us all." (Full statement)

  • The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches general secretary:

    Image: The Rev. Michael Kinnamon
    www.ncccusa.org
    The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches general secretary

    "What began with a twisted plot by a handful of terrorists with bizarre ideas about God evolved quickly into two wars, tens of thousands of additional deaths among all combatants, and the deepening of xenophobic misunderstandings on all sides about the nature of Christianity, Judaism and Islam." (Full statement)

  • House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio:

    Image: House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio
    Mark Duncan  /  AP
    House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio

    "Over the last year, we have seen in the most immediate way how terrorists still have innocent Americans in their sights, starting with a plot to blow up the New York City subway system, and continuing with the attacks at Fort Hood, Times Square, and on board Northwest Flight 253. Each of these attacks represented new strands of terrorism, new signs of an enemy ready and willing to adapt. Now more than ever, as citizens and patriots, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to confront and defeat the terrorist threat. That is why we should also take a moment today to salute the endurance, discipline, and valor of our troops, who have volunteered to take the fight to the enemy and keep the light of freedom burning bright." (Full statement)

  • House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C.:

    Image: House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C
    Douglas Graham  /  Roll Call Photos
    House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C

    "This weekend, Americans will join together in remembrance of those we lost nine years ago in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. We will also celebrate the generosity, resiliency and bravery of the American people as we honor the first responders, caregivers and average Americans who were on the scene responding to the disaster and on the job helping with the recovery. In the true American spirit we now take this occasion to help one another during a National Day of Service and Remembrance. It's important that we as Americans get involved in our communities, volunteer and extend a hand to those in need." (Full statement)

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Image: U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Pelosi
    Chris Wattie  /  Reuters
    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

    "This day, and every day, we recommit to our first responsibility as elected officials: to protect the American people. And we rededicate ourselves to the values that make our country great: freedom, equality, and opportunity. ...  we also stood inspired by the thousands of firefighters, rescue workers, first responders, medical personnel and construction workers who traveled to the scene of the attack to help New Yorkers clean up and recover. We have an obligation to these heroes who never asked for any recognition, but who deserve to live out their lives with health. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act will help those who jeopardized their health to save others." (Full statement)

  • Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.:

    Image: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
    Chip Somodevilla  /  Getty Images
    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

    "We rededicate ourselves to the struggle against terrorism and violent extremism, which is the struggle of all open societies. And we remember that the values that make America hated in the extremist mind — among which are equality, freedom of speech and conscience, and religious tolerance — are also the key to American greatness. Those values, provided that we honor them in our lives and our conduct, remain invulnerable to even the most devastating violence." (Full statement)

  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

    Image: New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
    Jemal Countess  /  Getty Images
    New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

    “How we came out of 9/11 can be something that all Americans can be proud of.”

  • Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear:

    Image: Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear
    Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

    "It is difficult to believe the appalling attacks of 9/11 occurred nearly a decade ago, as the pain and aftershock of the tragedy still deeply resonates with all Americans. Let us keep the friends and family members of the victims in our thoughts and prayers as we continue toward building a more peaceful, understanding and unified nation and world."

  • Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.:

    Image: Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
    Drew Angerer  /  AP
    Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

    "The wound still hurts, but as we continue moving forward, building on our hopes for this nation, let’s remain committed to that spirit of unity, which we experienced in the days after the tragedy, and which we embrace today. Today, as a nation, our resolve and commitment to a future of peace and prosperity for all remain unshaken." (Full statement)

  • Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa:

    Image: Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa
    Bill Clark  /  Roll Call Photos
    Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa

    "September 11, 2001 was a day that changed the trajectory of our nation. It is my hope that we can honor the memory of those we lost by appealing to our better angels, creating a better, stronger nation not in spite of our differences, but because of them.” (Full statement)

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