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Many Americans fear another terrorist attack

Fear of another terrorist attack remains real for many Americans. For people who lived in the two cities struck by the terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 — New York and Washington — the fears are intensely personal and vivid.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fear of another terrorist attack remains real for many Americans. For people who lived in the two cities struck by the terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 — New York and Washington — the fears are intensely personal and vivid.

They're nervous about public transportation, take note of suspicious people and think back often to the horrors of Sept. 11, an AP-Ipsos poll found. Well over half of New Yorkers and Washingtonians are worried their communities will be attacked again. Nationwide, a third worry they will be attacked.

Five years after the attacks, the terrorist threat is still evolving. Britain's foiling of what authorities called a multiple hijacking plot in early August was a stark reminder. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who claims to have ordered the Sept. 11 attacks, remains free, probably in the mountains near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. And the only person convicted in the U.S. for the Sept. 11 massacre is Zacarias Moussaoui, a Frenchman who was in jail when it happened.

Such factors contribute to the persistent high anxiety, particularly in New York.

"It's just a constant worry," said Micky Diaz, a medical office manager who lives in the Bronx and works in Manhattan.

"Now you have to worry about the subways, you have to worry about the tunnels, you have to worry about the highways," she said. "It's nerve-racking."

Deep-seated worry
Among the poll's findings:

  • 59 percent approved of President Bush's response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks while less than half in New York and Washington felt that way.
  • 35 percent nationally were worried they'd be victims of terrorism, a number that spiked to 43 after the alleged terrorist plot in Britain was announced.

The stress people experienced soon after the attacks fades with time, but can be renewed by such events as news of terror plots and the anniversary of the attacks, said Anthony Ng, a psychiatrist who has worked with 9/11 victims.

Differences between the city that suffered the worst attack and the rest of the country can be found in the strength of Sept. 11 memories.

About six in 10 New Yorkers say they've thought back recently to that day five years ago with its horrifying images of planes used as missiles, crumbling skyscrapers and fleeing victims. That's more than the half nationally who said they've thought recently about it.

The findings are based on national polling Aug. 7-9 and Aug. 15-17 of about 1,000 in each survey and polling of 402 adults in the Washington area and 402 in the New York City area from Aug. 6-10. The margin of sampling error for the national polls is plus or minus 3 percentage points, and 5 percentage points for the city polls.

New Yorkers were more likely than people in Washington and the rest of the country to have concerns about being in open spaces and using public transportation. Women were more likely than men to have such fears.

Much like the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II and President Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Sept. 11 has become one of the nation's defining days.

Half say it changed their lives
When asked whether the attacks changed their lives, half the people around the country — and in New York and Washington — said it has. They were most likely to say they are more aware of their surroundings now, and more cautious. Some are more afraid of flying and some said they are more aware of family and take nothing for granted.

In America's heartland, the fears remain, but the dangers seem more distant. Retiree Holly Thomson of Sedan, Kan., says she hasn't flown since 9/11 and looks at strangers with suspicion. She considers New York and Washington more dangerous now, "But I feel safe here."

People living in Washington are aware their city is a target. "It's something I've worried a lot about," said Janay Widdison, strolling across the national mall Thursday with her 1-year-old son perched on her shoulders.

"I really think it's inevitable," Widdison said of prospects for another attack, "but I feel like this is one of the safest places to be if that were to happen again because of all the security."

Despite the anxiety, a majority of people across the country say they do not avoid public transportation, do not feel uncomfortable in crowds and do not worry about another attack.

For Jeff Roth of Aberdeen, N.J., memories of Sept. 11 come flooding back when he visits neighboring New York City.

"Every time you drive up towards New York and see the Twin Towers missing, you're reminded of it," said Roth. "I remember feeling total shock, despair, anger, every emotion you could have when I looked across and could see the towers on fire."

But Roth is stubborn about not letting those emotions change him.

"I go on with my life," Roth said. "I'm not going to let anybody rule that."