President reassures a shaken America

Bush visits N.Y. today, calls for day of prayer

Terrorism Strikes America

Washington

September 14, 2001|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush sought to calm the nation yesterday, but the intense security around the White House belied his words.

Vice President Dick Cheney spent part of the day working at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, instead of at the White House. Senior Bush administration officials said that from now on, they would not be releasing information about the movements of Bush and Cheney as far in advance as they typically have done.

Several blocks around the White House were closed off, after having been reopened since the terrorist assaults Tuesday.

Washington was tense yesterday, two days after the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and suburban Washington. The Capitol was briefly evacuated because of a bomb threat that proved to be a false alarm.

At the same time, the president seemed determined yesterday to embolden Americans, rather than alarm them. He said he intends to win the fight against terrorism, which he called "the first war of the 21st century."

Today, which Bush declared a national day of prayer, the president plans to visit New York City to inspect the devastation around the crumbled World Trade Center towers.

"Now that war has been declared on us," Bush said yesterday, "we will lead the world to victory."

Seemingly fighting tears, the president added: "I think about the families, the children. I am a loving guy, and I am also someone, however, who has got a job to do, and I intend to do it.

"This country will not relent until we have saved ourselves and others from the terrible tragedy that came upon America."

White House officials declined to say whether the new security measures were being taken in response to any fresh intelligence about a new threat to Washington or to the president or vice president.

"The Secret Service will continue to make assessments," said Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman, without elaborating.

National day of prayer

As part of today's national day of prayer, Bush encouraged Americans to spend their lunch hour in a house of worship to pray for the families of the thousands who are believed to have perished in the terrorist attacks.

The White House announced that Bush would lead the national noontime prayer service today at the National Cathedral in Washington, before leaving for New York, where he was scheduled to tour the area around the World Trade Center complex.

The president and his wife, Laura, visited a Washington hospital where some of the victims of the Pentagon attack were recovering yesterday.

"Some of the folks could talk, and they described the horror of the incident, the moment," the president said. "It was just a sobering moment."

Retaliation seems near

Bush and his advisers seemed yesterday to be moving ever closer to some kind of military retaliation for Tuesday's assaults. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other officials confirmed, for the first time, that Osama bin Laden, the alleged Islamic terrorist who has been linked to previous attacks against Americans, was a prime suspect in the attacks.

Bush himself did not identify bin Laden as a target, but he said U.S. officials are exerting pressure on the government of Pakistan to lend its support to the United States. Pakistan shares a border with Afghanistan, where bin Laden has been living. The United States would need Pakistan as a crucial ally if it were to launch a military offensive in the region.

"We will give the Pakistani government a chance to cooperate and to participate as we hunt down those people who committed this unbelievable, despicable act on America," Bush said.

Respect Arab-Americans

The president urged Americans who are angry over Tuesday's violence not to prejudge Muslims or Arab-Americans.

"We must be mindful that, as we seek to win the war, we treat Arab-Americans and Muslims with the respect they deserve," he said. "It's certainly the attitude of this government that we should not hold one who is a Muslim responsible for an act of terror. We will hold those who are responsible for the terrorist acts accountable, and those who harbor them."

`Overwhelming' response

Several dozen members of Congress - mostly representing areas of New York, New Jersey, Virginia and the District of Columbia that were home to victims of Tuesday's terror - visited the White House yesterday and left a meeting with Bush saying that they were convinced that a military response to the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history was imminent.

"It's coming, it will be overwhelming, and it will be successful," said Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat.

The president, Torricelli said, "has a real sense for how difficult this is, and how hard it will be to hold a coalition together, but there is just no choice. When the U.S. is attacked, there is no choice but to respond, and respond overwhelmingly.

`Sending a message'

"This is not just about defeating an enemy," Torricelli said. "It's about sending a message about the consequences of attacking the United States."

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