Islam not the enemy, says Obama

Sombre ceremonies mark ninth anniversary of 9/11

Islam not the enemy, says Obama

Moving remembrance ceremonies were held to honour the nearly 3,000 people killed when al-Qaeda extremists slammed airliners into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.

But with thousands of people marching in duelling protests over a proposed Muslim community centre two blocks from Ground Zero and a Florida pastor triggering demonstrations across the Muslim world with his threat to burn the “Quran”, this was the most politicised 9/11 anniversary yet.

Speaking at the Pentagon, Obama addressed the politically explosive domestic debate that has enraged Muslims abroad. “As Americans, we will not and never will be at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us that September day. It was al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men, which perverts religion,” Obama said.

He urged Americans not to succumb to “hatred and prejudice,” and vowed: “Just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation.”

At Ground Zero, where for the first time reconstruction work is visibly gathering pace, a youth choir opened the ceremony with the national anthem.

Annual ritual

Vice-President Joseph Biden and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg were among those attending the annual ritual of reading the names of all 2,752 people killed when two hijacked airliners destroyed the Twin Towers.

Bereaved relatives held up portraits of their lost loved ones under a perfectly clear sky as they listened to the litany of names read by often tearful survivors and members of the reconstruction team. “We come not to mourn but to remember and rebuild,” Biden said.

At a third ceremony in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the fourth hijacked plane crashed into a field, First Lady Michelle Obama and her predecessor Laura Bush addressed relatives of the passengers and crew.

“May the memories of those who gave their lives here continue to be a blessing to all of you and an inspiration to all Americans,” Obama urged.

Obscure Florida Pastor Terry Jones, who was in New York to continue publicising his campaign, told NBC television he no longer wanted to desecrate the Muslim holy book — “not today, not ever” — after the plan by his tiny congregation of just 50 followers sparked global condemnation and fears of retributions against US troops.

But his stunt overshadowed the day after raising political temperatures in the US and triggering protests in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries.

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