Wednesday September 12 3:42 AM ET
Attack on U.S. Symbols Is Heard Around World
By Anton Ferreira
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Shock waves reverberated around the world on Wednesday from the suicide attacks by aircraft hijackers that flattened New York City's signature World Trade Center and smashed a massive hole in the Pentagon.
As flames and smoke billowed from the ruins of the symbols of U.S. economic and military power -- in which many thousands of people were believed killed -- investors in Asia and Europe dumped stocks. Financial analysts said the attack could help precipitate a full-blown global recession.
Rescue workers battled through the night after the attacks on Tuesday in which hijackers seized four passenger aircraft at about the same time, flying two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and one into a wood in rural Pennsylvania.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but U.S. officials said the audacious operation bore the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born dissident now living in Afghanistan who is blamed for bombing two U.S. embassies in East Africa and other anti-American attacks.
A Pakistani newspaper, Khabrain, said bin Laden had denied blame. ``The terrorist act is the action of some American group. I have nothing to do with it,'' it quoted him as saying via ''sources close to the Taliban''.
The Taliban movement which rules most of Afghanistan said bin Laden could not have been involved.
The administration of President Bush ordered unprecedented security measures after the attacks, the worst on U.S. territory since the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought the United States into World War Two.
All flights were canceled for at least 24 hours. National Guard units were called up and troops in camouflage uniforms set up road blocks on streets around the White House.
Bush, in a televised address, said ``thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.''
``We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,'' Bush said, signaling that the Taliban could be targeted if Washington believed bin Laden to be responsible.
``America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time,'' said Bush.
Fire Chief Edward Plaugher, in charge of fighting the fire at the Pentagon, said early on Wednesday the death toll at the U.S. military headquarters could range from 100 to 800 people. He said it would be days before a precise figure was known.
In New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared the lower part of Manhattan off limits to civilians until at least Thursday and said a ``horrendous number'' of people had died.
``When we get the final number, it will be more than we can bear,'' he said.
About 40,000 people worked in the 110-story towers, which both imploded about an hour after the jets crashed into them within 15 minutes of each other, erupting in spectacular fireballs.
More than 300 firefighters and 85 police officers were feared dead under the collapsed buildings, which showered dust and rubble over several blocks and sent pedestrians fleeing in panic through a nightmare of smoke and screams.
The mayor said two police officers had been pulled alive from the rubble and other trapped people were making desperate pleas for help via cell phones.
In Washington, District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams declared a state of emergency in the city and all the hospitals in the region were put on maximum alert. Most of the federal government shut down for the day on Tuesday.
INVESTORS SEEK SAFE HAVENS
On financial markets, investors knocked down the dollar as they rushed to safe haven assets such as gold and oil.
Tokyo stocks tumbled to 17-year lows on Wednesday as the key Nikkei stock average fell 6.13 percent to 9,610.10 at the close, breaching 10,000 for the first time since August 1984.
Europe's benchmark indices slumped over two percent at Wednesday's open and dealers predicted huge volatility through the day as markets tried to work out the implications of the terror attacks.
The main U.S. markets were closed after the attacks, which occurred just as the trading day was about to begin.
Nervous investors, seeking a safe haven for their cash, drove up prices of U.S. Treasury bonds, gold, oil and industrial metals such as copper.
Policy makers indicated they were prepared to write a blank check to calm markets. Early on Wednesday the Bank of Japan announced it would do its utmost to avoid disruption by providing ample funds to the banking system.
It was quickly followed by the Reserve Bank of Australia and the central banks of South Korea, Singapore and Thailand. The European Central Bank said it was open for business as usual while the Swiss National Bank pledged to add as much funds as necessary.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill cut short his trip to Japan on Wednesday and headed back to the United States to help settle markets in the aftermath of the attacks.
Bush administration officials said an estimated three to five hijackers were aboard each of the airliners and they were armed with knives described as box-cutters. All four planes had been headed for California -- two from Boston, and one each from Newark and Dulles, outside Washington.
The Boston Herald reported that authorities in Massachusetts had identified five Arab men as suspects in the attack on the World Trade Center and had seized a rental car containing Arabic-language flight training manuals at Logan International Airport. One of the men was a trained pilot, the paper reported.
``THIS DAY HAS CHANGED THE WORLD''
Nations around the world, including U.S. foes Libya and Iran, condemned the attacks. Saddam Hussein's Iraq raised a dissenting voice, saying the United States deserved them as the fruits ``of its crimes against humanity.''
Photographs of the devastation dominated front pages around the world, while millions of people sat glued to their television screens as the catastrophe unfolded. ``War on America'' was the banner headline on more than one newspaper.
``This day has changed the world. A terrible event, the scale of which we cannot yet appreciate,'' German President Johannes Rau told an audience in Helsinki.
U.S. newspapers said on Wednesday the attacks exposed U.S. vulnerability to a new brand of warfare but asserted that the country was resilient enough to survive the challenge.
In Phoenix, the Arizona Republic said some U.S. national leaders had warned in vain ``that the United States has been sleeping as the world's terrorists grow more sophisticated and more determined.
``This enemy is ... more elusive and cunning. He will be hard to find. But he will be found and he will learn that Americans aroused are a fierce and terrible force to reckon with,'' the paper said.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on its 275 member airlines around the world to tighten security procedures, a spokesman said on Wednesday.