Saturday marks two decades since the horrific hijacking attacks that shook the world, killing nearly 3,000 people in what was the deadliest terrorist assault on United States soil.
On the 20th anniversary of the sombre day – referred to as 9/11 – a number of events are planned in the U.S. and elsewhere.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, 19 members of al-Qaeda, an Islamist extremist group led by Osama bin Laden, hijacked four commercial airliners, flying two into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, while another was crashed into the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va.
The fourth jet was brought down by the passengers on board, knowing their peril, crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pa., before it could reach the hijackers’ apparent target — the U.S. Capitol or White House in Washington, D.C.
A total of 2,977 people, including 24 Canadians, lost their lives and thousands more were injured.
To commemorate the fateful day, on Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will visit all three sites of the co-ordinated attacks.
Vice-President Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff will travel to Shanksville for a separate event, then join the Bidens at the Pentagon, the White House said.
Last month, many families of the victims asked Biden to skip the 20-year memorial events unless he declassified documents they contend will show that Saudi Arabian leaders supported the attacks.
Heeding the call last Friday, Biden ordered the Department of Justice to review documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the attacks for declassification and release.
The order requires U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to make the declassified documents public over the next six months as it oversees “a declassification review of documents” related to the FBI probe.
“We must never forget the enduring pain of the families and loved ones of the 2,977 innocent people who were killed during the worst terrorist attack on America in our history,” Biden said in a statement announcing the executive order on Sept. 3.
During an annual ceremony on Saturday at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in NYC, family members of 9/11 victims will gather to read aloud the names of those killed in the September 11 attacks and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The reading ritual was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At sundown, the annual Tribute in Light, twin blue beams, will illuminate the sky over lower Manhattan, NYC.
Once again, the anniversary is being held against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 650,000 Americans.
Ahead of the 20th anniversary, a series of new documentaries were released online and on TV, looking back at the events.
Events in Canada
Across the border, tributes are also set to take place in Canada, which lent a helping hand to its southern neighbour in the time of crisis.
With the U.S. airspace closed, 224 international flights, carrying 33,000 passengers, were diverted into the country.
The small town of Gander, in Newfoundland and Labrador, received 38 planes, as it opened its homes and community centres to shelter nearly 7,000 displaced travellers.
On Saturday morning, the town will unveil a monument featuring a piece of the World Trade Center steel that was gifted by New York firefighters in 2011. A commemoration service, which would be livestreamed online, will also take place at the Steele Community Centre, with performances by local entertainers.
For the first time in 10 years, a military-style ceremony in front of the Beechwood 9/11 Memorial in Ottawa will be held at 10.45 am E.T. The chargé d’affairs from the U.S. embassy, Senator Pamela Wallin, will make a speech, a wreath will be laid and a few songs or hymns will be played. The event is open to the public, who can register to attend.
Along the U.S.-Canada border between Manitoba and North Dakota, the International Peace Garden will host a memorial event, where both American and Canadian dignitaries will be in attendance.
Meanwhile, an annual ceremony at the Peace Arch Park on the U.S.-Canada border has been cancelled this year because of the U.S.’s decision to extend the land border closure for Canadians.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on Saturday morning, acknowledged the tragic milestone, and called upon Canadians to fight against hatred and Islamophobia.
While campaigning in Mississauga for re-election ahead of the Sept. 20 federal polls, the liberal leader said, “I also can’t help on this anniversary to reflect on Muslim Canadians for whom things also changed on September 11th as attitudes shifted.”
“That reminds us that over these past years and continuing today and into the future, we all need to stand together against intolerance, hatred, racism and Islamophobia,” he said.
“But the story that we tell ourselves and we remember of that day is ultimately a story of people coming together,” Trudeau said. “That’s what we do in times of crisis as Canadians.”
–With files from Reuters