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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com
Boston Globe Online / Nation | World
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Bush: US to hunt down the attackers

By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff, 9/11/2001

WASHINGTON - A shell-shocked President Bush yesterday vowed to ''hunt down'' the terrorists that attacked New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Reprising a refrain used by his father in the Gulf War, Bush solemnly declared, ''Terrorism against our nation will not stand.''

But within minutes of his statement about the New York attack, another plane slammed into the Pentagon, sending plumes of smoke across the Potomac River and panic through the nation's capital, where all federal buildings were evacuated.

Responding to what one US senator termed a ''second Pearl Harbor,'' US officials grappled with how to respond to an enemy who was not immediately identified, although speculation was rampant. As smoke from the attacks hung over New York City and Washington, the realization set in that the country may be in the extraordinary position of being at war - yet without a clear target for counter-attack.

With the precision of a carefully choreographed plan and more terrifying twists than a Tom Clancy novel, the attacks with hijacked commercial airliners instantly signaled a turn in Bush's presidency that immediately tested his capabilities as a leader and healer. Like his father, former President Bush, who once commented that he hadn't been ''tested by fire'' until the Gulf War, President Bush was thrust into a crisis that is bound to define his presidency.

The horrifying morning of death and destruction - with a nation wondering when and where the next attack might occur - came as Bush was preparing to speak to elementary school children in Florida. The president cut short the visit and prepared to return amid extraordinary security to Washington, where even the White House was cleared out in fear it might be the next target.

''Today we've had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country,'' Bush said at 9:30 a.m. to the stunned gathering at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla.

''I have spoken to the vice president, to the governor of New York, to the director of the FBI, and have ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and the families and to conduct a full scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act,'' Bush said.

''May God bless the victims, their families and America,'' Bush said, asking for a moment of silence as his voice cracked with emotion.

After departing Florida aboard Air Force One, Bush was not seen in public for at least several hours and was expected to arrive in Washington. But with all commercial airports shut down and fear of another attack, Bush was diverted to a military base in Louisana. Air Force One flew much higher than usual, accompanied by jet fighters on the wing. Reporters aboard the presidential plane were not told where they were headed, and they were forbidden to use their mobile telephones.

After landing at Barksdale Air Force base in the area of Shreveport, La., a somber Bush told reporters: ''Freedom has been attacked but freedom will be defended.'' He said he talked aboard Air Force One with leaders around the world and assured them that US forces are on the highest state of alert.

''Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.''

Still, the fact that Bush did not immediately return to Washington spoke volumes about the seriousness of the continuing threat.

With the Secret Service fearing that Bush and other top government officials might be targets, the government put into action a security plan similar to one prepared during the Cold War in the event of a nuclear attack.

This story ran on page A6 of the Boston Globe on 9/11/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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