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Congress vows unity, reprisals for attacks

Members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol to show the nation their unity and sang
Members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol to show the nation their unity and sang "God Bless America"  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Members of Congress promised to "stand together" and vowed revenge in the aftermath of terror attacks Tuesday that killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, in Washington and New York.

Tuesday evening, lawmakers gathered on the steps of the Capitol for a symbolic display of unity and an apparently spontaneous chorus of "God Bless America."

"Senators and House members, Democrats and Republicans will stand shoulder-to-shoulder to fight this evil that has perpetrated on this nation," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois. "We will stand together to make sure that those who have brought forth this evil deed will pay the price."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, assailed the "despicable acts" and declared that Congress would convene Wednesday.

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Members of Congress, many overcome with emotion, sing 'God Bless America' in an apparently unscripted moment after a news conference Tuesday (September 12)

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"As the representatives of the people, we are here to declare that our resolve has not been weakened by these horrific and cowardly acts," he said.

Terrorists hijacked four jetliners, crashing two into the World Trade Center in New York, destroying the 110-story Manhattan landmark. Another crashed into the Pentagon, the seat of U.S. military power in Washington, and a fourth crashed in rural western Pennsylvania.

A total of 266 people on board the hijacked planes and a yet-uncounted number of people in the targeted buildings were believed dead.

"This is obviously an act of war that has been committed on the United States," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. And Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, called the attacks "a declaration of war" that "demands a forceful response."

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the U.S. should pursue retaliation "whatever the cost."

"The message has to be that we're gonna hunt you down and we're gonna find you and we're gonna make you pay that price," Shelby said. "We're not gonna let you attack our people innocent people and walk away, because if we do there will be more attacks."

But some lawmakers also blasted the intelligence community for not anticipating the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Shelby called it "a failure of great dimensions" on the part of U.S. intelligence, but said most warnings of attacks on Americans were from overseas.

"We had no specific warning of the United States being attacked, although people have alluded to that before," Shelby said. "We've got to do better. We must do better.

Intelligence 'complacency' assailed

Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pennsylvania, blamed a lack of intelligence resources and "a complacency that has set in America over the past 10 years" for the lack of warning.

The House of Representatives and Senate are scheduled to convene Wednesday morning to pass resolutions condemning the attacks. Lawmakers may also hold a prayer vigil, possibly in the Rotunda, on Wednesday night.

Some lawmakers were quick to blame Osama bin Laden, the millionaire Saudi exile blamed for the 1998 bombings at two U.S. embassies in Africa. He is believed to be in hiding in Afghanistan.

"This looks like the signature of Osama bin Laden," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who said he had been briefed by high-level government officials on the matter. "We're going to find out who did this and we're going after the bastards."

Added Kerry, "I have no doubt in my mind it's Osama Bin Laden."

"It's very much in keeping with the threats he has made," Kerry said. "The intelligence community has known all summer they have building up for some kind of attack."

Kerry said a number of attempted attacks, or plans for attacks, have been "thwarted" this summer. He said he was briefed by CIA Director George Tenet on this a few weeks ago.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, called for a military response to the attacks. All four of the crashed planes had originally been headed for California.

"To the loved ones of those who have been killed or injured I extend my deepest sympathy," Feinstein said. "Their deaths must not be in vain."

-- CNN Congressional Correspondent Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.

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