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Up to 800 possibly dead at Pentagon

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The explosion from the plane crash forced the evacuation of the Pentagon.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Up to 800 people may have died Tuesday when a hijacked commercial airliner was crashed into the Pentagon, officials said.

Firefighters were still battling a fire on the west side of the 29-acre, 6 million-square-foot building late Tuesday, more than 12 hours after the crash. Washington hospitals reported 71 people injured, some severely, and another 100 to 800 were still listed as missing and possibly dead late Tuesday.

Despite the serious damage caused by the attack, the headquarters of the U.S. military will reopen Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said.

"The Pentagon is functioning. It will be in business tomorrow," Rumsfeld said late Tuesday from a Pentagon briefing room.

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An American Airlines flight from Washington to Los Angeles crashed into the Pentagon with 64 passengers and crew aboard. The fuel-laden jet, which had just taken off from Washington's Dulles Airport, set the world's largest office building ablaze and forced thousands of employees to evacuate.

The attack occurred shortly after two other commercial jetliners were hijacked and flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. A fourth plane that was hijacked crashed in a wooded area in Pennsylvania.

Casualties were expected to be high, but Rumsfeld released no estimates Tuesday.

In addition to the "many dozens in the aircraft," he said, "there are a number of people that they have not identified by name, but have identified as being dead, and there are a number of casualties. The number has yet to be calculated, and it will not be a few."

The Pentagon suffered widespread damage on the building's fourth, fifth and sixth corridors, and the impact tore a gaping hole in one side of the building. Firefighters continued to battle the blaze on the building's west side Tuesday night, describing it as "contained" but not yet under control.

Shelton: Attack 'barbaric'

Rumsfeld was joined by Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin; and Virginia Sen. John Warner, the committee's ranking Republican.

Shelton called the attacks "barbaric terrorism carried out by fanatics."

"I would tell you up front, I have no intentions of discussing today what comes next, but make no mistake about it, your armed forces are ready," Shelton said.

Rumsfeld
Donald Rumsfeld  

U.S. intelligence officials told CNN there were "good indications" that persons linked to Osama bin Laden -- the Saudi millionaire suspected in a number of anti-U.S. terror attacks -- may be responsible for these attacks.

Taliban officials in Afghanistan, where bin Laden is believed to be hiding, said they doubted he was capable of coordinating attacks of such magnitude and pledged to conduct their own investigation.

Debbie Weirerman, public information officer of the FBI office in Boston, said she couldn't confirm or deny a report in Wednesday's Boston Herald newspaper that authorities have identified at least five Arab men as suspects in the attacks launched from Logan International Airport.

But Peter Judge, public information officer at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said the FBI seized a vehicle at the airport with "a lot of suspicious materials in it."

The Herald report also said that Arabic-language flight training manuals were found in a car in the airport's parking garage and said the two of the men were brothers, one a trained pilot. The Herald reported that at least two other suspects flew to Logan on Tuesday from Portland, Maine.

President Bush issued a brief statement Tuesday night, vowing, "We will find these people and they will suffer for taking on this nation." Bush, who was in Florida at the time of the attack, said the nation's military had been placed on "high-alert status." Rumsfeld would not disclose Tuesday whether U.S. military officials had any kind of warning of an attack.

The jet struck a section of the Pentagon that housed U.S. Army offices about 9:40 a.m. Tuesday. Among those aboard the jet was Barbara Olson, a conservative commentator who appeared frequently on CNN and the wife of U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson.

"It was like a cruise missile with wings, went right there and slammed into the Pentagon," Mike Walter, an eyewitness, told CNN. "Huge explosion, great ball of fire, smoke started billowing out, and then it was just chaos on the highway as people either tried to move around the traffic and go down either forward or backwards."

20,000 Pentagon staff evacuated

The more than 20,000 civilians and military men and women who work in the Pentagon streamed into the surrounding parking lots, driven by blue and white strobe alarm lights and wailing sirens. All federal office buildings were ordered closed.

Rumsfeld was uninjured. After the crash, he ran from his office and assisted some victims onto stretchers.

One witness told CNN she saw a commercial jet flying "too fast, too low" and then she saw an explosion at the building.

Lisa Burgess, a reporter for the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes, said she was walking in a corridor near the blast site and was thrown to the ground by the force of the blast.

Pentagon officials said the national military command center deep inside the building remained intact.

Navy deploys ships off both coasts

In the aftermath, helicopters patrolled the air space over the nation's capital. At one point, fighter jets scrambled to intercept what was reported to be a second aircraft headed toward the area. The second aircraft never appeared.

All U.S. military sites around the world have gone to ThreatCon Delta, which means that a terrorist attack has occurred or an attack at a specific location is likely, Pentagon officials said.

Two aircraft carriers left the Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia, to boost air defense for New York and Washington.

The Navy's Pacific Fleet has deployed an aircraft carrier, two guided missile cruisers, five destroyers and five frigates armed with missiles to protect the West Coast and Hawaii, according to a Navy official, who asked not to be identified.

And in the Persian Gulf, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise -- which had been stationed in the Persian Gulf recently and relieved by the USS Carl Vinson -- has been told to stay in the region, Pentagon officials told CNN.

-- CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and CNN.com writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.


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