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America Under Attack: Terrorists Crash Hijacked Airliners Into World Trade Center, Pentagon

Aired September 11, 2001 - 18:32   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: I need to interrupt you for just a second. CNN's Wolf Blitzer in Washington's been doing some reporting on the president, the president's activities. Wolf, join us.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Aaron. We've now been told by Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, telling the pool of reporters always accompanying the president on his way back to Washington that the explosions that we heard in Kabul, Afghanistan were not part of the U.S. retaliatory strike.

Once again repeating, the explosions that Nic Robertson has just been reporting about in Kabul, not part of any U.S. military strike, clearly indicating this is part of the continuing civil war that's been underway in Afghanistan now for some time.

President is on his way back to Andrews Air Force Base right outside of Washington. We're told that Air Force One is expected to land in about 15 minutes. We're also told it's being flanked by three U.S. Air Force fighter jets, two F-15s, one F-16, a remarkable situation, a remarkable development all of my years covering the White House. I don't remember ever Air Force One returning to Andrews Air Force Base with protective cover by fighter jets.

The president, as you know, is expected to address the nation around 9:00 p.m. this evening. But before the president speaks, there are two briefings that we're standing by awaiting. First of all, the Attorney General John Ashcroft will be briefing at the White House and the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be briefing at the Pentagon. Of course, we will be bringing you all of those briefings live here on CNN.

So just once again to recap, the White House, through the press secretary Ari Fleischer, insisting that those explosions in Kabul, Afghanistan not the result of U.S. military action.

Paula and Aaron in New York?

BROWN: Wolf, thank you. It is a reminder to us here to all of you as well, that we need to be careful about what we assume as we go on here. There are a lot of reasons why things happen. It's not always the first thing you think about. There are certain things that we know that have happened. And we know that just after 8:45 this morning, 8:48, the first of the planes hit the Trade Center. It was shortly after that, 9:08 if memory serves me, and it's been a while now, that the second plane hit. We have seen this now from a couple of different views. And we have found one more to show you of the second hit of the Trade Center. People out with video cameras this morning.

And if we can roll the tape and maybe take a look at it couple of times as we orient ourselves. We're seeing it for the first time as well. There's the plane, you can't miss that.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy %$&&! Holy %$&&!


BROWN: Well, it's hard to quarrel with the expletive. You know, we have seen this now, we have seen this honestly dozens of times. And it's no less powerful and no less sickening to see it again. Again, let's just look at this scene. This is amateur video. The plane coming and now -- no words, no reason.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: I think we have all have struggled today with a way to define just the impact of what was witnessed here in New York. As you know, Aaron...

BROWN: This is 30 blocks away.

ZAHN: This is 30 blocks away. As you know, the city is in a state of paralysis at the moment, although I am told that some of the bridges now are beginning to be opened up for outbound traffic. But at a point in the city today when people were trying to be evacuated from the south end of New York City, it was extremely difficult. You were up here and I was down on the street watching, tens and thousands of people making their way on foot to get out of the city.

Now one of the things that we've witnessed within the last hour was the collapse of tower number 7, which is part of the World Trade Center complex as well. As you know, Aaron, because you've been reporting this all day, this has been on fire most of the day. This was expected to happen.

BROWN: Yes, 47 stories, not nearly as big as the two towers which once stood behind us, but no small building with 47 stories.

ZAHN: Now from what we're hearing on the street, rescue workers are still having a very difficult time getting into the perimeter area surrounding this site because of falling debris. City officials still could not confirm for us at this point how many people have been injured, how many people have been killed.

Just before I got on the air, I spoke with someone from the department that deals with rescue operations for the city. This is all speculation on his part, but he has reasonably good information of area hospitals. He suspects those numbers could rise into the thousands.

So Aaron, we're going to leave you here right now and we're going to check back in with Bill Hemmer, who joins us from Atlanta with another part of the story -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, Aaron, thank you.

I'm Bill Hemmer live in Atlanta, continuing CNN's coverage of America under attack. Some nine hours now after terrorists hijacked airliners and crashed them into U.S. buildings.

Some kind of attack, as we mentioned, was taking place in Afghanistan. But as Wolf Blitzer was reporting there, as we see the videotape by way of videophone in Kabul, Afghanistan's capitol, Ari Fleischer with the White House indicates this is not a retaliatory strike. However, this appears to be the ongoing civil war battle that's taking place in Afghanistan.

Also reporters traveling with President Bush have also been told these explosions again not part of that U.S. strike at any country at this time. Earlier, U.S. intelligence officials had told CNN there are good indications that persons linked to fugitive terrorist Osama Bin Laden may be responsible for a number of terrorist attacks in the U.S. today..

Bin Laden, he's suspected to be hiding out in Afghanistan. And earlier on Kabul, Afghanistan's foreign minister said this country does not allow Osama Bin Laden to use Afghan territory to launch any attack on any government around the world.

Now the explosions again in Afghanistan come as we still await the first official estimates of the casualties on what has been a deadly day of terrorist attacks here in the U.S. Both towers of New York's World Trade Center and a section of the Pentagon were destroyed when hijacked airliners were deliberately crashed into buildings there. Rescue officials predict that hundreds, if not thousands, have died in today's attacks.

One tower at the World Trade Center was hit at 8:48 a.m. East coast time this morning. Officials believe it was hit by an American Airlines Boeing 767, flying from Boston to L.A. The hijacked plane, flight 11, had 81 passengers, nine crew members and two pilots on board.

About 18 minutes later, as emergency crews were rushing to the scene, a second airliner flew into the other tower, the World Trade Center. Officials believe this hijacked plane was United Airlines flight 175, again from Boston to L.A. with 56 passengers on board, two pilots and seven crew members.

About 10:00 a.m. Eastern time, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. By then, authorities had closed down the tunnels and bridges leading into the island of Manhattan. And the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration had ordered all U.S. airports closed. The north tower at the World Trade Center collapsed at 10:29 a.m. New York city mayor Rudy Giuliani, while speculating on the final death toll, has told reporters it may be "more than any of us can bear."

Rescue crews still on the scene. A smaller building part of the World Trade Center complex collapsed this afternoon, as building number 7, part of a larger complex connected to the World Trade Center.

The National Guard mobilizing all troops in the New York City area, but New York's tragedy only part of that story.

As we look at other parts of the country now, and specifically in Washington, D.C., I'm told Wolf Blitzer now with more information from our nation's capitol. Wolf, what do you have for us now?

BLITZER: Bill, right now, we're told that Air Force One has landed at nearby Andrews Air Force base just outside of Washington, in Maryland. The president's Air Force One being escorted in by three fighter jets, two F-15s and one F-16 close by. Very often there are some Air Force jets who go up to bring down, to help escort Air Force One down. But this time, these planes, we're told, the fighter jets were much closer to Air Force One.

The president will be returning to the White House to address the nation later this evening around 9:00 p.m. Eastern. But in advance of that, several briefings were standing by. We're waiting for a congressional briefing that will occur. The congressional leadership around 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

There will be a briefing from the Attorney General John Ashcroft over at the White House. We're also standing by awaiting a briefing from the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Meanwhile, let's take a look back at some of the sights and sounds of this remarkable day of terror.



MARK HEATH, PHYSICIAN: I hope I live. I hope I live. It's coming down on me. Here it comes. I'm getting behind a car. It's incredible. OK, I have to go find people who need help because I don't think I'm one of them. Are you okay, sir? OK. Could I just get a toot off your respirator? Can I get a toot? I'm just getting a couple of clean breaths.

That's good. OK. Back to you.


BLITZER: The Pentagon briefing is now under way. Here's the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.


Unfortunately, we're having some audio problems from the Defense Secretary. We're going to try to fix that. In the meantime, Orrin Hatch is standing by. Senator Hatch, you're a member of the intelligence committed. You're not surprised at the bombings that we heard about, the explosions in Kabul were not the result of U.S. military action?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: No, I'm not surprised because just yesterday, and it looks like it's tied together. They -- Osama Bin Laden forces attacked Shah Massood, who is their enemy in the north and who is also one of the 12 travel leaders.

BLITZER: Senator, I think we've fixed the audio with Secretary Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. He's briefing reporters. Let's listen.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... offering their sympathy and, indeed, their assistance in various ways.

I'm very pleased to be joined here by Chairman Carl Levin and Senator John Warner. Senator Warner called earlier today and offered his support, and was kind enough to come down and has been with us. We've very recently had a discussion with the president of the United States.

Chairman Hugh Shelton has just landed from Europe. Secretary of the Army Tom White, who has a responsibility for incidents like this as executive agent for the Department of Defense, is also joining me.

It's an indication that the United States government is functioning in the face of this terrible act against our country.

I should add that the briefing here is taking place in the Pentagon. The Pentagon's functioning. It'll be in business tomorrow.

I know the interest in casualty figures, and all I can say is it's not possible to have solid casualty figures at this time. And the various components are doing roster checks and we'll have information at some point in the future. And as quickly as it's possible to have it, it will certainly be made available to each of you.

I'll be happy to take a few questions after asking first General Shelton if he would like to say anything, and then we will allow the others to make a remark or two.


Ladies and gentlemen, as the secretary just said, today we have watched the tragedy of an outrageous act of barbaric terrorism carried out by fanatics against both civilians and military people; acts that have killed and maimed many innocent and decent citizens of our country. I extend my condolences to the entire Department of Defense families, military and civilian, and to the families of all those throughout our nation who lost loved ones.

I think this is indeed a reminder of the tragedy and the tragic dangers that we face day in and day out both here at home as well as abroad.

I will 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.

RUMSFELD: The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Our intense focus on recovery and helping the injured and the families of those who were killed is matched only by our determination to prevent more attacks, and matched only by our unity to track down, root out and relentlessly pursue terrorists, states that support them and harbor them. They are the common enemy of the civilized world. Our institutions are strong and our unity is palpable.

RUMSFELD: Senator John Warner?


As the past chairman, preceding Carl Levin, I can assure you that the Congress stands behind our president, and the president speaks with one voice for this entire nation.

This is indeed the most tragic hour in America's history. And yet I think it can be its finest hour. As our president and those with him, most notably our secretary of defense, our chairman, and the men and women of the armed forces all over this world stand ready not only to defend this nation and our allies against further attack, but to take such actions as are directed in the future in retaliation for this terrorist act, a series of terrorist acts unprecedented in world history.

We call upon the entire world to step up and help because terrorism is a common end to all. And we're in this together. The United States has born the brunt, but who can be next? Step forward and let us hold accountable and punish those that have perpetrated this attack.

Again, I commend the secretary, the chairman and how proud we are. We spoke with our president here moments ago. He's got a firm grip on this situation and the secretary and the general have a firm grip on our armed forces and in communication of the world over.

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.

We'll take a few questions and then we'll adjourn. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, did you have any inkling at all, in any way, that something of this nature and something of this scope might be planned?

RUMSFELD: We don't discuss intelligence matters.

QUESTION: I see. And how would you respond if you find out who did this?

RUMSFELD: Obviously, the president of the United States has spoken on that subject and those are issues that he will address in good time.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we are getting reports from CNN and others that there are bombs exploding in Kabul, Afghanistan. Are we at the moment striking back? And if so, is the target Osama bin Laden and his organization?

RUMSFELD: I've seen those reports. They -- in no way is the United States government connected to those explosions.

QUESTION: What about Osama bin Laden? Do you suspect him as the prime suspect in this?

RUMSFELD: It's not the time for discussions like that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said you could not be specific about casualties. Can you give us some characterization whether it's dozens or hundreds in the building?

RUMSFELD: Well, we know there were a large number, many dozens, in the aircraft that flew at full power, steering directly into the -- between I think the first and second floor of the -- opposite the helipad. You've seen it. There cannot be any survivors; it just would be beyond comprehension.

There are a number of people that they've not identified by name, but identified as being dead and there are a number of casualties.

But we're -- the FBI has secured the site. And the information takes time to come. People have been lifted out and taken away in ambulances. And the numbers will be calculated and it will not be a few.

BLITZER: We're looking also at a picture while we listen to the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of helicopters that we believe are returning to the White House from Andrews Air Force Base. Marine One is the helicopter that has the president on board and lands on the south lawn of the White House, which is the routine procedure when the president returns to the White House from Andrews Air Force Base.

These are helicopters that we're now seeing approaching the south lawn of the White House, the picture of downtown Washington that you're seeing right now. President Bush just landing only a few minutes ago at Andrews Air Force Base, returning to the White House, getting ready to address the nation around 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. Once again, Marine Corp helicopters, that we believe one of them carrying the president and his party, returning to the south lawn of the White House.

There are six helicopters there altogether, six Marine Corps helicopters.

RUMSFELD: The people who work in this building do so voluntarily. They're brave people and they do their jobs well.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you give a sense of what happened? What did you see when you left your office, ran down to the site and apparently helped people on stretchers then returned to the command center?

RUMSFELD: I felt the shock of the airplane hitting the building. Went through the building and then out into the area. And they were bringing bodies out that had been injured, most of which were alive and moving but seriously injured. And a lot of volunteers were doing a terrific job helping to bring them out of the buildings and get them into stretchers and into ambulances and into airlifts.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you tell us how many of the dead were soldiers and how many were civilians? Have you been able to determine that?

RUMSFELD: Absolutely not.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, today we saw military planes both in New York and in Washington. How much more of a military presence will we see, now that this incident has occurred, for the next week?

RUMSFELD: Those kinds of decisions are made day to day. It is correct that we had aircraft flying protective missions at various places in the United States today and they will do that as appropriate.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what do you say to the American people who may have questions on how something so coordinated has been carried out against this nation, what do you say to them who might not have confidence that our intelligence and our security are what they should be?

RUMSFELD: I say to them that the president of the United States will be making some remarks to them this evening that will address those subjects.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you've declared -- the Pentagon has declared Threatcon Delta with forces around the world. Could you tell me why? Have you received any threats or has anyone claimed credit for this?

RUMSFELD: We have, in fact, declared Force Protection Condition Delta and a condition of high alert, indeed the highest alert.

RUMSFELD: We did so almost immediately upon the attacks, and it is still in force.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, were there threats issued against other U.S. facilities elsewhere in the world?

RUMSFELD: I don't know that there's a day that's gone by since I've been in this job that there haven't been threats somewhere in the world to some facility somewhere. It's one of the complexities of the intelligence business that you have to sort through those kinds of things, but we don't get into the specifics.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to report that this is Marine One, the president's helicopter now landing on the south a lawn of the White House, which is the usual procedure, bringing President Bush back to the White House from Andrews Air Force Base.

The president began this day in Sarasota, Florida, where he was going to be promoting his agenda on education, then flew to Louisiana, then flew to Nebraska and finally when the Secret Service and U.S. law enforcement thought it was safe, now bringing him back to the White House where later this evening, he will be addressing the nation. Air Force One about to touch down on the south lawn of the White House.

John King, our senior White House correspondent is standing by. John, what do you have over there?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you watch Marine One land here on the south lawn, we have just been allowed back into the White House. We evacuated as well earlier today.

First, let me read you a statement from the president. This, during his travels back to Washington. The president telling his National Security Council, "We will find these people and they will suffer the consequences of taking on this nation. We will do what it takes. No one is going to diminish the spirit of this country."

Now the president will return to the White House. One of our cameraman, Mike Bannigan, also just a short time ago, shot pictures of Laura Bush coming back to the White House in a motorcade. We do not know where she was, being kept in a secure location at this time, but the First Lady is also back in the White House.

Also, after Secretary Rumsfeld finishes his briefing at the Pentagon, a number of Bush administration cabinet officials will brief here at the White House to bring us up-to-date on the activities of their agencies. One, we're told the Health & Human Service Secretary, Tommy Thompson, who's involved of course in the medical help, blood banking and others. He will bring us up-to-date on his agency.

Attorney General Ashcroft also on his way to the White House as well we are told. All of this leading up, all these briefings from administration cabinet members, leading up to a nationally televised address from the president tonight to the American people from the Oval Office.

You see there Marine One sitting on the south lawn the White House, a virtual ghost town throughout much of the day, as it was evacuated. The President now back in Washington and at the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, the trips to Louisiana and Nebraska that the president took today, that was designed we're told, and we see a Marine officer walking off Marine One as the president we expect to emerge from Marine One any second now. We assume that was because security personnel thought it was too dangerous for the president to come right back to Washington. Is that right?

KING: The first stop in Barksdale in Louisiana was designed so the president could get to a command and control center that is fortified and structured, so that he could be in contact. You see the president there emerging from Marine One, saluting his Marine escort on the south lawn of the White House.

The direction he turned, it appears he is heading straight into Oval Office, heading on straight. That is the path into the White House residence. The president turning left, indicating he will go straight to his office, the Oval Office. The president saying nothing as he walks by there.

The first stop was to get him to a command and control facility, so that he could have secure conversations with the Vice President, who is here at the White House and with the National Security Council.

At that point, we have been led by some sources, the president will come directly back to Washington. Then they took him to the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command for another briefing with the National Security Council amid some concerns that they wanted to run a few more security checks before bringing the president back to Washington.

Obviously one of the heinous act on the Pentagon, just a few miles away. So an enormous amount of security concerns even as we speak here on the grounds of the White House. You see the president here heading up into the path, being greeted by more agents and his senior staff into the Oval Office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as he goes in the Oval Office in the west wing of the White House, once again, John, for some of our viewers who may just be tuning in right now, read to us the statement that the president has just released.

KING: This is a statement from the president. This is a statement we are told by pool reporters that he gave to his National Security Council. Quoting the president "We will find these people and they will suffer the consequences of taking on this nation. We will do what it takes. No one is going to diminish the spirit of this country."

We expect a statement very much like that to be included in the nationally televised address the president delivers to the American people tonight. He is meeting right now in the Oval Office with senior advisers to be brought up-to-date on the latest of the latest casualty figures, the latest information the federal government has on just what took place.

The administration has also taken one of the steps, Wolf, that seems routine in some ways. Again, a reminder of the tragedy of this day, issuing statements just a short time ago declaring state of New York major disaster area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And John, security, I take it at the White House is extraordinarily right now? Under normal circumstances, you don't see the security personnel that we're obviously seeing right now? Is that right?

KING: That is correct. More security on the grounds, more security out in public. Uniform secret service snipers on the buildings all around the compound here. Remember, this compound, the president was not here at the time, but the Vice President was. Evacuated this morning, when all of this was taking place. When the threat on the Pentagon was taking place.

Now they're just now letting people back in. We are, I believe, the first reporters to broadcast live from here. Others just getting into the compound now.

The security all day long -- we were just across the street, watching the dogs, the bomb-sniffing dogs out on the compound. Agents at one point patrolling across the street in Lafayette Park with automatic rifles. That an extraordinary scene. We occasionally have bomb scares here, there are occasionally other threats, security threats that cause high level of alerts.

Nothing in my four-plus years doing this beat, nothing at all like this today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: OK, John King, we'll be back to you. Stand by. Meanwhile, let's go back to Bill Hemmer in Atlanta.



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