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A Day of Remembrance; CNN to Host First Tea Party Debate; Terror Suspects Jailed in Sweden; Attacker Hits NATO Base; 9/11 Survivor's Story; Ten Years Under Terror's Cloud

Aired September 11, 2011 - 14:30   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: You're now in the CNN NEWSROOM this Sunday, September 11th. I'm Fredericka Whitfield.

Across America and around the world, a day of remembrance on this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. In New York, the sound of bagpipes during services at the new 9/11 Memorial. The names of the nearly 2,800 people who died in the World Trade Center attacks were also read, and moments of silence were held at the exact times the towers were hit and when they fell.

Families members gathered at the memorial stone walls to etch the names of their loved ones, and President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush helped lead the commemoration there.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ten years ago, at 9:37 A.M., the Pentagon was attacked.


WHITFIELD: And Vice President Joe Biden helped lead the memorial services for victims of the attack on the Pentagon, and troops placed wreaths at the memorial there. One hundred eighty four people were killed when the hijacked American Airlines jet liner struck the building.

In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, another memorial service for the victims who died when United Airlines Flight 93 plunged to the ground. They're believed to have prevented the hijackers from flying the plane into the U.S. Capitol in Washington. President Obama laid a wreath at the ceremony to honor the 40 victims on that flight.

As we watch this morning solemn ceremony at ground zero, we also got a good look at the new Freedom Tower. Its construction is part of New York's effort to remember the events of 9/11 and to rebuild after such a monumental tragedy.

CNN's Poppy Harlow talked with the engineer in charge of Freedom Tower construction. He has a unique perspective.


POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM (voice-over): Imagine building the World Trade Center. Only to watch it come crashing down.

MIKE MENNELLA, EXECUTIVE VP, TISHMAN: It was frightening and devastating and hard to understand from my point of view as an engineer who was involved in building and involved in these buildings that this could ever happen.

HARLOW (on camera): You didn't think they could come down?

MENNELLA: We didn't think this could conceivably happen. It was beyond belief.

HARLOW (voice-over): Now imagine building it all over again.

MENNELLA: That's the tower trauma steel.

HARLOW: That's been Mike's Mennella's reality since September 12th, 2001, the day after the 9/11 terror attacks when he came down to ground zero to aid in the recovery efforts.

(on camera): As you watch the towers fall on 9/11, was there any question in your mind that they would be rebuilt and you would be here doing it again?

MENNELLA: No, not -- I'm an optimist so --

HARLOW (voice-over): So for the past 10 years, Mennella has been overseeing the massive rebuilding project for construction giant, Tishman.

Mennella's ties to this area go back to his childhood when he worked for a neighborhood hardware store making deliveries on these very streets in lower Manhattan.

After graduating from college with a degree in engineering, he started working here, building the original World Trade Center as a project engineer on tower five.

MENNELLA: It was monumental. I think it was by far much more dramatic than anybody ever would conceive of on paper.

HARLOW: But rebuilding what was lost is perhaps more challenging today in the midst of one of the most crowded cities in the world with subways running right through the construction site.

MENNELLA: We are literally building 7 or 8 different projects in one site.

HARLOW: Six years after the rebuilding began, Mennella and more than 3,500 others are now working at a rapid clip constructing one floor a week on towers one and four.

(on camera): Does it mean more in a way the second time around?

MENNELLA: I think it means more in terms of what our experiences -- collective experiences have been to see and look back. That's really it. I think we need to close that time, that door. HARLOW: Why do you come here every day?

MENNELLA: This needs to be done.

HARLOW: New York needs this?

MENNELLA: New York needs this and our country needs it.

HARLOW (voice-over): But there's one day he doesn't come, September 11th.

(on camera): Still haven't recovered?

MENNELLA: Bring it back every year whenever it comes back, it takes you right back.


HARLOW: Fredericka, as you heard the one day that Mike Mennella is not here is today. He can't be here it is too difficult. But I have been watching the goings on this morning here at ground zero since they began at 8:00 this morning and it has been an astonishing site.

Behind me you see the American flag, and this is the place where 2,606 Americans lost their lives. Thousands of New Yorkers and people from across this country, people from across the world were here today to remember those lost.

It was an incredibly beautiful ceremony. What really struck any, Fredericka, was what this morning was like, a clear, crisp blue sky just like September 11th, 2001.

We listened to the names read of those who lost their lives and one young man stood out to me in particular. His name is Peter Negron. He's now a young man. He's in college and he lost his father when he was a young boy 10 years ago.

I want you to take a listen to what he said about his father.


PETER NEGRON, FATHER KILLED ON 9/11: I wish my dad had been there to teach me how to drive and ask a girl on a date and see me graduate from high school. And 100 other things I can't even begin to name.


HARLOW: And that's just one of the thousands and thousands of stories. Today was a day that will live in history and a day that meant so much for the people here watching what it was, just like every year, very difficult.

But also a real sense of peace as they open up the memorial behind me and for the first time the families that lost their loved ones, Fredericka, got to walk in there and touched with their hand the name of their loved one all around the beautiful pools. Just an astonishing day.

WHITFIELD: Yes, incredible poignant moments and special day particularly for these family members who are able to be there today, but Poppy, we know from this day forward, for anyone that wants to go to that 9/11 memorial.

They will have to reserve a ticket in which to do so. It doesn't cost anything, but you can't just walk up. You do need to get that reserve ticket. Poppy Harlow, thanks so much.

All right, first in New York then the Pentagon and then soon after tragedy in a remote field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. As we reported President Barack Obama travelled there today and laid a wreath at the memorial honoring the 40 passengers and crew who died on United Flight 93.

CNN's David Mattingly is at the memorial site right now. So, David, what are people saying and feeling there?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredericka, millions could have been watching the ceremony as it transpired in front of the cameras today. But everything here today seemed so personal.

There was a lot of talk as we we've heard in the past about the courage and sacrifice for the men and women aboard Flight 93. But today a lot of attention was being paid to their family members and the loss that they are feeling today.

The emotions from 10 years ago in some cases still very raw and still unresolved and it was also very clear that over the years, over the last decade that so many people have become close to these family members, have identified with the stories of their loved ones and they too were sharing in that loss today. That includes former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge.


TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF: Ten years ago today, many of us stood upon a nearby field and we were angry and we were heartbroken. And as the days and weeks and months unfolded, your story to us became known. And we wondered, would we? Could we? Had we been in your place shown the same resolve, the same selflessness and same astonishing valor?


MATTINGLY: And that's probably the same question that so many Americans have probably asked as they've boarded flights wondering if they would have been able to find the courage to stand up to hijackers on their plane, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, David Mattingly, thanks so much from Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

On Twitter and Facebook, just a little while ago I asked you to share your thoughts as you watched today's 9/11 anniversary events unfold. And here are a couple of your responses.

Gail writes, she was struck by the dichotomy of the pain and the success of the 9/11 children. And this from Carlos Greer, my Facebook wall, to hear those kids sing America the beautiful put everything in perspective for me. Tears started to roll at that point.

Thanks so much for sending your thoughts to me on Twitter as well @fwhitfield. All right, check your Sunday paper today, many comics today focus on 9/11 and remembering the heroes who perished ten years ago today.

Here's the comic hi and lo is, you can find more on and we'll be back with other stories that we're watching here from the NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: Just a day away from an event that could have a significant impact on the presidential race, it's the CNN Tea Party debate in Tampa, Florida. CNN deputy political director Paul Steinhauser is there. So Paul, how might this debate affect the race?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It could be influential, Fred. Remember it was just five days ago that Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, number one and two in the polls in the battle for the GOP nomination.

Well, they sparred at the debate in California over jobs and over Social Security. So we could see round two right here Monday night, tomorrow night, Fred, between those two candidates, a lot at stake for them.

But what about the other six candidates on the stage? A lot of stake for them as well. This could be an opportunity for a Michele Bachmann or maybe a Ron Paul or one of the other candidates to have a breakout moment to try to change the dynamics.

You know, some people are saying this is turning into a two-person race. But our debate tomorrow night gives an opportunity to change that kind of dynamic, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So why would this debate be considered different? Why would this be a debate that potentially a candidate could say I could change things around for myself?

STEINHAUSER: Well, it could give them a moment to really break out and kind of undo that and give an opportunity to go after one of the other candidates. Here's how it's going to work. This is a first ever Tea Party debate. Here's a sneak peek of how it's going to work tomorrow night, Fred.


KATE LUNGER, SENIOR EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, CNN SPECIAL EVENTS: There's eight podiums here where our candidates will be. Wolf Blitzer is going to be the moderator. We're going to have about 1,000 people in our audience on Monday night and about 100 or so will be down here in the red zone asking questions.

We're also going to take questions from some of our Tea Party watch party remotes in Virginia, Arizona and Ohio. Don't forget, you guys at home can also participate with our social media component. You can ask questions via Twitter, Facebook and


STEINHAUSER: A little tour I got from Kate Lunger. She's head of CNN's Special Events. Fred, you can see we've got the bus behind us. We're here at the state's fair grounds. We are ready for tomorrow night.

WHITFIELD: All right and we are ready to see it all unfold. Thanks so much, Paul.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow night as CNN the Tea Party Express and other Tea Party groups co-host the Republican candidates debate. It is in Tampa, Florida, the site of the 2012 GOP National Convention, that's Monday night. The debate that is, 8:00 Eastern time.


WHITFIELD: Other stories we're following now. Police in Sweden have arrested four people believed to be plotting terror attacks. This is the coastal city of Goatenberg, Sweden's second largest city after Stockholm.

Swedish authorities say the suspects were in the preparation stage of an attack. No other details are given yet. Police say they had probable cause to put the suspects in jail.

This in today from Afghanistan, a suicide attacker set off a truck bomb at the entry gate to a coalition base. At least two Afghan civilians are dead and nearly 80 NATO personnel are hurt. The Taliban claims responsibility.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is actually in Afghanistan on this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Suzanne, what more can you tell us about today's suicide bombing?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, obviously there was a sense of anxiety and anticipation about this day. It was relatively quiet at the military base where I am. But as you had mentioned, it was on the eve of 9/11 that you had the attack.

Just about 60 miles west from where we are. It was in the Wardak Province and it was at a combat outpost where somebody drove up a truck, exploded a bomb there, quite a powerful bomb, two Afghan civilians died.

A lot of people, Fred were injured as you had mentioned, at least 77 from the international coalition. Most of them Americans, we're told and 25 Afghan civilians also injured. We're told they are minor injuries and could have been a lot worse. But we had a chance to talk to General John Allen. He is the main person who's in charge of the U.S. and NATO troops commissioned on the ground here in Afghanistan.

He gave us an exclusive interview to talk about first of all what this explosion, what this Taliban attack means, but also why we're here 10 years later after the 9/11 attacks, still in Afghanistan.


GENERAL JOHN R. ALLEN, COMMANDER, ISAF: This attack was a high profile attack. It was a pretty significant suicide vehicle bomb. But they have been ejected from the population in so many places around the country. That their only ability to influence the battle field on many occasions is simply high profile attack. That's how we view this particular attack.

MALVEAUX: Ten years from the September 11th attacks, why are we still here?

ALLEN: We're here because Afghanistan must be left as a sovereign nation, a member of the international community governed by a democratic government that ultimately dispenses the rule of law and is not a platform for foreign terrorism, is not a platform for foreign terrorism.

It's not a platform ultimately to launch attacks on the United States ever again on the west and upon the thousands and thousands of innocent people who have suffered as a direct result of al Qaeda and Taliban's ideology.


MALVEAUX: And Fred, General Allen says look, there is going to be a terrorist threat, the threat of the Taliban as well. It is something we will always be fighting but essentially the goal, the mission here now is to train the Afghans to take over their own security.

Certainly by the time of the end of 2014, that is when it's slated that most U.S. as well as NATO troops, combat troops are slated to come home. Fred --

WHITFIELD: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much from Kabul. Ten years after 9/11, memories of the attacks are still fresh in the minds of so many survivors.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was crawling on my hands and knees and reaching out then going a little bit farther. And everything I touch burned me.


WHITFIELD: A 9/11 survivor recalls the attack on the Pentagon and his I am probable escape out of that burning rubble next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: It's been 10 years since the 9/11 attacks, but memories of the horrific day are still so fresh for 9/11 survivors. The sights and sounds of the attacks are both vivid and haunting.

CNN's Barbara Starr has the story of one who was in the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed.


JOHN YATES, 9/11 Pentagon Survivor: Dennis Johnson was my division chief. Odessa Moore is directly blowing, she was our budget analyst. Jose Calderon was our supply NCO.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Yates remembers his Pentagon co-workers killed in the attack.

(on camera): On that morning, how close were you? Where were you here?

YATES: I was standing about 6 feet inside this wall.

STARR (voice-over): And then American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, a fire ball headed right for Yates and his co-workers.

YATES: My greatest fear in life was at hand. Yes, I've always been afraid to die in a fire.

STARR: John Yates knew these hallways intimately. It was knowledge that would wind up saving him.

YATES: I was reaching out, OK, and then, you know, going a little bit farther and everything I touch, burned me.

STARR: Yates suffered burns over more than 30 percent of his body, but because he worked in a renovated stronger section of the building, most of these long Pentagon hallways remained intact.

(on camera): It's the length of this hallway behind all of this that you have basically crawled through the flame and the smoke?

YATES: And some of the debris. Then I heard a voice and this voice just said, go out through this one particular door down it's clear down there. So I just started crawling towards that voice.

STARR (voice-over): The Pentagon has improved the odds of surviving a disaster. The Pentagon director of facilities shows us the latest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every suite has two escape routes.

STARR: Right in the CNN office, we have a breakaway window. There are cases of breathing masks in the hallways and continuous illumination tape to show escape routes in heavy smoke.

Facing the outside, 2,000 pound blast resistant windows held in place by steel. Some were already in place on 9/11 and they held just feet from the devastation.

(on camera): So if a plane hits and there is a bomb, the wall does not collapse, hopefully?


STARR (voice-over): Yates will tell you he survived the burns, but the attack challenged his soul.

YATES: I was standing in the middle of five people and I'm the only one who survived.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John Yates, how are you?

YATES: Good, you?

STARR: John had to close out his dead colleague's security files when he came back to work months later.

YATES: It is the hardest thing I've done.

STARR: But he will not run from the memories.

YATES: I can't escape it. You know, I get up in the morning and turn the light on in the bathroom and shave and see my face and I see my burns. I take a shower and I see it every single day, I live with it, but it's not who I am.


STARR: And you know, Fred, I think here at the Pentagon for those of us who were in the building that morning, that's really what this day is all about. It is remembering what happened here, but you can't escape it.

When you come to work at the Pentagon as we do in the press area, you know, this is a building that never shut down. It didn't fall or collapse. It stayed open and it was rebuilt within a year and so many of those who were injured did come back to work.

So many military people who served on the frontlines back here working one more time. This is a place where this cycle goes on. Fred --

WHITFIELD: And Barbara, in about an hour or actually within the next hour, President Obama will be making his way there at the Pentagon.

I know this is a day that comes with mixed feelings for you as well because 9/11 is also your birthday. As you were in the Pentagon on that tragic day 10 years ago, there just have to be a lot of things that flood through you on a day like today.

STARR: You know, they do but as a journalist covering the military for CNN, I think what really sticks is the name and faces of the troops I have met over the years, their families and the sacrifices that they have made. The 9/11 proved I think, Fredricka, to be just the first link in a long chain of honor service dignity, grace, whatever you want to call it on the part of the troops that have served in the war zone.

Their service goes on often unrecognized day after day, week after week. We are awaiting the president. He will lay a wreath here and some of the ceremonies at least for this year will draw to a close, but we will always remember.

WHITFIELD: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Ten years since al Qaeda's attacks on the United States and 10 years since the U.S. president declared a war on terror and 10 years living with an elevated threat level.

Are we safer than we were pre-9/11? Paul Cruickshank is CNN's terrorism analyst. He's at ground zero in New York City right now. So what about that, Paul? Is al Qaeda a greater threat now than before 9/11?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, the threat Fredricka, is not as acute on 9/11. But as you can see the flashing lights behind me, there's still a threat today. There's evidence of some sort of plot perhaps coming from Pakistan from al Qaeda over that.

That information is not corroborated at this point at this moment, but they still have a safe haven in Pakistan. There are recruits going to the training camps in Pakistan and that's giving them opportunities to recruit them and train them in bomb making training and send them back to the west.

They still have a safe haven there. The drone strikes have been very damaging to the organization that Bin Laden is now dead. Other senior operatives have been killed. But they've been able to promote fresh blood through the ranks in the tribal areas of Pakistan like train people indoors so that people aren't so exposed to these drone strikes.

There's also a threat now from various affiliates around the world. The threat has grown more fragmented, more decentralized and more diffuse. There's a group in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that's the most immediate threat now to the United States, Fredricka.

Also, there's really this home grown threat now, lone wolves, not linked to al Qaeda, but inspired by their ideology that may launch attacks. Al Qaeda is encouraging this at the moment, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Isn't that the difficult part then, identifying the root of the threat even though Osama Bin Laden is dead. You mentioned a number of the other operatives or you know, lieutenants in al Qaeda are dead, but still there are many strands of terrorism that seem to be viable?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, that's absolutely right. It's very, very difficult to identify these threats as one senior counter terrorism official was telling me the threats were coming from all sorts of directions now. And in some respect, that makes their job even more difficult now than 10 years ago, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Paul Cruickshank, CNN's terrorism analyst coming to us from New York.

I'll be back at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time and we'll explore the Rick Perry popularity, talking presidential politics coming up. He has shot to the top of most Republican polls for president.


BILL MILLER, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: He's a risk taker, but a smart one because the bets he makes have paid off well for him.


WHITFIELD: On the eve of Perry's second GOP debate, this one live on CNN, we will break down his perceived strengths and weaknesses and other candidates as well. Stay with CNN.

Of course, when the president makes his arrival at the Pentagon for that formal wreath laying, we'll also break into programming for that. Meantime, "YOUR MONEY" starts right now.