Between the ringing of bells and moments of silence, amid tender words and a sea of tears, Americans united in solemnity on Sunday to remember the 9/11 attacks that rocked their country 10 years ago.

Thousands of people attended services in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania in honour of their 2,977 family members, coworkers and friends who were killed on Sept. 11, 2001. 

They told anecdotes and read out names, sang songs and stood in quiet mourning, and communed in grief with a country forever changed when 19 men hijacked four airliners on a sunny morning a decade ago.

At a ceremony at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, 21-year-old Peter Negron, the son of 9/11 victim Pete Negron, said he feels his father's absence every day.

"I've stopped crying, but I haven't stopped missing my dad," he said. "I wish my dad had been there to teach me how to drive, ask a girl on a date and see me graduate from high school. And a hundred other things."

Ten years ago Sunday, the unthinkable happened: That diabolical cabal of 19 men — most of them 20-somethings from Saudi Arabia, many of them highly educated — commandeered four jets in the American Northeast and slammed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

The Sept. 11 attacks changed the world. The United States invaded Afghanistan a month later and, a year and a half after that, Iraq. It began wiretapping its own citizens' phones and jailing hundreds of other countries' residents at a notorious base in Cuba. Around the globe, air travel constricted under new security measures, and "terrorism" became a watchword for new laws, regimes and entire mentalities. 

World leaders and millions of citizens paused to reflect Sunday on the events of 10 years past, to commemorate the victims of al-Qaeda's villainy and to memorialize a day that will be indelibly written into history. From Sydney, Australia, to Atlanta, Ga., formal ceremonies remembered those who perished.

An official memorial was unveiled at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan to honour the dead, who included 24 Canadians. The memorial features two large reflecting pools in the footprint of what used to be the World Trade Center. The ceremony began with a procession of bagpipers before U.S. President Barack Obama read from Psalm 46. Then, victims' families read the names of the deceased, one at a time, 334 readers in all — women, men, girls and boys.


Airliner strikes the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. (AP)

There was a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. ET, and another 17 minutes later. Those are the exact times when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, hijacked by nine of the men who conspired in the al-Qaeda plot, slammed into the twin towers.

Retired New York Police Department officer James Smith remembered his wife, fellow officer Moira Smith, the only female NYPD member who died at the twin towers. Moira Smith was on duty several kilometres away when first jet slammed into the World Trade Center, but she rushed to the scene to help, guiding an injured man out of the south tower before going back in assist others. She died when the south tower collapsed.

9/11: How it unfolded

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, 19 men from the militant organization al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners in the northeastern United States.

8:46 a.m. ET: American Airlines Flight 11 struck World Trade Center's north tower

9:03 a.m.: United Airlines Flight 175 struck south tower

9:37 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into Pentagon

9:59 a.m.: World Trade Center's south tower fell

10:03 a.m.: United Flight 93 crashed into ground near Shanksville, Pa.

10:28 a.m.: North tower fell

The couple's daughter, 12-year-old Patricia, stood beside her dad and addressed her departed mother. "Mom, I'm proud to be your daughter, you will always be a hero and the pride of New York City."

Obama took part in the Manhattan service along with former president George W. Bush, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others. Musicians James Taylor and Paul Simon sang, and a choir performed a rendition of Halifax-born singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan's I Will Remember You, which she herself sang on Saturday at a tribute to the victims of United Airlines Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pa. 

Obama also travelled to Shanksville, where Flight 93 crashed on 9/11 as its passengers fought to retake control from four of the hijackers. The president ended the day by attending a "Concert of Hope" at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

In the nighttime event, Obama said that the legacy of 9/11 will be that the country took an enormous blow and emerged stronger. He said the Americans will remember that when they visit the memorials for decades to come.

"They will know that nothing can break the will of a truly United States of America," he said. "They will remember that we have overcome slavery and Civil War; we've overcome bread lines and fascism, recession and riots, communism and, yes, terrorism."

A second service got underway later in the morning at the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., where American Airlines Flight 77, hijacked by five of the men, smashed into the United States's military headquarters at 9:37 a.m. on 9/11, killing 125 people. U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said that 10 years on, the emotions are "still raw."

"There are no words to ease the pain which we still feel, at this very moment on this very spot. It is difficult to believe that 10 years ago, this was the scene of incredible devastation, of horrific fire and smoke, of heroic first responders who were struggling to bring victims to safety," Panetta said.


Honour guards carry wreaths at the Pentagon Memorial outside Washington, marking the 10th anniversary since American Airlines Flight 77 struck the U.S. military headquarters. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

The response to the Pentagon calamity exemplified the American spirit, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden said, with thousands of people from the building and surrounding communities, soldiers and civilians alike, springing into action to save lives and minister to the injured.

"It's a basic American instinct, to respond to crisis when help is needed,... that we see come to the fore in our darkest hours. An instinct that echoes through the ages from Pearl Harbor to Beirut, from Mogadishu to Ground Zero, from Flight 93 to right here in the Pentagon," Biden said in his remarks. He said it was the same instinct "that galvanized an entire new generation of patriots, the 9/11 generation."


Family members hold photos of victims before Sunday's ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 at the September 11 Memorial site in New York. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

In a reminder that threats remain, authorities in Washington and New York continued to beef up security in response to an intelligence tip that al-Qaeda was plotting a car bomb attack. Officials said Sunday that they are taking it seriously, but that they have found no evidence that any would-be attackers have entered the country. Soldiers wielding automatic weapons were deployed to New York and Washington's streets, train stations and bridges.

It was also a reminder that al-Qaeda remains a menace, 10 years after its most heinous mass-murdering deed, and four months since its leader, Osama bin Laden, was found and killed by U.S. special forces.

Around the world

The 2,977 official victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were from more than 90 countries, and memorial services were held around the world Sunday. A service in Gander, N.L., commemorated 9/11 and recalled the 6,700 air travellers who were stranded in the town for up to three days when North American airspace was shut down in the wake of the attacks. Memorials were also held or pending in Halifax, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Elsewhere:


A sniper scans the area around the Sept. 11 memorial in Manhattan before Sunday's ceremony, in a reminder of how security has ramped up in the last decade. (Matt Rourke/AP)

  • In Japan, families gathered in Tokyo to pay their respects to the 23 Fuji Bank employees who never made it out of their World Trade Center office. A dozen of the workers who died were Japanese.
  • In Malaysia, Pathmawathy Navaratnam woke up Sunday in her suburban Kuala Lumpur home and did what she's done every day for the past 10 years: wish her son "good morning." Vijayashanker Paramsothy, a 23-year-old financial analyst, was killed in the attacks on New York.
  • In Santiago, more than 5,000 people partook in a march to remember Chile's Sept. 11 — the fateful day in 1973 when U.S.-backed Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew the country's democratic government in a coup and installed a vicious dictatorship that killed more than 3,000 people, tortured up to 30,000 others and forced a further 30,000 into exile.

2 U.S. flights have security scares

Fighter jets escorted two flights — one to New York City, another to Detroit — after passengers' use of the bathrooms aroused suspicions Sunday.  

On a Los Angeles-to-New York American Airlines flight, three passengers made repeated trips to the bathroom, officials said. The three were cleared after the plane landed safely at New York's Kennedy Airport.

Earlier, on a Denver-to-Detroit Frontier Airlines flight, the crew reported that two people were spending "an extraordinarily long time" in a bathroom, Frontier spokesman Peter Kowalchuck said. Police detained three passengers at Detroit's Metropolitan Airport after the plane landed without incident. They were released after questioning.

In both instances, the FBI said the jets shadowed the planes "out of an abundance of caution."

Associated Press

  • In Manila, Philippines, dozens of former shanty dwellers offered roses, balloons and prayers for another 9/11 victim, American citizen Marie Rose Abad. Their neighbourhood used to be a shantytown that reeked of garbage. But in 2004, Abad's Filipino-American husband built 50 brightly coloured homes, fulfilling his late wife's wish to help impoverished Filipinos. The village has since been named after her.
  • In Kabul, U.S. soldiers marked the anniversary of the attacks with a ceremony outside the American Embassy. On display was a symbolic iron-made sculpture of the World Trade Center and New York city skyline. The sculpture was made of the steel ruins of the twin towers.
  • In New Zealand, players from the American Eagles rugby team were among the first to mark the anniversary at a memorial service in the town of New Plymouth. The players, who are participating in the Rugby World Cup tournament, listened to a speech by U.S. Ambassador David Huebner, whose brother Rick survived the attacks on the World Trade Center.
  • In Australia, Sydney resident Rae Tompsett said she's never felt angry over the murder of her son Stephen Tompsett, 39, a computer engineer who was on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower when it was hit by a hijacked plane. "No, not anger," she said. "Sorrow. Sorrow that the people who did this believed they were doing something good." The retired school teacher and her husband Jack, 92, were planning to attend Sunday morning mass as usual at their local church before going to a commemorative service in the afternoon.
  • In South Korea, President Lee Myung-bak sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama conveying his "deepest condolences" to the victims.
  • In Pakistan, which has been a victim of al-Qaeda attacks but is also accused of not doing enough to crack down on militants, the country's leaders said they joined the people of the U.S. in honouring the memory of those killed 10 years ago.

With files from The Associated Press