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US to honour Sept 11 victims amid warnings of new attacks
( 2003-09-11 16:33) (Agencies)

Nationwide ceremonies are to be staged for the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks while President George W. Bush warned that Osama bin Laden  was plotting new strikes against the world superpower.

A videotape of the al-Qaeda leader released Wednesday on the eve of the anniversary came as a chilling new warning to the United States that the war on terrorism declared after the hijacked plane attacks is far from completed.

Relatives of the 2,792 people killed when the New York World Trade Center towers were hit and collapsed will hold a minute's silence at Ground Zero at 8:46am (1246 GMT) the moment the first plane hit the north tower.

Bush will simultaneously pause in silence at the White House lawn.

Ceremonies will also be held at the Defense Department's Pentagon headquarters where 189 people died the same day and at the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where a fourth hijacked jet crashed following an uprising by the 40 passengers and crew.

Compared to last year's emotional commemorations, the second anniversary will be more low-key as the authorities seek to lessen the trauma.

Even Vice President Dick Cheney agreed not to attend go to Ground Zero because New York mayor Michael Bloomberg feared the security around him would have "inconvenienced or delayed" the families.

But September 11 has scarred the US consciousness, from those who knew the victims of the World Trade Center to those now taking part in US combat operations in Afghanistan  and Iraq.

There is also the persistent fear of new attacks against US targets. New York City has remained on heightened terrorist alert for the past two years.

Concerns were highlighted by the airing on the eve of the anniversary of the latest videotape of al-Qaeda chief bin Laden and his right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahri.

In the tape broadcast by the Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera, bin Laden praised the "loyalty, sincerity, magnanimity and courage" of the 19 suicide hijackers who infiltrated the United States and crashed the airliners.

The events forced a dramatic change in US foreign policy and led to military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of Bush's global war on terrorism.

Bush rarely fails to invoke September 11 during his travels and on Wednesday described those behind the attacks as "servants of evil."

"The memories of September 11 will never leave us. We will not forget the burning towers," Bush said.

"We will not wait for further attacks on innocent Americans. The best way to protect the American people is to stay on the offensive, to stay on the offensive at home and to stay on the offensive overseas," he added.

"The attacks on this nation revealed the intentions of a determined and ruthless enemy, that still plots against our people," said Bush.

Bush said nearly two thirds of al-Qaeda's known leaders have been captured or killed and that some 200 million dollars of funds belonging to or intended for "terrorist accounts" have been seized or frozen around the world.

Americans remain nervous however after huge bomb attacks against western targets in the Indonesian resort of Bali last year and in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in recent months.

According to a newspaper poll released Wednesday, more Americans now fear personal harm from a terrorist attack than they did in the aftermath of September 11.

At Ground Zero, participants will pause in silence four times -- twice for the moments at which each hijacked plane hit one of the two towers and twice to mark each tower's collapse.

In the evening, powerful spotlights will send two shafts of light up into the night sky to symbolise the fallen twin towers.

The September 11 commemorations were kicked off by Australia, with Prime Minister John Howard comparing the war against terrorism to the Cold War, as vigils were held nationwide to commemorate the attacks in which 10 Australians also perished.

Although the attacks united America in grief, they have proved a fertile ground for discord, with legal battles threatened over compensation payments to the families of those who died and emotional arguments over plans to redevelop the World Trade Center site.

One group of victims' families opposed to the conflict in Iraq issued an anniversary statement, accusing Bush of misappropriating the memory of those who died to justify an "unnecessary war."

The group, "September 11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow," planned a candlelight vigil Wednesday evening at Ground Zero.

Of the 2,792 people killed in the World Trade Center attack, 1,272 have yet to be identified -- leaving their families to mourn over empty graves.

And gruesome discoveries continue to be made. On Monday some human tissue and bone fragments were found on scaffolding of a building across from Ground Zero.

The family of once victim, Mark Petrocelli, has exhumed and reburied his remains three times, as more body parts indentified by DNA matches have turned up.

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