WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 -- President George W. Bush Tuesday night told a nation of stunned and grieving Americans that the terrorist attacks that were feared to have injured and killed thousands in New York City and near Washington were intended to frighten the country into "chaos and retreat", but instead had led a great people to defend a great nation.
"Terrorist attacks can shake the foundation of our biggest buildings, but cannot test the foundation of America," Bush said in a televised address from the Oval Office, where he had gone after a day in which security officials moved the president from air base to air base across the country to guarantee his safety.
"The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger," Bush said.
The president's speech came after a day in which the continental United States for the first time in the 20th century came under a major attack. Four aircraft were hijacked and three were used as fuel-laden bombs to attack the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside of Washington.
The loss of life has not been calculated but was feared to be far in excess of what the U.S. lost at Pearl Harbor, where some 2,800 people died on Dec. 7, 1941. Like President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, Bush chose words to brace the shoulders of a shaken nation.
America was targeted for attack, he said "because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining."
Bush said the search was under way for those responsible for the attacks. He said he had directed intelligence and law enforcement agencies to find the individuals and groups responsible and bring them to justice.
"We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them," he said.
He went on to praise members of Congress who earlier in the evening gathered on the steps of the U.S .Capitol in a show of national solidarity. Quoting Psalm 23, Bush sent a prayer and a message to the people responsible for the devastation.
"This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world," he said.
After his address from the Oval Office, Bush retreated behind closed doors for a meeting with his national security advisers. White House officials said the president would remain in the mansion overnight, and that Wednesday's schedule was unclear.
The president had arrived back at the White House at dusk from Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb.
When the attack came on Tuesday morning, Bush was in Florida, but flew to a secure military base in Louisiana and then to Offutt as security officials attempted to learn whether any further attacks were imminent.
After the attacks, the Secret Service immediately made sure of the safety of the president, Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., senior Bush aide Karen Hughes said.
Agents also moved members of the president's national security team, the Cabinet and the senior White House staff to safe areas, she said. Mindy Tucker, spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the administration's response "is being directed from the White House," where Vice President Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser were working.
Bush conferred by telephone with members of the National Security Council Tuesday afternoon including Cheney and Rice. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld remained at the Pentagon, which had been hit by an airplane as part of the coordinated attack. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was en route back to the United States from his trip to Peru in South America.
White House senior adviser Karl Rove, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and adviser Dan Bartlett were also with Bush on Air Force One, said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who spoke with reporters in Omaha.
First lady Laura Bush was in a secure facility, Fleischer said, adding that she spoke with the president shortly before he landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Lousiana after leaving Sarasota, Fla., where he learned of the attacks.
Bush daughters, Jenna and Barbara, remained in their respective schools, Fleischer said. He said the president also spoke with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Fleischer said U.S. officials were still gathering and analyzing information, and the attacks came with no warning. Hughes provided a breakdown of what individual agencies were doing during the crisis.
The Federal Aviation Administration ordered all U.S. airports closed and civilian airplanes in flight were told to land at the nearest airport. International flights were diverted to airports outside the United States, Hughes said. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta directed the FAA to suspend operations until at least noon EDT Wednesday.
Hughes gave assurances that the U.S. financial system and economy were unscathed by the day's events with the Federal Reserve open and operating "regularly and continuously."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mobilized medical personnel to help victims of the attacks. Earlier in the day, the agency issued a call for blood donations.
"I encourage all Americans to help out in this time of crisis and donate blood. No matter where you live, your blood donation can help those in need," said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency activated eight urban search-and-rescue task forces in New York and four of the highly trained teams at the Pentagon, Hughes said. In addition, the Department of Justice was setting up a hotline for families who feared that their relatives may have been among the day's victims.