WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 -- President George W. Bush spoke for a stunned and grieving nation Tuesday night, quoting the 23rd Psalm to say that even in the valley of the shadow of death he feared no evil, and vowed vengeance in the name of a civilized world against the terrorist attackers who destroyed the World Trade Center and struck at the Pentagon.
"It was an attack on our very way of life," the president said of the coordinated terrorist strikes that used hijacked civilian airliners to attack the nation's financial and military centers at the World Trade Center in New York City and at the Pentagon just outside Washington.
The huge burden of a nation in mourning and a civilization under attack rested on the shoulders of the 43rd president, facing what looked like the bloodiest day in American history. Not since President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of "the day that will in infamy" at Pearl Harbor in 1941 had any president delivered a speech so important on a day so momentous.
Other world leaders, American troops on the highest state of alert across the world, exhausted firefighters and rescue workers in New York, and the grieving relatives of victims all turned to the president's address for inspiration and comfort that the governing heart of the nation was in place and in command.
"They can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot shake the foundations of America," the president said, and warned that not only the terrorists but all who harbor them would face America's vengeance.
"The search is on," he vowed. "America and her friends and allies stand together to win the war against terrorism."
It was a speech with few details, only the high points of the evil that had struck the nation and that nation's resolve to recover, and to retaliate.
Across the world, the ripples of the terrorist strikes spread, closing a dozen American embassies, putting the police and armed forces of friendly countries like Britain, France, Japan and South Korea on full alert. Arab leaders including Yasser Arafat scrambled to offer their condolences and condemn the attacks.
"This is a declaration of war against the entire civilized world", said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "This mass terrorism is the new evil in our world today - we the democracies of the world must come together to defeat it and eradicate it."
In New York, where hundreds of firemen and rescue workers were among the casualties when the proud towers of the World Trade Center fell, the task of tending the injured and seeking the dead continued throughout the night. Sen. Charles Shumer , D-N.Y. reported after briefings from the CIA, FBI and New York authorities that most of the people in the towers had been evacuated up to the 60th floors and in some cases people were rescued up to the 80th stories of the 110-story buildings.
Grieving like so many New Yorkers for colleagues and relatives, Shumer told United Press International that the brother-in-law of one of his staffers had called his parents from the 104th floor of one of the twin towers, after it had been struck by one of the planes, but just before the building collapsed. Schumer said the call was "to say goodbye."
Later, Shumer joined congressional leaders from both parties, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., in a moving and impromptu rally on the darkened steps of the Capitol they had evacuated earlier in the day, where they vowed to find the culprits. And then, as if moved by a common spirit as they began to drift away, they turned to touch and embrace one another and sing in spontaneous chorus "God Bless America."
Even through the grief and shock, a different and stronger current seemed to run through the country as an instinct for unity gripped New Yorkers and Americans who volunteered in the tens of thousands to give blood.
The attack came at 8:45 a.m., when the first of two hijacked airliners leaving Boston flew into the north tower of the Manhattan landmark. A second hijacked airliner hit the south tower at 9:03 a.m.
The south tower collapsed at 10:05 a.m., the north at 10:28 a.m., and the 47-story financial building just before 6 p.m.
Another civilian airliner hijacked after taking off from Dulles International Airport west of Washington was flown into the southwestern wing of the Pentagon, hitting an area identified by retired Gen. Wesley Clarke as housing U.S. Army logistics staff.
A fourth United Airlines airliner, leaving Newark, N.J., for Los Angeles, was also hijacked, and then crashed in Pennsylvania, about 60 miles from Pittsburgh, in still unexplained circumstances.
Hundreds of soldiers and civilians died at the Pentagon after the Tuesday morning attack, and the casualty toll in New York was feared to reach into the thousands, in what looked to be the most devastating attack in terrorist history, a Pearl Harbor of the age of terrorism.
"American Airlines Flight 11 departed Boston for Los Angeles. Hijacked by suspects armed with knives, this plane crashed into the World Trade Center," reported Attorney General John Ashcroft, announcing the biggest combined FBI-intelligence operation in the history of American law enforcement.
"United Airlines Flight 175 departed Boston for Los Angeles, was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center. American Airlines Flight 77 departed Washington-Dulles for Los Angeles, was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon. United Airlines Flight 93 departed Newark for San Francisco, was hijacked and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania," Ashcroft said.
The hunt for those responsible focused early on Osama bin Laden, now living under the protection of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban movement of Afghanistan.
"Both the FBI and the intelligence community believes this carries bin Laden's signature," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence committee.
A U.S. security official told UPI Tuesday afternoon: "Bin Laden would clearly be the obvious suspect. I don't know there is hard evidence out there yet, but he has the ability to finance operations in all corners of the world, his organization is up and running in every geographic organization in the world, it would be foolish to think his people are not in the United States and I'm not certain there are other groups out there who could coordinate something like this. Hijacking four planes in a matter of an hour is kind of mind boggling."
U.S. security officials believe bin Laden was the mastermind behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, behind the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and also behind last year's attack on the warship USS Cole in the harbor of Aden in Yemen.
A recent videotape featuring bin Laden has been circulating in the Middle East, calling for new attacks on the United States and boasting that "the victory of Yemen will continue."
Moreover, a personal friend of bin Laden, Mohammed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, convicted of a terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, was due to be sentenced Wednesday in New York City.
But the Taliban foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil, said bin Laden was not responsible for the attacks.
And apparently alarmed at the prospect of American vengeance, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salaam Sa'eed, expressed condolences to America, and said: "We want to tell the American children thatthe Taliban feels your pain."