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Suleman Din in New York
In a stunning attack on the United States, terrorists crashed two planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York early on Tuesday morning, reducing both buildings to rubble, even as a third aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, headquarters of the defence department and seat of US military power.
Some eyewitness reported that a US military helicopter was seen in the no-flying zone around the Capitol before the explosion. A fire also broke out on the Washington Mall.
Two explosions rocked the Pentagon. One of the explosions was thought to be an aircraft slamming into the building. There is an unconfirmed report of another explosion on Capitol Hill.
Sky News reported that another suspected hijacked plane was on its way to Washington, DC. Other reports said that at least eight planes were hijacked around the country, including two from John Foster Dulles Airport at Washington.
The White House, the state department building, Congress and the United Nations headquarters were immediately evacuated as were several other federal buildings across the United States.
President George W Bush, in a televised address to the country from Sarasota, Florida, where he was visiting a school, declared that it was a terrorist attack and the government would spare no effort to bring the perpetrators to book.
The attack began with the first plane crashing into one tower of the World Trade Centre between the 80th and 85th floors of the 110-storey building at about 0845 EDT.
About 18 minutes later, a second plane smashed a few storeys lower down into the second tower.
More than 40,000 people work in the buildings. The downtown Manhattan complex comprises two buildings, with more than 400 firms from over 25 countries. The complex is so big, it requires two postal zip codes. More than 100,000 business and leisure visitors come to New York's twin towers each day.
Experts immediately suspected a terrorist attack because the second plane crashed into the building in spite of one tower acting as a blazing beacon and with television cameras focussed on the building, carrying the images around the world.
Reports said one of the planes was an American Airlines Boeing 767 that had taken off in the morning from Boston for Los Angeles. The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that the plane had been hijacked. There was no immediate report about the other aircraft.
About half an hour later, more explosions took place in the World Trade Centre and one of the towers collapsed. A few minutes later, the second tower also collapsed, destroying one of New York's most recognised landmarks.
In Pennsylvania, officials at the Somerset county airport reported that a large plane crashed just north of the facility, at about 1000 EDT. The plane, believed to be a United Airlines Boeing 767, crashed about 8 miles east of Jennerstown, according to county 911 dispatchers, WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh reported. The airport is about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The plane was a United Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco.
The New York Stock Exchange closed for the day immediately. Bridges across the River Hudson were all shut down, as were the subways. All three airports in New York were also shut and no one is being allowed into or out of the city.
The Sears Tower in Chicago, which used to be the world's tallest building until the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur were built, was also evacuated.
A thick plume of smoke hung over Manhattan Island after the attacks. Early reports said at least six persons were killed and more than 1,000 injured. The casualties are expected to rise.
Eyewitness Victoria Marcinkowski, who works in Dow Jones Newswires, situated across the Hudson from the World Trade Centre, said the second plane that went into the building seemed to come from Newark airport.
"It came from the direction of the Statue of Liberty," said Marcinkowski. "It was going very fast, I thought it was going to pass. I thought it was going really low. Then it hit the middle of the building and left a hole as wide as the plane."
All access into Manhattan has been closed and Lower Manhattan is being evacuated. Cell phones throughout the immediate New York area are inoperative. Air travel across the US has been halted and all planes coming into the US are being diverted to Canada. Jet fighters are now patrolling the airspace over Manhattan and Washington. The border with Mexico was closed.
CBS reported that some messages were recorded from some of the aircraft before they crashed.
The Camp David accord between Israel and Egypt was signed on September 11, 1979. There were even reports about a bomb attack on the Camp David retreat.
In his condolence message to President Bush and the American people, Palestine President Yasser Arafat said, "This is something that is not believable. We condemn this completely."
The World Trade Centre was the object of a terrorist bombing attack in 1993 in which six people were killed. In 1945, an Army Air Corps B-25, a twin-engine bomber, crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building in dense fog.
With reports from the agencies and television news channels
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