Advertisement

World Leaders Condemn Attacks, Rush to Boost Security Measures

Share via
TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shocked and terrified by the devastating attacks on American lives and landmarks, world leaders scrambled today to protect their own populations from the possibility of assault and pledged unshakable determination to eradicate international terrorism.

Maximum-security alerts were issued around the world at potential targets such as embassies, airports, banks and military posts. U.S.-bound flights were ordered to turn back for their points of departure or were diverted to airports outside the United States, causing massive disruption of transport and business.

Reeling from the death and destruction at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon--thought to have been among the world’s most secure buildings--political leaders condemned the attacks. European Union External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten in Brussels called it the worst assault on the United States since Pearl Harbor and “an act of war by madmen.”

Advertisement

North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General George Robertson condemned “these senseless attacks” and warned that they “constitute intolerable aggression against democracy and underline the need for the international community and the members of the alliance to unite their forces in fighting the scourge of terrorism.”

Nonessential staff at NATO headquarters in Brussels were ordered home, but spokesman Yves Brodeur made it clear that the command center for the 19-nation bloc was still in operation.

Russian authorities immediately put all military aircraft on combat alert and undertook unspecified “anti-terrorist measures,” the Interfax news agency reported. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin expressed his condolences, calling the attacks “terrible tragedies.”

“On behalf of Russia, I am addressing the people of the U.S. I would like to say that we are with you. We fully and completely share and feel your pain. We support you,” Putin said in an emotion-choked statement.

U.S. Embassies in Europe remained staffed but under intensive security. Embassy press offices failed to answer their phones in Berlin and Brussels and at most other European facilities, but lights could be seen in windows beyond patrols keeping unauthorized people blocks away.

Classes were canceled for Wednesday at many American-run schools abroad. In Athens, U.S. Embassy personnel reportedly were wearing bulletproof vests. In Thessaloniki, a U.S. trade fair pavilion was closed on the news of the attacks while police searched the exhibit.

Advertisement

High-profile buildings in London--including Canary Wharf, the London Stock Exchange and Lloyds--were evacuated amid concerns that they might become targets.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder wrote in a letter of condolence to President Bush: “My government condemns these terrorist acts in the harshest terms. The German people stand at the side of the United States of America in these difficult hours.”

Schroeder later convened an emergency session of the German Security Council, and the Interior Ministry in Berlin set up crisis committees to deal with any threats to the national peace.

The attacks prompted world leaders on foreign visits to return home or take extra precautions. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar cut short his trip to the Baltic states to return to Madrid. In the Spanish parliament, lawmakers huddled around television sets carrying live pictures of the devastation, and the afternoon session was delayed.

French President Jacques Chirac, who hurried back to Paris from a trip to the provinces, called the attacks “monstrous.”

In Turkey, which hosts huge numbers of U.S. military forces enforcing a “no-fly” zone over northern Iraq, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit warned that the attacks committed with hijacked aircraft “could affect the entire world.”

Advertisement

“This is one of those few days in life that one can actually say will change everything,” said Patten, the EU commissioner. “It’s certainly going to mean that the fight against international terrorism is going to dominate the international agenda until it’s won.”

Italian airport authorities canceled flights to the Middle East and Iran and recalled U.S.-bound aircraft. “Italy is in mourning,” Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said on television. The Vatican said Pope John Paul II “has prayed to God for the eternal rest of the numerous victims and to give courage and comfort to their families.”

In Beijing, security was heightened around the U.S. Embassy in the heart of the city’s diplomatic district. Chinese television, closely controlled by the government, did not broadcast any news of the tragedy until more than three hours after the initial attack, and then used footage from CNN.

Bewildered audiences around the world tuned in to 24-hour news networks, watching in horror as the already blazing twin towers of the World Trade Center exploded and collapsed before their eyes.

“This mass terrorism is the new evil in our world today,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned. “It is perpetrated by fanatics who are utterly indifferent to the sanctity of human life, and we, the democracies of this world, are going to have to come together and fight it together.”

Latin America’s condemnation of the terrorist acts also was swift and sharp. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, visiting an Organization of American States meeting in Lima, Peru, was returning to the U.S. this afternoon.

Advertisement

Mexican President Vicente Fox met with customs and transportation officials, and there were initial reports that some border crossings into the United States were closed. Mexico’s airports were open at midday, although arrivals at Mexico City’s international airport were undergoing “almost total revision,” a customs spokesman said.

In Panama, President Mireya Moscoso convened an emergency security council meeting and stepped up security at the capital’s international airport and the Panama Canal.

In the capitals throughout the Arab world, leaders called emergency meetings to discuss the strikes against U.S. targets, draft statements of condolence and examine what, if any, intelligence they had on the matter. Many pointed out, however, that many people in the West initially suspected that Arab groups were behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, only to learn that it was an American perpetrator.

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak was in a late-night meeting with advisors. “The difficulty is the situation is full of ifs and buts and speculation,” said a senior Egyptian diplomat. “This is what really worries me. Let’s remember what happened in Oklahoma.”

But the open expression of anti-American sentiments by some undermined that precaution. Izzat Hassan Ali, the 40-year-old owner of Jihad grocery shop in Cairo, said he felt nothing but pleasure at Americans dying. “As they did to other people is happening to them now. They hit innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Americans, and now it backfired on them.”

The Arab-region satellite TV news show Al Jazeera said the militant Islamic groups Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, and Hamas, a Palestinian group, condemned actions against civilians. But both groups declined to issue formal statements.

Advertisement

*Times staff writers Richard Boudreaux in Rome, Henry Chu in Beijing, Robyn Dixon in Moscow, Chris Kraul in Mexico City, Marjorie Miller in London, T. Christian Miller in Panama City and Michael Slackman in Cairo contributed to this report.

--- UNPUBLISHED NOTE ---

This story was published this afternoon as part of a special 8-page extra edition wrap focusing on today’s tragic events. Entitled “Terrorism Hits the U.S.,” the wrap focused on the most important events of the day, the history of World Trade Center, terrorism and other safety concerns. It wrapped today’s second daily and was distributed to major single copy retailers and high traffic commuter areas by early afternoon.

--- END NOTE ---

Advertisement