September 11, 2001 - New York City, Arlington County, Virginia
Twelve years on, Americans come together where the World Trade Center soared, where the Pentagon stands as a fortress once breached, where United Airlines Flight 93 knifed into the earth.
They will gather to pray in cathedrals in the greatest cities and to lay roses before fire stations in the smallest towns, to remember in countless ways the anniversary of the most devastating terrorist attacks since the nation's founding, and in the process mark the milestone as history itself.
As in earlier observances, bells will toll again to mourn the loss of those killed in the attacks. Americans will lay eyes on new memorials in lower Manhattan, rural Pennsylvania and elsewhere, concrete symbols of the resolve to remember and rebuild.
But much of the weight of this year's ceremonies lies in what will largely go unspoken - the anniversary's role in prompting Americans to consider how the attacks changed them and the larger world and the continuing struggle to understand 9/11's place in the lore of the nation.
A new assessment, dated Thursday, said that intelligence agencies remain concerned that al-Qaida and its affiliates are committed to carrying out attacks on Western targets. But it said there was no information pointing to any known plot. The bulletin made no mention of Syria, even as President Barack Obama sought congressional approval to use military force against the Syrian government.
Four Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on last year's anniversary. Three others were killed and more than 260 others were injured when two men set off bombs near the finish line of the popular Boston Marathon in April. There was no specific or credible intelligence about those attacks, either.
The terror threat to the U.S. is different than it was 12 years ago. In 2001, there was credible intelligence about a terror plot, but that information wasn't shared with the right people. Today, the threat is more diffuse. Cyberattacks threaten to disrupt major U.S. operations in the government and the private sector. Lone actors represent another threat — one or two people who are not directly affiliated with al-Qaida but who subscribe to the terror group's ideology and want to strike out because they disagree with U.S. policies.
Today, officials are concerned about retaliatory strikes if Obama moves forward with plans to use military force against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, which the administration condemns for the death of 1,429 in a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 near Damascus. Assad's government blames the episode on rebels who have been seeking to overthrow his government. Iraqi officials and militant groups have said that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are threatening to retaliate against American interests inside Iraq if the U.S. goes ahead with strikes, as Tehran is a close ally of Assad.
An interactive map showing terror attacks post September 11, 2001.
1973 Chile Coup
Former AP editor recalls covering the Coup
For days, rumors had spread that a coup was imminent. The date chosen by the military and their supporters was the 11th of September.
That Tuesday in 1973, I arrived very early to The Associated Press bureau, not knowing that a military state of siege would keep me from returning home for four days.
Salvador Allende also rushed to arrive early at the government palace, La Moneda. I watched the presidential caravan pass below our office window, and spotted the car that carried Chile's first Marxist president.
This was the time of radio, and channels crackled with announcements. While the coup was led by army Gen. Augusto Pinochet, official word came from Adm. Jose Toribio Merino, who announced at 8:30 a.m. that the navy had risen up against the government. Then someone read a proclamation that it was led by the commanders in chief of the four armed forces — the army, navy, air force and the military police, or "caribineros."
"In the face of a grievous economic, social and moral crisis," the proclamation said, the armed forces "are united to initiate the historic and responsible mission of liberating the people from the Marxist yoke."
"The president should proceed to immediately surrender to the armed forces and military police of Chile," the announcer said dramatically.
Allende made five radio broadcasts that day, first acknowledging that the navy had initiated an "uprising against the government." Then he said he ordered army troops "to crush the coup attempt." Then, he acknowledged their imminent defeat, and said that he would defend the government with his life: "Only by riddling me with bullets can they impede the people's will."
Outside the AP bureau's windows, two Hawker Hunter jets unleashed the first furious bombardment, and tanks and soldiers surrounded the palace as it burst into flames.
Still, Allende kept talking, narrating his own tragedy, and that of what had been Latin America's most stable democracy.
"This will certainly be the last opportunity to address you. The air force has bombarded the antennas of Radio Magallanes," he said, referring to the station that was transmitting his words.
The military then gave Allende an 11 a.m. deadline, ordering him to surrender or see fighter jets attack the palace again.
Instead, Allende said: "I will not surrender. At this historic transition, I will pay for the loyalty of the people with my life."
He urged Chileans to take heart from his last words: "Keep knowing that much sooner than later, the grand avenues will open once again, through which free men will pass to build a better society."
The military held to its threat. At 11 a.m. on the dot, its bombs shook our office, and columns of reddish smoke rose into the sky as the palace's colonial facade crumbled.
"They've attacked the Palacio de la Moneda!" reporter Luis Martinez shouted.
We were able to file an urgent dispatch to the AP's headquarters in New York with Allende's dramatic announcement, but then communications went down just before the full-fledged attack.
Trucks of soldiers appeared downtown, overpowering the stubborn resistance of the president's men. Allende's body was found shot to death, and word was spreading of his killing or suicide. So even though troops were closing in, Martinez and I ventured out to confirm it. The palace was closed off, but at El Mercurio, we found the newspaper's chief photographer, Juan Enrique Lira, who had entered the wreckage. He provided the confirmation we needed.
By sunset, after intense firefights between soldiers and leftists, the junta announced the fall of Allende's 1,000-day government. The air force commander, Gen. Gustavo Leigh, justified the violent takeover, saying: "It is necessary to eradicate the Marxist cancer from its roots."
Most communications were cut off by then, but AP photographer Santiago Llanquin persuaded a telephone operator to open a line. We reached a hotel in Mendoza, Argentina, and somehow kept that line open for days. AP photographer Eduardo DiBaia rushed from Buenos Aires to set up a makeshift bureau in the hotel, defying censors and transmitting news and photos of the attacks to the outside world.
Meanwhile, just getting back to the office was beyond risky. Crossing a central avenue, we were blocked by a tank and a soldier who shouted at people to go home. We ran to a nearby hotel, but a worker closed the doors, just as a column of "black beret" commandos advanced toward us and shot at the hotel's second floor, destroying a beautiful glass dome that fell in shards at our feet.
They had been spooked by hotel guests taking flash photos; their burst of gunfire wounded the eye of a hotel maid.
An Italian tourist eventually persuaded the hotel to give us shelter. Meanwhile, our AP colleagues kept working, despite orders to turn off all electricity during the military's curfew. They put metal filing cabinets against the windows, but a glimmer of light still shone through, drawing gunfire. One bullet hit our office ceiling, another lodged in a window frame.
By Wednesday morning, soldiers occupied every corner. We had to walk quickly with our hands up. Food supplies were scarce downtown — a problem resolved by "Dona Nena," who ran an elegant brothel one floor below us. She took pity on us, and sent large pots of food upstairs.
We were already collecting reports of mass arrests, fighting, and deaths. Then we witnessed it first-hand. As Martinez and I drove home that Friday, we stopped at the sight of firefighters trying to pull at least four naked bodies from the Mapocho river. They were among the first of 3,197 people who were killed during the dictatorship, all but about 100 of whom were targeted by the military. About a thousand of those victims have never again been seen alive.