Obama says Islam is not the enemy on tense anniversary

Vice President Joe Biden (L) stands next to his wife Jill Biden and New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg (R) before dropping flowers into a reflecting pool in the middle of Ground Zero at the memorial service September 11, 2010 in New York City. Thousands will gather to pay a solemn homage on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • We will never be at war with Islam, says US leader as he urges Americans not to succumb to hatred, prejudice

New York, Saturday

President Barack Obama told a deeply polarised America today that Islam is not the enemy as ceremonies took place to mark an unusually tense, ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Moving remembrance ceremonies were held to honour the nearly 3,000 people killed when Islamist hijackers slammed airliners into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside Washington and a field in Pennsylvania.

But with protests planned at a proposed mosque two blocks from Ground Zero and a Florida pastor triggering demonstrations across the Muslim world with his threat to burn the Koran, this was the most politicized 9/11 anniversary yet.

Speaking at the Pentagon, Obama addressed the politically explosive domestic debate — and enraged Muslims abroad.

“As Americans we will not and never will be at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us that September day. It was al-Qaeda,” Obama said, urging Americans not to succumb to “hatred and prejudice.”

At Ground Zero, where for the first time reconstruction work is visibly gathering pace, a youth choir opened the ceremony with the national anthem.

Vice President Joseph Biden and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg were among those attending the annual ritual of reading the names of all 2,752 people killed when two hijacked airliners destroyed the Twin Towers.

Bereaved relatives held portraits

Bereaved relatives held up portraits of their lost loved ones under a perfectly clear sky as they listened to the litany of names read by often tearful survivors and members of the reconstruction team.

“We come not to mourn but to remember and rebuild,” Biden said.

A third ceremony was taking place in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the fourth plane seized by the attackers crashed into a field.

Usually a day of carefully choreographed respect, this year’s 9/11 anniversary has been marred by an angry debate over the planned mosque near Ground Zero and Florida pastor Terry Jones’ threat to publicly burn the Koran if the mosque is not scrapped.

The pastor arrived in New York late Friday to continue publicizing his campaign, while rival street rallies were planned near the controversial mosque project site.

On Saturday, the pastor told NBC television he no longer wanted to desecrate the Muslim holy book, “not today, not ever.”

But his stunt had already raised political temperatures in the United States and triggered protests across the Muslim world, including a riot in Afghanistan where US commanders say they fear a backlash for their troops. (AFP)