America marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday with solemn ceremonies given added poignancy by the recent chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and return to power of the Taliban.
Heart-wrenching commemorations will unfold at each of the three sites where 19 Al-Qaeda hijackers — mostly from Saudi Arabia — crashed packed airliners, striking the cultural, financial and political hearts of the United States and changing the world forever.
The memorials come with US troops finally gone from Afghanistan, but national discord — and for President Joe Biden, political peril — are overshadowing any sense of closure.
In a video posted on the eve of the anniversary, Biden urged Americans to show unity, “our greatest strength.”
“To me, that’s the central lesson of September 11th. It’s that at our most vulnerable, in the push and pull of all that makes us human, in the battle for the soul of America, unity is our greatest strength,” Biden said in a six-minute message from the White House.
At New York’s Ground Zero, where two pools of water now stand where the Twin Towers used to, relatives will read out the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed, in a four-hour-long service starting at 8:30 am (1230 GMT).
Six moments of silence will be observed, corresponding with the times the two World Trade Center towers were struck, and fell, and the moments the Pentagon was attacked and Flight 93 crashed.
Monica Iken-Murphy, who lost her 37-year-old husband Michael Iken in the World Trade Center, says this will be a “heightened” anniversary for many Americans.
But for her, as for many other survivors, the pain has never wavered.
“I feel like it just happened,” she told AFP.
A whole generation has grown up since the morning of September 11, 2001.