By David Espo
WASHINGTON – President Bush led the nation in a moment of silence Tuesday to mark the terrorist attacks one week earlier and said Americans should take heart in their spirited rush to give aid and comfort. A federal grand jury opened an investigation into the suicide hijackings.
“Out of our tears and sadness, we saw the best of America,” Bush told a Rose Garden ceremony honoring rescue workers and announcing a Web site to coordinate donations. “We saw a great country rise up to help.”
Earlier, on a calm and sunny morning much like the one swallowed in death and chaos a week before, he joined 300 White House employees on the South Lawn to observe a moment of silence.
Across the country, radio stations marked the time the first hijacked plane slammed into New York’s World Trade Center – 8:48 a.m. EDT – with patriotic songs.
Meanwhile, a federal grand jury has been convened to investigate the terrorist attack in New York, law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. The jury, convened in White Plains, a New York City suburb, will review evidence and issue subpoenas.
Hundreds of Islamic clerics gathered in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul to discuss conditions for possibly extraditing suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden to a country other than the United States. The Bush administration considers bin Laden the prime suspect in the attacks.
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers vowed to wage a holy war against America if U.S. forces launch an assault to punish them for sheltering the exiled Saudi dissident.
But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the administration still “intends to take this attack to the terrorists.”
“We have a choice either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live and we chose the latter,” he told a Pentagon briefing. “The only answer is to take the effort to them, where they are.”
And he made clear that countries supporting terrorists are not exempt from U.S. attack.
“The terrorists do not function in a vacuum,” he said. “They don’t live in Antarctica. They work, they train and they plan in countries. They’re benefiting from the support of governments.”
A delegation of Pakistani leaders who on Monday had at U.S. behest presented the case for surrendering bin Laden to Taliban leaders returned to Pakistan.
In New York, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations said his country’s delegation tried to convey the gravity of the moment to the Taliban. “I cannot predict at this stage what the outcome is going to be,” Shamshad Ahmad said. “In our view it was worth making an effort through diplomatic engagement.”
Bush said Americans could use a special Web site to make donations and “figure out where to send food, where to donate blood, where to give clothes” and how to best devote their time.
“Last week was a really horrible week for America,” Bush said. Still, he added, “Americans’ love for America was channeled through our nation’s great charities”
Joining him at the ceremony were Govs. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and James Gilmore of Virginia. Later, Bush planned a dinner with French President Jacques Chirac to broaden an international coalition against terrorism.
Ridge later said that the attacks left “a permanent scar on America. But it is also an opportunity for us to do things differently, both internally and externally. And he (Bush) is going to seize that opportunity.”
Bush has ordered his staff to begin grappling with the economic consequences of the attacks. Economic stimulus legislation and assistance for struggling airlines are the first orders of business, presidential counselor Karen Hughes said in an interview.
Commerce Secretary Don Evans said Bush was considering direct financial aid to airlines.
“Certainly I see reason to step in and help,” Evans told ABC.
Earlier Tuesday, Rumsfeld indicated that bin Laden’s extradition, while welcome, would not be enough to stop a military response against terrorists and those who shelter them.
“Clearly you begin on a journey with one step, and he would be one step,” Rumsfeld said on CBS’ “The Early Show.”
But he added, “If bin Laden were not there the organization would continue doing what it’s been doing. So clearly the problem is much bigger than bin Laden.”
“Bin Laden is one person who is unambiguously a terrorist,” he said. “The al-Qaida network is a broad, multiheaded organization” with a presence in 50 to 60 countries, including the United States.
In all, officials said the death toll likely would top 5,000 from the Sept. 11 attacks that left New York City’s World Trade Center twin towers in ruins and crumpled a portion of the Pentagon.
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