NEW YORK // Ten years to the minute after the first hijacked plane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre, Americans gathered yesterday in New York, at the Pentagon in suburban Washington, in Pennsylvania and across the country to mourn the dead and reflect on the lingering aftermath of the most devastating terrorist attacks in the country's history.
After a moment of silence and the tolling of church bells at 8.46am, the US president Barack Obama recited a Psalm from the Bible as he stood before the white oak trees of the newly completed September 11 memorial in Manhattan.
"God is our refuge and strength," Mr Obama read. "He dwells in his city, does marvellous things and says, be still and know that I am God."
A decade ago, 19 Al Qaeda terrorists - 15 Saudis, two Emiratis, one Lebanese and an Egyptian - hijacked four planes and flew two into the World Trade Centre and another into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. The fourth crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers fought back.
Mr Obama, in an interview with NBC News, said: "Ten years later, I'd say America came through this thing in a way that was consistent with our character.
"Some things haven't happened as quickly as they needed to. But overall, we took the fight to Al Qaeda. We preserved our values. We preserved our character."
Relatives of those killed, many wearing badges bearing their loved ones' faces, filled the memorial site in New York City and laid pictures and flowers next to the victims' names, which are etched in bronze.
Mr Obama and George W Bush, who was US president at the time of the attacks, bowed their heads and ran their hands over the inscriptions.
After the New York ceremony, Mr Obama flew to Shanksville where he laid a wreath to honour the victims of United Airlines flight 93 and was to visit the Pentagon before going back to Washington.
In New York, family members then began reading the names of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11 attacks and the six killed in the 1993 lorry bombing of the World Trade Center.
Outside the memorial site, thousands of people waited in queues to pass through security screening. Some in the crowds stood draped in American flags. Firefighters and police officers from as far away as Los Angeles and Miami Beach, as well as France and Germany, wore crisp uniforms and polished black shoes.
Many bereaved families gathered to meet, some weeping and embracing.
Joanne Gross, whose brother Thomas J Foley was a fireman in Rescue 3, one of the first companies to arrive at the towers as fire billowed from the upper storeys, said: "For the people who didn't lose anyone, this ceremony might bring closure, but for us - first anniversary, 10th anniversary - it's exactly the same."
Mr Foley's father, Tom, volunteered at Ground Zero cleaning debris and searching for bodies in the days after the attacks with a fire company from the Bronx. He and Danny, another son who was also a fireman, found Thomas Foley's body among the rubble on September 21, 2001. "It was 9pm, and I carried my son's body out," Mr Foley said.
Many more families did not receive that crucial solace, and their loved one's bodies were never recovered. For them, the memorial here, which opens to the public today, is more than a national monument - it now represents the final resting place of their sons, wives, grandchildren.
Debbie Espinola, from Hauppaugh, Long Island, who lost her 47-year-old brother James Suozzo, said: "Once the memorial is open it will really help." Suozzo worked at the financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald. which lost 658 employees in the attack. "It will be a place to come, a place to remember him because they never found his body," his sister said.
Police and officials in New York implemented an unprecedented operation throughout yesterday to secure the city against a terrorist attack. A notebook found in Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan detailed ideas for a 10th-anniversary attack, and last week the federal government warned local authorities of a possible car bomb plot.
Jim Margolin, a spokesman for the FBI's New York office, on Friday said: "We are taking the logical investigative measures to assess this threat."
There was intense security around the memorial site yesterday morning and this reporter was detained and questioned for around 45 minutes, first by police officers, then detectives and finally by two FBI agents, before being released.
Louis Lopez, a city bus driver from Brooklyn whose wife's brother died in the collapsing towers, worked the M6 route near the World Trade Centre but had that Tuesday 10 years ago off. "I remember on the Monday night [the night before the attacks], coming home at 10pm and seeing a full moon.
"Last night, we had a full moon again, and seeing the lights from the memorial, and this day we're having today - it just felt like it was happening all over again."