GROUND ZERO (New York), Sept 11: Yards from the 9/11 memorial, hundreds of Americans, including Muslims, protested on Sunday against Islamophobia as thousands of other Americans walked past them on their way to pay homage to 2,903 people killed at this spot 10 years ago.
Weeping relatives of the victims streamed into a newly opened memorial and placed pictures and flowers beside names etched in bronze. President Barack Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, bowed their heads and touched the inscriptions.
Children, parents, spouses and siblings called out the names of their slain relatives as millions watched the remembrance on their TV sets across America with tears rolling down their cheeks.
At Ground Zero, where the twin towers of the World Trade Centre stood before they were brought down by terrorists, some in the crowd broke down as a child read out the name of his father. He was in his mother's womb when his father was killed.
“Even thought I never saw you, I will always love you, dad,” he said, as the crowd wept.
“God is a refuge and strength,” said President Obama while reading a passage from the Bible at this haunting but hopeful tribute to the victims. “Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”
Mr Bush, who ruled the US for 7 years during and after the terrorist attacks, read from a letter President Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1864 to a grieving mother who lost five children in the civil war.
“I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming,” he said.
It was the first time Mr Bush and Mr Obama had stood together at Ground Zero, which has become a symbol of unity in America. Unlike Mr Obama, whose job-approval is now at an all-time low, Mr Bush drew a brief cheer from the crowd before his reading. “For Mr Obama, Sept 11 underpins what has become one of the great paradoxes of his presidency. A Democratic leader who opposed the Iraq war and is pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan has, at the same time, notched up a record as a lethal, relentless hunter of terrorists,” noted The New York Times in a report on Sunday's proceedings.
“Mr Obama has carried out more drone strikes in Pakistan in his first year in office than Mr Bush did in his eight years,” the newspaper added.
“We have taken the fight to Al Qaeda like never before,” Mr Obama told the grieving audience as his administration pledged to continue the drone strikes, which it says have mostly killed terrorists.
In Washington, the National Cathedral held an interfaith service at the Washington Hebrew Congregation at 8:46am, when the first plane had hit the twin-towers.
“Faith is mercy. Mercy is love for humanity. A love for humanity is to believe that human life - all human life - is sacred,” Imam Mohammed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society told the congregation. ADMS runs the largest mosque in the greater Washington area.
At the Pentagon, which was also hit by a hijacked plane on 9/11, Vice President Joe Biden and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta honoured those who died during the attack in Washington.
In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, President and Mrs Obama led a crowd of 5,000 to honour those who died in yet another plane hijacked on 9/11 by the terrorists.
In New York, more than 100 anti-discrimination groups participated in a rally to support the Muslims.
“Right-wing extremists planned an ugly, anti-Muslim rally today to revive their racist campaign against Islam,” said a pamphlet distributed by the organisers. “This climate of scapegoating has included anti-immigrant hysteria and legislation. We condemn it.”
Saleem Akhtarm, national director, American Muslim Taskforce, an umbrella organisation representing dozens of groups, urged the audience to pray for the victims of 9/11 as well as “those three million killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the wars started after 9/11”.
He urged the American public to uphold the US constitution, which grants equal rights to all people regardless of their faiths.
As President Obama and Mr Bush left New York after the initial ceremony, officials relaxed their strict security arrangements put in place three days ago when a CIA informant in Pakistan warned against a possible terrorist attack during the 10th anniversary.
Cars driving by were not stopped and searched, although people going to the memorial were frisked. Members of the media, who also were frisked earlier on Sunday, were spared.
There was a temporary scare in Massachusetts where police were scrambled to track down a truck after receiving a report that three men were seen loading large drums into the back of the vehicle.