Ground Zero in lower Manhattan appears deserted on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the early morning terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center s Twin Towers.
NEW YORK - In what figures to be a somberly stirring ceremony, New York - and a nation - will once again mark one of the darkest days in U.S. history today, as thousands gather for Sept. 11 memorial services at Ground Zero in Manhattan.
Marking the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that toppled the World Trade Center's Twin Towers and killed 2,750 people, the commemoration service in lower Manhattan is scheduled to begin at 8:40 a.m. and last almost four hours.
There will be four moments of silence - two marking when hijacked airliners struck the towers and two when the towers fell on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Throughout the ceremony, emergency responders will read the names of World Trade Center victims over background music.
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, former state Gov. George Pataki, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now a presidential candidate, are scheduled to speak at the commemoration.
The observance will take place for the first time at Zuccotti Park, across from Ground Zero. The city, state, and Port Authority had said that unlike past years, Ground Zero was unsafe for a ceremony this year because the reconstruction effort is now well under way.
Mr. Bloomberg will open the ceremony by calling for a moment of silence - the first at 8:46 a.m. in observance of the time the first plane struck the north tower - as bells toll for the attack victims in houses of worship throughout the city, officials said. The names of those killed in the attacks will be read by 118 pairs - or 236 readers, each reading approximately 12 names of those killed.
A second moment of silence will take place at 9:30 a.m., the time the second hijacked plane struck the south tower.
The fall of the south tower will be observed with a moment of silence at 9:59 a.m.
The fall of the north tower will be marked by a moment of silence at 10:29 a.m., officials said.
In Washington, President Bush will help mark the anniversary with a moment of silence this morning on the South Lawn of the White House. At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will host a memorial observance for relatives of those who perished in the Sept. 11 attack there.
A ceremony is also scheduled in western Pennsylvania at the site of the crash of hijacked Flight 93. Gov. Ed Rendell will speak.
But much will be different on the sixth anniversary of Sept. 11, after tense arguments about where to hold the ceremony, whether a presidential candidate should be allowed to speak, and if it's still fitting to put on such a large-scale commemoration.
Firefighters, first responders, and construction workers who helped rescue New Yorkers were chosen this year to read the names of the dead.
After bitterly objecting that they wanted to pay their respects closest to where their loved ones died, family members will be allowed to descend to the site below street level and lay flowers near where the towers stood.
"It's still like visiting a grave on the person's anniversary of their death," said Rosaleen Tallon, whose firefighter brother, Sean Tallon, died that day.
While the list of 2,750 victims killed in New York is read, Osama bin Laden planned to appear in a new video and read the will of one of the hijackers whose plane flew into the north tower.
Politics has played little role in past ceremonies, when siblings, spouses, and children offered heartfelt messages to their lost loved ones. But firefighters and several victims' family members are furious that Mr. Giuliani, who has spoken every year at the ceremony, is doing so as a Republican presidential candidate.
Mr. Giuliani, who has made his performance in the months after the 2001 terrorist attacks the cornerstone of his campaign, said last week that his appearance was not intended to be political.
"I was there when it happened, and I've been there every year since then. If I didn't, it would be extremely unusual. As a personal matter, I wouldn't be able to live with myself," Mr. Giuliani said Friday at a campaign stop in Florida. "I will do that for as long as they have a ceremony out there."
In a related development, the McClatchy-Tribune Information Services reported yesterday that two numbers scrawled in a notebook that belonged to terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui could have given the FBI a chance to identify several of the Sept. 11 hijackers before they struck six years ago.
The report, citing officials who are familiar with the bureau's massive investigation of the attacks, said the notebook entries recorded the control numbers for two Western Union wire transfers in which suspected al-Qaeda coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh, using an alias, sent Moussaoui $14,000 from Germany in early August, 2001, before he went to a Minnesota flight school to learn to fly a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
FBI headquarters, however, rejected Minneapolis FBI field agents' repeated requests for a national security warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings after he was arrested on Aug. 16, 2001. It's not clear whether the FBI would have been able to trace the money and telephone calls fast enough to preempt the Sept. 11 attacks, but the decision to reject the requests for a warrant meant they never had the chance, the news agency reported.