Tahoe joins world in mourning
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Some sobbed, some stared grim faced and others mourned the loss of an era of freedom as they watched television footage of the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York in perhaps the biggest and most audacious terrorist attack ever.
“The shock is as if someone close had died,” said Donald Thomas, head of the International Program of the Lake Tahoe Community College, weeping for the unknown hundreds who died in Tuesday’s multiple attacks.
Television footage broadcast across the country showed a hijacked airplane fly across the New York skyline and crash into the twin 110-story World Trade Center. The crash, which was preceded by another 18 minutes earlier, brought the towering building down to rubble. Within an hour, another plane slammed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., a daring attack on the seat of the government.
A fourth plane, also hijacked, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Though no official figure for the death toll has been given, airline officials have said that 266 people were on board the four planes. About 50,000 people work in the World Trade Center and tens of thousands visit it every day.
Though no terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the attack, two federal officials speaking on condition of anonymity named Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden as the principal suspect, according to The Associated Press. Bin Laden, a fugitive given refuge in the tiny landlocked Islamic nation of Afghanistan, has been blamed by the United States for the 1999 bombing of two American embassies in Africa.
President George W. Bush called the attack cowardly and promised to “hunt down and punish those responsible,” for the attack. He said he wouldn’t differentiate between the people who committed the acts and those who harbor them, an apparent reference to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The well-coordinated attacks invited disbelief that a plan that required so much organization and planning would have escaped the nation’s investigative agency.
“I think the CIA and the FBI haven’t been doing their job,” said South Lake Tahoe resident Buzz Azeveda, who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. “I think they are watching the wrong people.”
Earlier this year, police in New Delhi, India’s capital, arrested three men with explosives who said they worked for bin Laden and were planning terrorist attacks on India. They also told police similar attacks were being planned against American interests worldwide.
The matter was reported to the American embassy in New Delhi and to the State Department in Washington, but the threat was not considered tangible enough by the government to be pursued.
Also, the Associated Press reported that Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, said he received a warning from islamic fundamentalists close to bin Laden, but he did not take the threat seriously.
“They said it would be a huge and unprecedented attack but they did not specify,” Atwan told the AP in a telephone interview from London.
Many fear that Tuesday’s bombings may have forever changed the lives of Americans, who have now joined a growing number of countries – Palestine, Israel, Ireland, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka – living under the shadow of terrorism. As citizens of these countries will vouch, the right to life and liberty can no longer be taken for granted and increased security measures by law enforcement agencies can lead to serious government intrusion in private lives.
“The fact that it happened here is going to change the mentality of the country. There are going to be some changes in civil liberty,” said Gilbert Ross, a resident of Longmeadow, Mass., whose is vacationing in Tahoe.
Television clippings of Palestinians celebrating the attacks with cheers, victory signs and national flags horrified viewers at home. But for many it was a somber reminder that those very people faced death and devastation everyday and blamed the United States for much of its domestic situation.
“It’s sad to see the Palestinians celebrating,” said Paul Millard, who sat watching CNN on a 43-inch screen in the Strange Brew Coffee Lounge. “They’re saying ‘hey, have a taste of what I’ve grown up with’.”
During his presidency, former President Bill Clinton tried to bring Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table to end their decades-old dispute over the Palestinian issue. However, the talks ended with no resolution in sight and many Palestinians blamed America for siding with Israel in the conflict. America supplies arms to Israel, which uses them in the fight against Palestine.
Donald Thomas of Lake Tahoe Community College, who has traveled abroad extensively, said animosity toward Americans was common across the world, in part because of the economic prosperity of the country in a world of poverty and want. America also invites the ire of many Islamic countries whose people believe that its economic and political policies hurt their interests.
In Pakistan and Afghanistan, donations are openly sought and received from the public to fund violent campaigns against America. Hardline religious organizations that solicit the funds function with the knowledge of the government, which turns a blind eye.
Both countries also have training camps for militant organizations, among them at least one which has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States.
– Robert Stern, Gregory Crofton and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bill Rozak is live from Sierra-at-Tahoe.