- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

President Bush yesterday declared Tuesday's terrorist strikes "acts of war" against the United States and vowed to "rally the world" against the unknown perpetrators, vanquishing them in "a monumental struggle of good versus evil."

Mr. Bush's vow to lead a global struggle against terrorism came as the administration disclosed that the White House and Air Force One were intended targets in the deadly attacks.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday that government officials had credible information the hijacked plane that slammed into the Pentagon "was originally intended to hit the White House." He said White House aides learned this information during Mr. Bush's flight Tuesday from Florida to an air base in Louisiana.

Moments after the president met with his national-security team in the White House yesterday, Mr. Bush told reporters the attacks against the Pentagon and World Trade Center "were more than acts of terror."

"They were acts of war," he said.

But he acknowledged the anonymity of the perpetrators will make it extremely difficult to bring them to justice.

"The American people need to know we're facing a different enemy than we have ever faced," said Mr. Bush, surrounded by advisers as he sat in the Cabinet Room. "This enemy hides in shadows and has no regard for human life."

"This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people, then runs for cover, but it won't be able to run for cover forever," he said. "This is an enemy that tries to hide, but it won't be able to hide forever. This is an enemy that thinks its harbors are safe, but they won't be safe forever."

It was the fourth time in just over 24 hours since the attacks occurred that Mr. Bush publicly pledged to avenge the victims. Thousands of U.S. citizens are believed to have been killed in Tuesday's attacks, in which four airliners were hijacked by terrorists. The airplanes were slammed into the Pentagon and the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The fourth plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.

The revelation that the White House and Air Force One might have been targets shed light on the president's actions in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. In Florida at the time, he flew to a military base in Louisiana rather than back to Washington, then on to a second military facility in Nebraska.

"That also was one of the reasons why Air Force One did not come back to Andrews, when people may have thought it would," Mr. Fleischer said, referring to the decision not to fly the president immediately to Washington in the aftermath of the attacks. Mr. Fleischer declined to comment further about the threat posed to the White House and the president's airplane.

After speaking yesterday, Mr. Bush met with congressional leaders of both parties who pledged to support him in the gravest crisis of his presidency.

Mr. Bush spent yesterday in the White House, mapping a strategy for dealing with an issue that has suddenly emerged at the forefront of his agenda.

"The United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy," Mr. Bush said. "We will rally the world. We will be patient, we'll be focused, and we will be steadfast in our determination."

"This battle will take time and resolve," he added. "But make no mistake about it. We will win."

Although Mr. Bush took pains late Tuesday to assure the public that American institutions would continue to function, yesterday he cautioned that there will be limits to that functionality. For starters, the unprecedented moratorium on commercial air travel, initially expected to be lifted at noon yesterday, was extended until at least noon today.

"The federal government and all our agencies are conducting business, but it is not business as usual," he said. "We are operating on heightened security alert. America is going forward, and as we do so, we must remain keenly aware of the threats to our country."

"Those in authority should take appropriate precautions to protect our citizens," he said. "But we will not allow this enemy to win the war by changing our way of life or restricting our freedoms."

Mr. Bush sent Congress a request for emergency funding to offset the tremendous cost of unprecedented rescue efforts still under way at both attack sites.

"We are prepared to spend whatever it takes to rescue victims, to help the citizens of New York City and Washington, D.C., respond to this tragedy, and to protect our national security," he said.

Mr. Fleischer told reporters that Mr. Bush's request for additional funding would run in the billions of dollars.

The president sought to make clear he is up to the monumental challenge before him.

"Freedom and democracy are under attack," he said. "America is united. The freedom-loving nations of the world stand by our side."

Despite the president's strong language, Mr. Fleischer avoided answering whether there would be a request for a declaration of war. Mr. Bush, he said, will work with Congress "on appropriate language at the appropriate time."

Mr. Bush arrived in the Oval Office at 7:05 a.m. and received intelligence briefings from CIA Director George J. Tenet, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as well as other military and national-security officials. The president also called British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who pledged their support.

Mr. Bush yesterday viewed the damage at the Pentagon, vowing that the United States would continue the fight against terrorism.

"Coming here makes me sad on the one hand, but it also makes me angry," Mr. Bush said. "Our country will, however, not be cowed by terrorists."

The president visited the devastated site just outside Washington with Mr. Rumsfeld, who led him through a throng of soldiers, firefighters and rescue teams struggling to recover victims of Tuesday's attack.

Mr. Bush also plans to visit the attack sites at the World Trade Center once he can be sure his presence will not disrupt emergency efforts, according to Mr. Fleischer.

Mr. Fleischer also said yesterday that the administration believes the possibility of another wave of terrorist attacks has been diminished. "We believe the perpetrators have executed their plan and, therefore, the risks are significantly reduced," he said.

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