- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2011


Foreign ambassadors in Washington woke up on Sept. 11, 2001, expecting a normal day. It was a Tuesday, a sunny, pleasant, late-summer morning.

But before their embassies opened for business, before they had a chance to review their daily appointments, confirm lunch meetings or prepare for evening receptions, their diplomatic mission had changed.

Many would not realize their new role for hours; but, from the moment the first hijacked airliner crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York at 8:46 a.m., ambassadors would be engaged in the war on terrorism.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on America, Embassy Row looked backed on the diplomatic events in Washington 10 years ago and the diplomats who experienced what Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem Abdullah Sabah described as a time of “darkness beyond description.”

By 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 11 - the twin towers had collapsed, the Pentagon set ablaze and the gruesome debris of a fourth highjacked airliner was scattered across a farmer’s field in Pennsylvania - ambassadors were cabling their foreign ministers to tell them America was at war.

Israeli Ambassador David Ivry condemned the “terrible, disgusting, despicable terrorist acts.”

Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy told Embassy Row that Egyptian diplomats were “in a daze” trying to comprehend the magnitude of the attack. In an interview that morning, Mr. Fahmy already was worried that Muslims would be blamed.

All 19 hijackers were Islamist terrorists inspired by al Qaeda, and the ringleader, Mohamed Atta, was an Egyptian.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, who was on an official visit to Washington that day, had expected to meet with President George W. Bush to discuss NATO issues. Instead, he sent the White House a letter expressing the “sympathies and solidarity of the Lithuanian people.”

The next day, Mr. Adamkus would become one of the first civilians to leave the United States after the terrorist attacks, as he boarded a military plane at Andrews Air Force Base. U.S. airspace was fully reopened on Sept. 14.

The attacks disrupted many routine diplomatic events. The Malaysian Embassy canceled a national day ceremony, and Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shkolnik of Kazakhstan canceled a book-siginng party at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Costa Rican Ambassador Jaime Daremblum called off an independence day celebration scheduled for the coming weekend and ordered flags at the Costa Rican Embassy flown at half-staff.

The next day, the United States began receiving support from countries hostile to America and from a former Cold War rival.

Syrian Ambassador Rustom Zoubi denounced the “ugly and horrible” attacks, and Syrian President Bashar Assad sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell condemning Osama bin Laden, who already was suspected of ordering the attacks.

Russian Ambassador Yury V. Ushakov, who once represented the Soviet Union, called the attack on the United States an assault on “all modern civilization.”

Nearly a week after the attack, Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan was dealing with a backlash against Saudi nationals in the United States. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. Prince Bandar said the Saudi Embassy was providing legal assistance to Saudis questioned by the FBI and moving Saudi students to safe areas for their protection.

He also said that bin Laden had been stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994 because of earlier terrorist activities.

Indian Ambassador Lalit Mansingh was shocked by vicious attacks against Indian-Americans, especially against Sikhs, who are not Muslims but wear long beards and turbans like bin Laden. One Sikh was killed at a gas station in Mesa, Ariz.

“There are hate crimes all over America,” he told this column.

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, was receiving a steady stream of foreign leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Jordanian King Abdullah II.

The attacks scuttled plans by Japanese Ambassador Shunji Yanai for a diplomatic reception on Sept. 13. He had wanted to invite some friends to his residence to explain why Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had fired him over a financial scandal. Mr. Yanai was not personally implicated in the scandal, but it occurred while he was vice foreign minister.

The attacks also left some diplomats with personal distress.

Hashim Makib, an Egyptian Embassy spokesman who had lived in New York, called the twin towers those “golden, shinning, beautiful buildings that were as much a part of the New York skyline as the pyramids are to Egypt.”

Other diplomats knew that Americans, after mourning, would avenge the victims.

“Whoever did this will not get what they wanted,” said Kuwaiti diplomat Shafeeq Ghabra, a day after the attacks. “America will be much stronger.”

*Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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