WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters)–An emotional President George W. Bush declared on Thursday the United States and its allies were ready to "whip terrorism," as officials confirmed hundreds dead and about 5,000 still missing from the terror strikes at New York and Washington.
Defense officials promised "sustained" engagement in what Bush described as the first war of the 21st century–while Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed for the first time that Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden was a suspect.
At the wreckage of New York’s World Trade Center–rescue workers pulled five firefighters alive from a sport utility vehicle buried in the rubble – lifting the spirits of a city that fears thousands remain buried in the twisted ruins.
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had earlier said that 4,763 people were missing from the twin 110-story towers–which were struck on Tuesday by two commandeered passenger jets and subsequently collapsed.
While the official death toll from the World Trade Center rose to 94–officials said body parts were being recovered and ordered thousands of body bags.
The situation was "horrible and gruesome. I’m sorry that I have to describe it that way–but that’s unfortunately the situation that we’re facing," the mayor said.
US stock markets remained closed and New York’s financial district lay stricken as worries over the economic impact of the attacks grew. The nation’s air transport system slowly resumed operations–although with severe new security measures in place and warnings of long delays.
"This nation is sad–but we are also tough and resolute," Bush–with tears in his eyes–told reporters at the White House. "Now is an opportunity to do generations a favor by coming together and whipping terrorism–hunting it down–finding it and holding them accountable."
The president–facing the biggest challenge of his eight-month presidency–spoke as the probe into the shadowy Middle Eastern figures believed behind Tuesday’s strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon gathered pace.
Bush declared Friday a national day of "prayer and remembrance" and prepared that day to visit lower New York–ground zero of the worst attack on US soil.
Exhausted rescue workers searched for survivors and extracted bodies from tons of crushed concrete and twisted steel–all that remained of the World Trade Center which had once been the pride of the New York skyline.
"The terrible reality of this is we may never be able to recover everyone–but we are going to try," Giuliani said.
Grieving relatives wandered the city’s streets–holding up pictures of missing loved ones–pleading for information. Others posted photographs on lamp posts and walls.
Hundreds of emergency workers used everything from heavy machinery to their bare hands to dig through the wreckage while sniffer dogs searched the rubble.
"They are sending the dogs in. When the dogs get a hit–they dig," said Chief Lawrence Cleary of the Fire Department from the scene of the rescue effort. "But as time goes on–it doesn’t look good for finding survivors."
Knife-wielding hijackers took over three planes and deliberately smashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon near Washington. The fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania killing all 45 people on board after passengers fought the hijackers for control of the plane.
Federal investigators probing that crash said they could not rule out the possibility that the jetliner with 45 people aboard had been shot down.
"We have not ruled out that," FBI agent Bill Crowley told a news conference when asked about reports that a US fighter jet may have fired on the hijacked Boeing 757. "We haven’t ruled out anything yet."
The Defense Department has vigorously denied reports suggesting the US military could have downed the hijacked flight in an effort to prevent it from reaching a target–perhaps in the nation’s capital.
At the Pentagon–meanwhile–officials said 60 bodies had been found and that 126 people were still unaccounted for.
In an NBC poll–83 percent of respondents said they supported "forceful military action" against those responsible–even at the risk of retaliation or the threat of war.
A mounting pile of evidence pointed to an Arab connection behind the plot and investigators were focusing on the organization of Osama bin Laden–the Saudi- born dissident now living in Afghanistan who is blamed for bombing two US embassies in East Africa and other anti-American attacks.
US officials have said bin Laden–now a "guest" of the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan–was almost certainly responsible for the attacks. Bin Laden is said to have denied involvement.
Powell confirmed for the first time that bin Laden was considered a suspect and said he would personally push Pakistan to join what officials describe as a global coalition to fight a war against acts of terror.
"We haven’t yet publicly identified the organization we believe was responsible–but when you look at the list of candidates–one resides in that region," Powell said. Asked later if he were referring to bin Laden–Powell replied "Yes."
Bin Laden aides told journalists in Pakistan that the exiled multimillionaire had denied involvement in the attacks–which he described as "punishment from almighty Allah."
The FBI committed about 4,000 special agents and 3,000 support personnel to the investigation and appeared to be making progress–both in the United States and abroad.
German police said they had detained an airport worker in connection with the attacks. Police also said two other men believed to be connected with the attacks had lived in the city of Hamburg–including Mohamed Atta–33–who was on the passenger list of one hijacked plane.
Equity markets faced a third straight day of paralysis–the longest shutdown since the market was idled for four months at the outbreak of World War One.
Trading resumed in US Treasuries but was thin and choppy–with many traders unable to see prices formerly provided by firms in the destroyed World Trade Center.
Europe’s central bank pumped fresh money into the system to avoid a cash crunch. Expectations grew the US Federal Reserve might cut interest rates–by as much as a half a percentage point–to bolster prospects in the world’s richest economy.
Adding to a raft of canceled sporting and entertainment events across the nation–the National Football League scrapped all 15 of its scheduled weekend games.
Both Bush and his father–former President George Bush–pleaded with Americans not to take out their anger against Arab-Americans or Muslims.
A firebomb was hurled at a mosque and Islamic school in Texas–a day after windows were shot out at a similar Islamic center near Dallas–police said. Damage was slight.
US Attorney General John Ashcroft said the four planes were taken over by a total of at least 18 hijackers who had "significant ground support."
"They operated with technical proficiency to target and to land an aircraft of that size with the deadly accuracy of these acts of war–was something obviously that resulted from a complex organization with significant ground support," Ashcroft said on ABC’s "Good Morning America."
Sen. John McCain–an Arizona Republican and veteran of the Vietnam war–said the United States had a message for those behind the attacks: "We are coming after you. God may have mercy on you–but we won’t."
NATO invoked a mutual defense clause for the first time in its history on Wednesday–opening the way for a possible collective military response to Tuesday’s attacks on the United States.
"The (NATO) Council agreed that if it is determined that this was an attack directed from abroad against the United States–it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article V of the Washington Treaty–which states that an attack against one ally is an attack against them all," Secretary-General George Robertson told a news conference.
The article commits each of the 19 member nations to take "such action as it deems necessary–including the use of armed force–to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."