Obama lays wreath at Pentagon to observe 9/11

Echoing the words of his predecessor, President Barack Obama vowed the United States “will never falter” in the pursuit of al-Qaida as he marked the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by placing a wreath at the site of the attack on the Pentagon.

“Let us renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and who plot against us still,” Obama said under rainy skies at the memorial to the victims. “In defense of our nation, we will never waver.”

Obama has distanced himself from many of the anti-terror policies of former President George W. Bush, but his remarks recalled Bush’s speech to Congress in the immediate aftermath of the attacks: “We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail.”

Bush issued a statement Friday expressing his condolences to the victims and their families, and urging Americans to “renew our determination to prevent evil from returning to our shores.”

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama began the day observing a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House at precisely 8:46 a.m., the moment the first jetliner struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Nearly 200 White House staffers ? from chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to kitchen workers ? gathered under the heavy downpour. Moments before the president and first lady stepped outside, the rain subsided and held off as they placed their hands over their hearts and bowed their heads.

As a presidential candidate, Obama marked last year’s anniversary in New York at the site of the World Trade Center attack. This year, on the first anniversary since he became commander in chief, he spoke at a memorial ceremony at Pentagon, where 184 people died.

The president said the strongest rebuke against the terrorist attackers is the nation’s renewal of a common purpose.

“Let us remember how we came together as one nation, as one people, as Americans, united not only in our grief, but in our resolve to stand with one another, to stand up for the country we all love,” Obama said.

About 500 people attended the Pentagon observance, including families of the victims and survivors of the Pentagon attack. Following the ceremony, the president and first lady, along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, greeted the families.

Obama issued a proclamation earlier this week urging Americans to mark the anniversary of the attacks with community service. After leaving the Pentagon, the president and first lady toured a Habitat for Humanity housing development in Washington and pitched in by painting a living room.

In New York, Vice President Joe Biden laid flowers at the memorial at the site of the World Trade Center attack.

In a letter sent Thursday to intelligence officials, CIA Director Leon Panetta recommitted the spy agency to the fight against al Qaida and its sympathizers. “There is no higher priority and no greater focus,” he wrote. “No life lost in this attack or battle shall be lost in vain.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.