The Pentagon was struck by aircraft, a car bomb exploded outside the State Department and agents patrolled outside the White House with automatic weapons Tuesday as an apparent coordinated terrorist attack spread fear and chaos in the nation’s capital.
The enduring symbols of American power were evacuated, the Capitol, White House and more shut down, and the nation’s air traffic system ordered shut down. Billows of smoke drifted from the Pentagon over the Potomac River toward the capital.
“Terrorism against our nation will not stand,” vowed President Bush. He spoke moments after two planes had flown directly into the twin World Trade Center towers in New York.
“This shows what an uncontrollable world we live in. This is crazy, wild and crazy,” said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., as the disruptions hit Washington within an hour after two planes flew directly into the World Trade Center towers in New York.
Bush, in Florida when the attacks hit, termed the disaster in New York “an apparent terrorist attack on our country.” He said he would return immediately to Washington.
In Washington, a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the FBI suspects the events in New York and Washington were part of an organized terrorist campaign.
A senior U.S. intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “We don’t know who’s doing it. Clearly, it’s terrorism related, a carefully coordinated attack. It’s not the work of an unsophisticated enemy. It’s too soon to say who.”
Paul Begala, a Democratic consultant, said he witnessed an explosion near the Pentagon.
“It was a huge fireball, a huge, orange fireball,” Begala said in an interview on his cell phone.
He said another witness told him a helicopter exploded. AP reporter Dave Winslow also saw the crash. He said, “I saw the tail of a large airliner…. It plowed right into the Pentagon.”
Gen. Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that prior to the crash into the Pentagon, military officials had been notified that another hijacked plane had been heading from the New York area to Washington. He said he assumed that hijacked plane was the one that hit the Pentagon, though he couldn’t be sure.
Meanwhile, one of two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center was hijacked after takeoff from Boston, a U.S. official said, citing a transmission from the plane.
The second plane may have flown out of Newark, N.J., the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Asked if there was any possibility the crashes were anything other than deliberate, the official said it appeared not to be an accident, the official said.