Bush flies to New York as Congress approves action

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The Independent US

President George Bush travelled to stricken New York to inspect the damage caused in Tuesday's attacks, his authority bolstered by an outpouring of national unity and the free hand granted him by Congress for whatever military response he chooses to pursue.

Hours before Mr Bush was to address a solemn but deliberately inspirational prayer service at Washington's National Cathedral, the Senate voted – by 98-0 – to use whatever force he might choose to deploy in the massive retaliation which is all but certain in the days or weeks to come.

The upper chamber then voted by 96-0 to release $40bn (£27bn) of emergency government funds to help recovery efforts and step up security at home, in the tense new era after the unprecedented suicide bombings that destroyed the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, and blasted a massive hole in the Pentagon building in Washington DC.

At the same time, the Department of Defense called up 50,000 reservists to aid relief and reconstruction. More could be drafted. "We may not have seen the end of this current threat," one official said last night, suggesting that terrorists could strike in a new way or in a new arena, now that airport security has been drastically tightened.

The church service in Washington was deliberately multi-denominational, addressed by the Bishop of Washington but also by an Islamic priest. The mood was of sorrow mingled with a defiant patriotism. "Here we see the character of our nation," Mr Bush said as he paid moving tribute to those who had died and to the courage and heroism of those involved in the rescue effort.

But the President had stern words as well for the perpetrators of the outrages. "This conflict has been opened on the timing and terms of others," he declared. "It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing."

Last night, the feeling inWashington was that retaliation was not necessarily imminent. Instead the US authorities are assembling evidence, pursuing thousands of leads, not only at home but in Europe, the Middle East and beyond. Men were detained yesterday in Netherlands, Belgium and the Philippines.

The Justice Department released the names of the suspected hijackers, all of whom died with the destruction of the four aircraft. They number 19, not 18 as originally announced by the Attorney General, John Ashcroft. All are of Middle Eastern origin. Some of the names suggest the men could have come from southern Saudi Arabia or Yemen, homeland of Osama bin Laden, whose network is among the chief suspects behind the attacks.

In New York, scene of the greatest devastation, rescuers were continuing their increasingly hopeless efforts to find survivors, their task complicated by rain and thunderstorms overnight. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has said 4,763 people are unaccounted for. At the Pentagon, some 200 are believed to have died.

The national mood is one of fury coupled with refusal to be bowed by the tragedy. The result has been a massive surge in the popularity of Mr Bush, initially criticised in some quarters for an unassertive response to the crisis. That has now changed. Mr Bush has visibly adapted to the role of leader of his country, above and beyond its rival political parts. Almost 90 per cent of people in a poll by The Washington Post yesterday approved of the way he was handling the crisis.

Similar confidence and determination emerges from a survey by Time magazine and the television channel CNN. While four out of ten Americans admit they will probably change their lifestyles, by cutting back on air travel and personal spending, nine out of ten are sure the country will bounce back and move on from the tragic events.

But Americans are still baffled by the unseen enemy who has smitten them. Two thirds of the public thinks that the US should declare war – but an almost identical proportion are not sure whom that war should be declared against. Huge majorities favour either the assassination of foreign leaders responsible for the attacks or heavy strategic bombing of suspected terrorist lairs. But a large number – 65 per cent – also fear that such action will increase the danger of reprisals and a wider war pitting America against countries in the Middle East.

One note of relief was news that 10 men detained after FBI swoops at La Guardia and Kennedy airports in New York were not, after all, about to carry out new attacks. But bomb scares and other threats were still disrupting daily life in Washington and New York. Mayor Giuliani also explicitly warned against scam artists taking advantage of the outpouring of grief and sympathy by conducting telephone appeals for donations, purportedly to go to the victims.

The diplomatic offensive to enlist allies for the campaign against the terrorists also gathered pace. The US has asked Islamabad for – in effect demanded – the right to overfly Pakistani territory to strike, if necessary, at bases in Afghanistan where Mr bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

In discussions the previous day with the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf promised "to work with the US." But many officials here are unconvinced. Others also believe that Mr bin Laden may not be the sole instigator. He is alleged to have cells in 32 countries, a Congressional report said recently, and could have as many as 3,000 militant operatives. The US aim is "to rip the entire network up," and ensure that it never redevelops.