LONDON (Reuters) – World leaders reacted with revulsion to Tuesday’s devastating U.S. aircraft attacks and demanded war on international terrorism — but in the Middle East, some people flaunted their glee.
While the West and Russia urged unprecedented solidarity to answer an unprecedented catastrophe, Palestinians fired into the air and handed out sweets in the West Bank to celebrate, and Egyptians said maybe the Americans had got their just deserts.
“America and Israel are one. This is the result of American policy,” one Palestinian gunman said.
No one claimed immediate responsibility for what a European Union leader equated with the bombing of Peal Harbor and what peaceful Norway called the worst terrorist attack in history.
Early U.S. speculation centered on Saudi-born guerrilla, Osama bin Laden, but his Afghan allies said he was innocent.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told Germany the deeds were a ”declaration of war against the civilized world.”
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at his residence outside New York, said the “deliberate acts of terrorism” had traumatized the world, but urged cool and reasoned judgement.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and an Afghan Taliban envoy joined states around the world, including most of the Middle East, in condemnation.
Egypt, Israel and European leaders from Britain to Russia broke off normal business for crisis meetings. NATO ambassadors were holding an extraordinary meeting to discuss the attacks.
From every corner, politicians grappled for the strongest language to describe the nightmare: horrendous, abominable, disgusting, monstrous, abhorrent, cowardly, vile, insane.
The European Union said it was the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor 60 years ago and was “one of those few days in life that one can actually say will change everything.”
“This is an act of war by madmen,” EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten added in comments to Reuters.
EU foreign ministers were to hold an emergency meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss a joint response.
Flags were lowered at the office of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who said human conscience had been hit, and on German state offices. A black flag flew on Austria’s parliament.
In a telegram, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “Such an inhuman act must not go unpunished. The entire international community should unite in the struggle against terrorism.”
President Jacques Chirac said France believed terrorism must be fought by all means. Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain stood shoulder to shoulder with its U.S. friends.
“We, like them, will not rest until this evil is driven from our world,” he said. Queen Elizabeth expressed “total shock.”
Ordinary Europeans also were horrified.
“It’s crazy — and if it’s the U.S. today it’ll be us tomorrow, you can bet,” said a stunned Parisian butcher.
In Stockholm, a dozen people lit long white candles and stood in silent mourning outside the metal gates of the U.S. embassy compound. Others gathered in Berlin to place flowers.
“I’m in a state of shock,” said Michael Hilfitt, a 22-year-old salesman. “It’s ghastly beyond belief. The devastation is incomprehensible. It’s a setback for humanity.”
But there were also voices critical of the United States.
“Violence is deplorable, but this is what happens to America when it tries to be the world’s policeman,” said a 58-year-old east Berlin history teacher.
Chaos rippled from New York and Washington around the world.
All flights to the United States were suspended, Israel’s main airport was closed and some European skyscraper offices shut. European share prices sank as oil prices rose on the uncertainty the attacks created.
Even those icy toward Washington condemned the violence.
The ambassador to Pakistan of Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders — who have given bin Laden shelter — condemned the ”terrorist” attacks, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press said.
Pakistan, the main international backer of the Taliban, joined in the condemnation. So did long-time U.S. political foe, Cuba — along with the rest of Latin America, whose regional body said the world had plunged into mourning on Tuesday.
In Gaza, Arafat said he abhorred the catastrophe.
“It’s unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable,” he said.
But some Palestinians were joyful.
“I feel I am in a dream. I never believed that one day the United States would come to pay a price for its support to Israel,” said Mustafa, a 24-year-old gunman in Arab East Jerusalem, where several dozen Palestinian youths gathered to celebrate, honking out wedding tunes on car horns.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the attacks were “simply a terrible thing.”
The Islamic militant group Hamas denied any connection.
“Our battle is on the Palestinian land. We are not ready to move our battle out of the occupied Palestinian territories,” said Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
“America plants injustice and hatred in the hearts of the weak people so it reaps what it plants.”
Many ordinary Egyptians also said the United States deserved the carnage for its “bias” against Arabs.
“My happiness is based on my utter rejection of the U.S. treatment of the Middle East case,” said Samira Mohamed, a 26-year-old lawyer.
Kenyans with raw memories of a 1998 U.S. embassy blast gave mixed reactions, offering sympathy but also urging Americans to understand why U.S. Middle East policy made them targets.
“Maybe the Americans will now get a taste of what we went through,” said Consolata Wanjiru Mugo, hurt in Nairobi’s blast.
Pope John Paul condemned the attacks in a message to President Bush, calling them an “unspeakable horror” which had thrust the United States into a “dark and tragic moment.”
Israel urged the world to fight Islamic “terror.”
Britain, one of the closest U.S. allies, offered all the help at its disposal to bring the perpetrators to justice.
States from South Africa to Qatar and Russia joined Europe in calling for a war on terrorism and the EU said fighting this threat would now be mission number one, indefinitely.
“It’s certainly going to mean that the fight against international terrorism is going to dominate the international agenda until it’s won,” the EU’s Patten said.
“These attacks… require a full-blown fight against terrorism,” Italy’s President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said in a rare live television broadcast. “We know this fight is the way to defend the values that are at the basis of civil life and peace.”
“Pearl Harbor in 2001,” was how Germany’s Die Welt newspaper described the attacks. “America will hit back hard.
“War is in sight.”