WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (REUTERS) – Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban conceded Tuesday for the first time that Osama bin Laden could have been involved in attacks on the United States that left nearly 6,000 people missing or dead, while in Washington, President Bush portrayed America as the “home front” in a war against terrorism.
“Anyone who is responsible for this act, Osama or not, we will not side with him,” Information Minister Qudrutullah Jamal told Reuters in Islamabad by telephone from Kabul.
However, he said bin Laden’s involvement in the attack by hijacked airliners that slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon must be proven before the Saudi-born exile could be handed over, and then only for trial in a third country.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in Washington that providing proof could be a problem because of the need to protect intelligence sources.
“To the extent you compromise a source or a method of gathering information, you have damaged yourself,” he said. Rumsfeld also suggested that one or more nations provided support for the hijackers, but would not reveal more.
A week after the attacks, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the chances of finding any of the 5,422 people still missing in the rubble of the World Trade Center were “very, very small.”
Many Americans, led by Bush, who has vowed stern retaliation against any state harboring those responsible, observed a moment of silence at 8:48 a.m., exactly one week after the first of two planes slammed into the World Trade Center.
In New York, local radio and television stations stopped regular programming to play the national anthem, the sound of tolling bells or somber music, marking the minute when the city’s skyline and psyche were forever changed.
After a massive sell-off on Monday when markets opened for the first time since the attacks, U.S. stocks wobbled and finally fell again on Tuesday as investors worried the already troubled economy would go into a tailspin.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 17.30 points, 0.19 percent to 8,903.40, its lowest close since December 1998. The NASDAQ Composite Index dropped 24.27 points, or 1.55 percent to 1,555.08, its lowest close since October 1998.
Caution persisted in world markets as many financiers worried that a U.S. campaign against global terror could hit buying power worldwide.
Executives from U.S. airlines, whose shares plummeted worst of all on Monday, met with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta on Tuesday in hopes of getting a $24 billion government bailout. The airlines were stung by a two-day shutdown of the national air system after the attacks, and now are being hit by heavy airport security and a widespread fear of flying.
Mineta said the Bush administration hoped to have an airline bailout proposal ready by early next week.
U.S. investigators expanded to more than 190 the number of people they want to question in connection with the attacks, and are investigating if any of the 75 now in custody may have planned other hijackings.