WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD — More than 100 U.S. military aircraft were ordered to the Gulf region Wednesday as President Bush pressed for allies in his global “war on terrorism,” fanning fears of
conflict and recession around the globe.

As Washington geared up for its first major military deployment after last week’s hijacked-airplane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, more bad economic news clattered in and Bush said he would address
Congress Thursday to explain “who would do this to our great country and why.”

Washington rejected an apparent offer from Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers for talks concerning Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden. The United States considers bin Laden its prime suspect and said it wanted to see action
on its demands to hand him over after last week’s attacks left nearly 6,000 people dead or missing.

Stock investors, reeling on fears that corporate profits and consumer spending will slump following the attacks, sent U.S. markets plunging to three-year lows, while aviation giants including aircraft maker Boeing and two
major U.S. airlines announced tens of thousands of layoffs.

The grim U.S. economic news came as overseas governments slashed growth forecasts, the dollar slumped against the Swiss Franc and crude oil prices sagged — all despite interest-rate cuts by central banks aimed at
blocking a recessionary spiral.

Acknowledging that the U.S. economy faces “tough times,” Bush pledged to work with Congress to keep America’s economic heart beating.

“This has shocked our economy and we’re going to respond,” Bush told reporters after meeting with Congressional leaders on the eighth day since hijackers slammed two planes into the 110-story twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and a third into the Pentagon near Washington. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

After days of tough talk following the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. military officials moved into action Wednesday as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered fighters, bombers and support aircraft to begin moving toward bases in or near the Gulf region as early as Thursday.

The operation, which has been dubbed “Operation Infinite Justice,” remained cloaked in mystery with officials declining to specify where the planes would go. But the new force was expected to join over 200 U.S.
warplanes already stationed in the Gulf and Indian Ocean — possibly setting the stage for a strike against Afghanistan.

“We are after something more than revenge. We are after dealing with and eliminating this threat to civilization,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said.

In addition to the Air Force planes, the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt left port in Virginia Wednesday headed for the Mediterranean. Two other U.S. carriers, the Carl Vinson and Enterprise, are already in the region and
together the three carry more than 210 Navy strike and support aircraft.

Bush told reporters he would address a joint session of the U.S. Congress Thursday to discuss the attacks, saying he owed the country “an explanation” for what happened and what was being done to respond.

Many military analysts expect that response to focus on bin Laden, who Bush had identified as the suspected mastermind behind last Tuesday’s attacks.

Bush, meeting a string of top-level foreign visitors at the Oval Office, again warned Afghanistan’s leaders that they must surrender the 44-year-old multimillionaire, considered a ”guest” in Afghanistan, and members of his al Qaeda organization — or face the consequences.

“Anybody who harbors terrorists needs to fear the United States and the rest of the freedom-loving world,” Bush said.

That blunt message came after the Taliban’s reclusive spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, said he was ready for talks with the United States on bin Laden — even while demanding to see the evidence against the
guerrilla leader and hinting that Bush’s real goal was to crush Islamic rule.

“The enemies of this country look on the Islamic system as a thorn in their eye and they seek different excuses to finish it off. Osama bin Laden is one of these,” Omar said in a speech read out to hundreds of Islamic clerics
meeting in Kabul who were expected to rule on bin Laden’s fate Thursday.

With Afghanistan already clearly in the U.S. sights, officials hinted Wednesday they might expand their campaign to include other foreign governments. Attorney General John Ashcroft, the top U.S. law enforcement
official, said it was clear that the hijackers’ networks were “harbored and supported … by a variety of foreign governments.”

“It’s time for those governments to understand with crystal clarity that the United States will not tolerate that,” he said without elaborating.

Meanwhile, a national dragnet continued for possible witnesses or suspects into the attacks even as rescue workers continued their increasingly desperate hunt for survivors in the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center,
where more than 5,400 people are still missing.

FBI officials say they have a list of about 200 people they want to question. In Detroit, three men from Algeria and Morocco were arrested Monday after allegedly being found with false identity papers and notes on a U.S. air base in Turkey and a Jordanian airport, while a fourth believed to have links with bin Laden was being sought.

While in the New York suburb of White Plains a grand jury began assisting in the investigation, in downtown Manhattan the focus remained on the wreckage of the World Trade Center towers, where officials conceded that
hopes were dimming because no survivors have been found for a week.

“I don’t think there will be a material change in the status today,” New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said at a news conference with visiting French President Jacques Chirac, who became the first foreign leader to survey the
devastation.

Just blocks away on Wall Street the mood was also grim as stock markets — which had seemed to stabilize Tuesday after dropping sharply at the start of the week — resumed falling.

The Dow Jones industrial average, the broad Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and the technology-heavy Nasdaq all fell sharply — reflecting broad market instability.

“I think the market right now is seized by fear rather than rationality,” said Stanley Nabi, managing director at Credit Suisse Asset Management.

A fresh layoff announcement from giant aircraft maker Boeing Co. — which plans to shed up to 30,000 jobs by the end of 2002 — came atop a raft of job cuts at airlines, reflecting the devastation wrought on the country’s
aviation sector as travel demand dries up following the aerial attacks.

U.S. officials continued efforts to build a “global coalition against terrorism” that Bush says will use diplomatic, financial and military means to “smoke out” those behind the attacks and punish states that tolerate them.

“The message to every country is, there will be a campaign against terrorist activity, a worldwide campaign,” Bush told reporters as he met Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, leader of the world’s largest Muslim
country.

Bush, at pains to portray his campaign as a drive against ”terrorism” rather than the world’s Muslims, hailed Pakistan’s military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf for taking a “bold” step in aligning his nation with the United
States.

“There is no question that President Musharraf has taken a bold position, which is to say he’ll work to the extent he can with American and our allies as we deal with the prime suspect in this case,” Bush said.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, after meeting Bush Wednesday, said Moscow would “render all possible assistance” while German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Berlin would ”not rule out any option, including a possible military commitment.”

Saudi Arabia, which as the home of Islam and bin Laden’s birthplace could play a key role rallying broader Arab support for the U.S. push, also signed up — although Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the campaign
should be “clearheaded”.