World braces for terror as U.S. attacks cast global chill
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
Associated Press Writer
TOKYO (AP) -- The world went on a terror alert Wednesday as governments stepped up security in the wake of audacious attacks in New York and Washington that left people around the globe wondering whether their cities might be next.
Malaysians feared the worst when a bomb threat triggered the morning evacuation of thousands of people from the world's tallest buildings -- the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
A second threat cleared another skyscraper in Malaysia's biggest city, while a third later in the day targeted the Messeturm -- one of the tallest buildings in Frankfurt, Germany.
Police later ruled all the threats as pranks -- but another chill was cast when the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta warned that terrorists may be planning a strike against American interests in Indonesia.
As the world recoiled, global leaders raced to prevent a possible repeat of the death and destruction unleashed when two hijacked airplanes crashed into New York's World Trade Center on Tuesday, destroying both towers and likely killing thousands of people.
It was a shock felt round the world.
"What about my country, or here in Tokyo? Will there be attacks as well?" said British headhunter Nick Frank, poring over a Japanese newspaper with the banner headline, "America Center of Simultaneous Terror."
From Russia to Australia, soldiers mobilized, embassies locked their doors and stock markets shut down. Schools kept students home, and skyscrapers cut off access. Leaders mourned, rushed home from abroad and hastily called crisis meetings. Even the tiny city-state of Singapore sounded the alarm.
"The focus of the world is now on the danger of copycat terrorist attacks on capitals of the world," Singapore Defense Minister Tony Tan said.
Calling for "utmost vigilance," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went on television to calm the country and outline his defense strategy: Stabilize Japanese financial markets, step up military patrols and coordinate an emergency rescue team to help the United States dig out from the rubble.
That was cold comfort, however, on the streets of Tokyo, where a wary population still remembers the 1995 nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subway system that killed 12 people and sickened thousands.
Another terrorist attack "could happen in Japan, too, since we're allies with America," bus driver Kohei Suzuki said.
Wednesday's terrorist warning in Indonesia followed a similar alert issued last week by the U.S. State Department to Americans living in Japan and neighboring South Korea. At the time, an embassy spokesman in Tokyo said officials had "credible" information an attack might occur in the region. So far, it hasn't.
But Tuesday's attacks in the United States underlined the need for everybody to be prepared.
"The challenge is how to protect the nation," Japan's Defense Agency chief, Gen Nakatani, said, according to Kyodo news agency, after cutting short an Indonesian visit to return home.
Around the world, countries mobilized soldiers or police to bolster security at potential terrorist targets -- government buildings, airports, harbors, diplomatic missions and military bases.
"It's better to have too high security level than too low," Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair led a crisis meeting of senior security officials, and European Union officials were to do the same in Brussels, Belgium. NATO ambassadors also met, after telling much of the alliance's office staff to stay home as a precaution.
Traveling European Commission officials were called home immediately, some from as far away as Singapore.
At the same time, the European Central Bank gave an emergency injection of liquidity into monetary markets, meant to stabilize volatile financial swings.
Britain's Scotland Yard said it marshaled 1,000 extra police for London's streets, just to "reassure the public."
Meanwhile, Israel, a frequent target of terrorist attacks, closed itself off by air and land, a move almost unprecedented in peace time.
In a rare afternoon television address, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian urged the public to stay calm, saying the island must "stick together when facing a possible change in the international situation."
Throughout Asia, black-clad swat teams and soldiers with bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled government buildings, airports and embassy neighborhoods.
International schools in Moscow, Bangkok, Jakarta and Tokyo canceled classes Wednesday.
Worry also ran high that other high-rises -- not just the World Trade Center and the Petronas Towers -- could be marked for attack.
Check points were set up outside Hong Kong's Citibank Tower and Asian-Pacific Financial Tower, and the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, was completely shut following Tuesday's strike.
In an effort to calm financial markets, which tumbled after the terrorist attacks, the Tokyo exchange opened 30 minutes late and established narrower trading bands. Still, the benchmark Nikkei index plummeted more than 6 percent to its lowest level since 1984.
Markets in Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and Cyprus were closed completely.
Tuesday's airstrike on the World Trade Center was the most devastating terrorist onslaught ever waged against the United States. The deadly calamity was witnessed on televisions across the world as another plane slammed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed outside Pittsburgh.