U.S., on Friday remembered the nearly 3,000 people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington with smaller events this year, as part of efforts to enforce social-distancing during the pandemic.
U.S. President Donald Trump marked the 19th anniversary in Pennsylvania, at the site where one of the four hijacked planes crashed after passengers attempted to regain control from the hijackers.
After the names of the 40 deceased passengers and crew were recited, Trump urged unity.
“Our sacred task, our righteous duty and our solemn pledge is to carry forward the noble legacy of the brave souls who gave their lives for us 19 years ago,” he said.
“In their memory, we resolve to stand united as one American nation, to defend our freedoms, to uphold our values, to love our neighbours, to cherish our country, to care for our communities, to honour our heroes, and to never, ever forget,” he added.
Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, attended a morning ceremony at the 9/11 memorial in New York, where attackers flew two aeroplanes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Vice President Mike Pence and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also attended the commemoration at ground zero, at which attendees were required to wear masks and stay socially distant.
Biden and Pence exchanged elbow bumps, a popular greeting in the coronavirus era, displaying unity amid a campaigning season marked by stark political division.
Biden later travelled to Pennsylvania, a key battleground state in the November presidential election, though he did not cross paths with Trump.
The former vice president, who vowed to avoid campaigning for the day, laid a wreath at the memorial site, spoke with mourners, and brought beer and pastries to a local fire department.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris attended a ceremony near the Pentagon, which was also hit by the attackers.
The hijackings were the single worst attack on U.S. soil in the country’s history.
However, the high death toll from the coronavirus, with more than 190,000 fatalities and rising, cast a heavy shadow over this year’s memorial.
New York City has been the hardest-hit area of the country, with more than 23,000 deaths.
Beams of light shone into the sky over New York overnight from where the Twin Towers once stood.
A similar beam came up from the Pentagon just outside Washington.
Flags were at half-staff, including at the White House, and bells tolled in New York City to honour the dead.
Many of the normal memorial events were scaled back as a safety precaution, with fewer speeches and some aspects limited to immediate families only.
In New York City, the traditional reading of victims’ names by relatives was called off at the 9/11 memorial, with pre-recorded playbacks broadcast instead.
Unhappy with the changes, a foundation conducted a simultaneous ceremony nearby in Manhattan, at which family members recited the names of their loved ones while keeping at a distance. Pence attended both events.
After the attacks, the U.S. launched an invasion of Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda leaders had planned the attacks, and later Iraq. The U.S. remains in both countries.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to Qatar to take part in inter-Afghan peace talks this weekend.
The Taliban and the U.S. reached a deal in February, which is meant to pave the way for Washington to draw down its troops in Afghanistan.