Hundreds of thousands across the United States and around the world halted to observe a minute’s silence at 8.46am New York time, remembering the moment exactly 10 years ago when al Qaeda terrorists flew a passenger jet into the World Trade Centre’s north tower.
Traffic vanished from the streets of lower Manhattan and thousands of pedestrians stood motionless on the city’s usually bustling pavements with their heads bowed.
Bereaved family members gave a complete roll call of the dead lasting nearly two hours, the same length of time that it took to destroy the Twin Towers.
President Barack Obama and his predecessor George W Bush both attended the ceremony, which marked the dedication of the National September 11 Memorial.
Bereaved relatives, most of whom have never recovered the remains of their loved ones, touched their fingertips to the names of the dead carved into black stone. Some laid flowers and pictures by their loved one’s name, some took rubbings of their names, while others knelt and hugged the stone.
Almost 3000 people died as terrorists slammed passenger jets into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Washington, and a fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers stormed the cockpit to stop hijackers hitting a fourth target, Washington’s US Capitol.
Further silences were observed to mark the attack on the south tower, the collapse of each tower, and the moments when the other planes made impact, each heralded with a toll of bells.
The ceremony was sombre, opening with the skirl of bagpipes and including a haunting rendition of the US national anthem sung by Brooklyn Youth Choir. Firefighters held up an American flag, slashed and tattered but in one piece, which was retrieved from Ground Zero.
The crowd joined in when the singer-songwriter Paul Simon performed his song The Sound of Silence, and cheered as he ended his performance with three chords echoing tolling bells.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg considered the effects of 9/11 on the city, saying: “Ten years have passed since a perfect blue-sky morning turned into the blackest of nights.
“Since then, we’ve lived in sunshine and in shadow, and although we can never unsee what happened here, we can also see that children who lost their parents have grown into young adults, grandchildren have been born and good works and public service have taken root to honour those we loved and lost.”
Quoting Shakespeare, he added: “Let us not measure our sorrow by their worth, for then it will have no end.”
President Barack Obama read from Psalm 46, opening: “God is our refuge and strength”. After attending the Ground Zero event, the president went on to memorial services in Washington and Pennsylvania.
The centrepiece of the event, however, was the reading of names and tributes, which moved many to tears.
“May your soul finally rest in peace. Your son Nathan and I, as the years go by, grow strong. Goodbye, my dear friend, my teacher and my hero,” said Candy Glazer, whose husband Edmund was on American Airlines Flight 11 that hit the World Trade Centre’s north tower.
“I haven’t stopped missing my dad. He was awesome. I wish my dad had been there to teach me how to drive, ask a girl out on a date and see me graduate,” said Peter Negron, whose father Pete died in the attacks.
At the Pentagon, Vice-President Joe Biden looked moved as the American national anthem was performed. He said: “Al Qaeda and bin Laden never imagined that the 3000 people who lost their lives that day would inspire three million to put on the uniform, and harden the resolve of 300 million Americans.”
Mr Obama travelled to Pennsylvania, where former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton earlier gathered, to pay tribute to the “heroes” of Flight 93 who tried to wrestle hijackers away from the plane’s controls.
The anniversary drew messages of sympathy and support from around the world. Pope Benedict prayed for September 11 victims and appealed to those with grievances to “always reject violence”.
The new memorial at Ground Zero comprises “twin” pools, 50ft deep square wells built into the footprints of the vanished skyscrapers. Water cascades into each around the perimeter walls, with names of the victims in the towers etched along the rim.
Relatives of around 10 of the 67 Britons killed in the attacks were thought to be in New York for the service, with an additional event planned at the British Memorial Garden in New York’s Hanover Square.
However, the commemorations were held against a backdrop of renewed fears about terrorists using the occasion to mount an attack.
Particular concerns focused on the threat of a lorry bomb followed a tip-off by a CIA informant, leading police in Manhattan to patrol bridges and tunnels and single out large vehicles and rental lorries for searches.
Security was tight in New York and Washington due to what authorities described as a “credible but unconfirmed” threat.
US officials said a CIA informant had told them of a plan involving three men of Arab descent, two of whom could be American citizens and may already be in the country.
The third suspect is thought to have travelled to Europe but not entered the US.