Thank you all for joining me here in the courtyard today, as we take just a few minutes to mark the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Those attacks took place at this very hour, Eastern Standard Time, in 2001. Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked and flew four commercial planes into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3000 people died. It was the worst terrorist attack on our soil in our history.
I was there. Mrs. Pearce was at home in Virginia, watching it all on TV, not knowing what had happened, but knowing that I had flown into New York that same day at that same hour. I flew in on the U.S. Airways shuttle between the two planes hitting the two towers, then I watched from a cab in blocked traffic on a bridge over the East River as both towers came down. A bit later, I called my wife and told her I was ok – and others too. The attacks of that day changed the way the US, conducts foreign policy. One way or the other, I would imagine that they have profoundly touched the work and lives of nearly everyone standing here today.
Now it is true that Osama bin Laden is no more, but unfortunately the extremist violence of al Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups has proliferated. The job of counterterrorism is, therefore, still a fact of life for governments everywhere, including here in Greece. And not only governments. Last month’s attempted mass murder on a train speeding through Belgium was averted due to fast action by several alert passengers.
Responding to the threat of violent extremism requires a sustained effort – and international cooperation. This involves law enforcement, the military, intelligence services, advocacy, diplomacy, and public diplomacy.
That’s where you all come in. The quality of relations among countries profoundly affects the quality of that cooperation – and consequently, our ablity to keep our nations safe and secure. We should have no illusions. The challenges to our societies that the 9/11 attacks symbolize will not be going away anytime soon.
Here in Greece, we have lost five staff members over the years, and many more Greeks have died as well at the hands of domestic terrorists. The country is in the middle of an unsettled region, and it is now facing major challenges with twin economic and migration crises. So the fight goes on.
The lesson of 9/11 is that we must remain vigilant, both at home and abroad, in the struggle to keep our people safe. This is why I took such a strong public position a few months ago about the possible release of a terrorist convicted of killing members of this mission.
And the legacy of 9/11 is that we must not forget those who have lost their lives, and we must not give up the fight, ever, to hold to account those who are responsible for such acts. That will remain a big part of what we all do here at the embassy in many ways, and will remain a big part of our relationship with our friends and allies here in Greece.
And now, I’d like to ask you all to join me in observing a minute of silence in honor of the 3,000 who died on 9/11, 2001.
[Step away from the podium. One minute of silence.]
Thank concludes the ceremony.
Thank you all very much for coming today.