In what seemed like related attacks on the best-known landmarks of U.S. financial and military power, two airplanes crashed separately into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and another crashed into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C.
The 110-story towers in Manhattan later collapsed. A fourth plane, which officials speculated was intended to crash into the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, went down in western Pennsylvania. The attacks are feared to have left thousands dead and injured.
The Pope, who followed the news from the papal summer residence southeast of Rome, rushed a telegram to U.S. President George W. Bush within hours of the first attacks.
"Shocked by the unspeakable horror of today´s inhuman terrorist attacks against innocent people in different parts of the United States," the Holy Father´s telegram said, "I hurry to express to you and your fellow citizens my profound sorrow and my closeness in prayer for the nation at this dark and tragic moment."
"Commending the victims to almighty God´s eternal mercy, I implore his strength upon all involved in rescue efforts and in caring for the survivors," the Pope stated. "I beg God to sustain you and the American people in this hour of suffering and trial."
The Vatican newspaper, L´Osservatore Romano, dedicated its entire front page to the attacks, headlining its delayed afternoon editions "The madness of terror.´´ It said the strikes were the work of "diabolic minds´´ intent on plunging humanity into an unimaginable climate of war.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, said that when the Holy Father heard the news of the attacks, he immediately went to pray "to beg from the Lord the end of such fratricidal violence."