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New terror fight casts shadow over 9/11 events

A woman grieves at her husband’s memorial at the South Tower Memorial Pool during observances Thursday on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. (AP Photo/The New York Times, Chang W. Lee, Pool)

A woman grieves at her husband’s memorial at the South Tower Memorial Pool during observances Thursday on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. (AP Photo/The New York Times, Chang W. Lee, Pool)

NEW YORK – The nation’s gathering war against a new upsurge in Islamic terror hung heavy over the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Thursday, stirring both anxiety and determination among those who came to ground zero to remember their loved ones.

The familiar silence to mark the attacks and the solemn roll call of the nearly 3,000 dead came just hours after President Barack Obama told the country he is authorizing stepped-up airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State extremists.

“It’s an ongoing war against terrorists. Old ones die out and new ones pop up,” Vasile Poptean said as he left the ceremony, where he had gone to remember his brother, Joshua Poptean. “If we don’t engage them now, there’s a possibility there will be another 9/11 down the road.”

Victims’ relatives and dignitaries gathered in the plaza where the twin towers once stood, an area of shimmering new skyscrapers, including the soon-to-open 1,776-foot One World Trade Center.

The attacks were also commemorated in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where former House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave the flag that flew atop the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 to the Flight 93 National Memorial.

At the Pentagon, where Obama spoke at a wreath-laying ceremony, he didn’t mention the rise of Islamic State extremists specifically but noted: “We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world.”

“That was the case before 9/11,” the president said, “and that remains true today.”

Obama’s nationally televised announcement of his plans to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militants, coming on the eve of the anniversary, sparked mixed feelings among 9/11 victims’ relatives. Some saw it as a sign of determination, others as bad timing.

“We’re all walking out the door today with tragic and sad and scary memories on us. … It’s an invitation to fight on a day where we lost,” said Ellen Mora, who lost her cousin, Robert Higley. But she noted that her mother felt differently, seeing the speech as “us standing tall on the anniversary.”

So did Tom Langer, who lost his pregnant sister-in-law, Vanessa Langer.

“Thirteen years later, it feels like the world is still paying attention,” he said.

Still others lamented that the U.S. was still battling terrorists 13 years after the attacks.

“We’re fighting for nothing. We lost so many already, and we will lose so many more,” said Gary Lanham, whose father, Michael Lowe, died at the World Trade Center.

While little about the annual ceremony at ground zero has changed, much around it has.

When the underground National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum opened this spring, fences around the memorial plaza above it came down, making it more easily accessible to visitors and passers-through.

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