Crowds jammed the streets around Ground Zero early Monday to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 attacks that left deep-rooted scars on New York.
Relatives of the more than 2,700 people killed when the World Trade Center towers came down, firemen and police who took part in the rescue and nervous New Yorkers – who have been on alert for the past decade – flocked onto the streets after news that the Al-Qaeda leader had been killed in Pakistan.
“There is no greater joy in my life than to know that this man is dead,” said Harry Gomez, a National Guard trooper who was among the first on the scene after Al-Qaeda hijackers flew two jets into the towers on the morning of September 11, 2001.
City leaders were barely more diplomatic in their reaction to the demise of the Al-Qaeda founder.
Police chief Raymond Kelly called the death of bin Laden a “welcome milestone” for the families of the victims. “New Yorkers have waited nearly 10 years for this news,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Streets around the site of the World Trade Center towers – ever since tragically known as Ground Zero – quickly filled with thousands of people waving flags and singing the national anthem.
Some climbed up lamp posts and traffic signs in Church Street and others that had filled with toxic dust in 2001, trying to get a view over the barrier surrounding the massive construction site where the towers once stood.
New towers are to officially open there on the 10th anniversary in September.
Diane Massaroli joined crowds clutching a photograph of her husband, Michael, a worker at the Cantor Fitzgerald brokerage, was killed in 2001. None of his remains were ever found.
“I feel relief, I feel a closure that I thought I would never get,” she told NY1 television. “I just had to come here now. People are taking pictures of me with the photo of my husband. They are all very sweet.”
A fireman in uniform climbed onto a traffic sign to brandish a giant Stars and Stripes flag. The crowd started singing Born In The USA – the anthem of American rocker Bruce Springsteen.
New York firemen who paid a huge human price in the September 11 attacks joined more crowds in Times Square, again singing the national anthem and waving flags.
Just minutes after midnight, New York Fire Department Ladder number 4 truck rolled into the square to be applauded by crowds.
“Ten years and finally we got him,” Captain Patrice McLead, from Ladder 4, told AFP. “After all the loses and such a tragedy, we can finally be happy again. I hope this will bring a sense of closure, for all of us, including Muslims.”
Two of the four hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Centers on the morning of September 11, 2001. More than 2,750 were killed in New York out of the approximately 3,000 killed in all.
About 400 police and fire personnel died when the towers crashed down into financial district, others have died since.
“Everything on that day was surreal. No amount of training in the world would prepare you for what happened that day,” said Gomez, the National Guardsman.
Zeshan Hamdani, whose brother Mohammad died rescuing victims in the towers, also found relief in the death of bin Laden. “I am happy but I feel like crying. It’s great to finally get this guy,” he said.
“The killing of Osama bin Laden does not lessen the suffering that New Yorkers and Americans experienced at his hands,” said New York mayor Bloomberg.
“But it is a critically important victory for our nation – and a tribute to the millions of men and women in our armed forces and elsewhere who have fought so hard for our nation.
“New Yorkers have waited nearly ten years for this news. It is my hope that it will bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.”
The death of bin Laden came one year to day after a Pakistani-American, Faisal Shahzad, failed in an attempt to set off a car bomb in a Times Square sidestreet. He is now serving a life jail term.
Kelly, the city police chief, said there was no evidence of a “specific threat” now but called on all police to remain on alert. Media reports said the police presence would be heightened in coming days.
Kelly called the killing of bin Laden was “a welcome milestone for the friends and families of those killed on 9/11, and for all who remain tenaciously engaged in protecting New York from another attack.”