In what authorities believe was a coordinated terrorist attack, two planes struck the World Trade Center in New York City this morning, while another plane struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

The first plane struck the trade center shortly before 9 a.m. Eastern. As camera crews filmed the billowing smoke from the WTC, a second plane – a commercial airliner – flew into the second WTC tower about 18-20 minutes later.

Meanwhile, within an hour of the first attack, a third plane struck a wing of the Pentagon opposite the Potomac River. Casualties are unknown at this hour, but officials believe the count may be very high.

Earlier, an anonymous caller claimed that the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine was responsible for the attacks. About 10:00 a.m. Eastern, however, an official with that group denied it was responsible.

Also around 10:00 a.m., the Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order banning all U.S. flights from taking off from any airport in the U.S. Government officials that were out of town are trying to hail military flights to get back to offices in Washington. A half-hour later, the FAA ordered all international flights to land at airports in Canada.

Both the White House and the Pentagon have been evacuated, NBC reported, quoting anonymous government officials.

The NYC planes struck the 110-story trade center twin towers about three-quarters of the way to the top of the building. About an hour after the attacks, the top quarter of one of the towers collapsed into the streets below. Officials said there is a potential for the second building to collapse as well.

By late morning, smoke continued to billow out of the World Trade Center buildings, as emergency crews worked double time to evacuate casualties.

All financial markets have been shut down for the day, officials said. U.S. intelligence officials say they have no claims of responsibility in what analysts and experts say could be the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

President Bush has called the incidents a coordinated terrorist attack. He was in Florida to give a speech on education, but was flown to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana after receiving news of the attacks. Officials said Air Force One was escorted by U.S. fighter jets during the trip.

At about 10:16 a.m., Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the attacks in the U.S., and denied any Palestinian involvement.

By 10:30 a.m., the second tower collapsed into the streets. Witnesses say emergency workers were swarming around both buildings at the time of the collapse.

“This is a difficult moment for America,” Bush said in Florida, before departing. He vowed to “hunt down and find those folks” who committed the acts.

Witnesses said they saw U.S. Air Force fighters flying “cover” over Washington, D.C., shortly after rumors circulated around 10:45 a.m. that another jetliner may be inbound.

Analysts said the U.S. is vulnerable to terrorist attacks because of its “open society,” while others blamed a failure of U.S. intelligence.

Officials said that very few known terrorist groups had the power or ability to pull off the attacks, but they did not provide the names of those groups.

Around 11:00 a.m., FAA officials said several U.S. airliners were still unaccounted for. One plane – a 767 – crashed about 80 miles north of Pittsburgh, but officials could not confirm whether that plane was being used for another attack.

NBC said an unnamed FBI official said a total of four flights were hijacked.

Meanwhile, NBC reported that Osama bin Laden said a few weeks ago that he and his followers would carry out an “unprecedented attack” against the U.S. An informant told Reuters that he personally had been told of the threats by bin Laden, officials said.

By 11:00 a.m., U.S. officials said all commercial planes had been accounted for.

Defense Department officials said President Bush ordered the military to threat condition “Delta,” meaning that armed personnel would be guarding all U.S. military facilities at home and abroad.

Officials have speculated that additional bombs – aboard the airliners and even planted inside the trade center – caused secondary explosions after the initial attacks.

A total of four planes were involved in the attacks:

  • American Airlines Flight 11, from Boston to LA, with 92 persons on board, was the first to crash into the World Trade Center;

  • United Airlines Flight 175, from Boston to LA, with an unknown number of passengers and crew aboard, was the second plane to crash into the trade center, about 20 minutes later;
  • American Airlines Flight 77, from Washington, D.C., to LA, with 64 passengers and crew aboard, crashed into the Pentagon about an hour after the trade center attacks;
  • United Airlines Flight 93, from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, crashed about 80 miles north of Pittsburgh.

News agencies have also begun to air footage of Palestinians celebrating in the streets at hearing the news of the U.S. attacks.

In a statement from Louisiana, Bush said, “The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no mistake, we will show the world that we will pass this test.”

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