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President joins U.S. in somber tributes on 9/11 eve

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Bush and other top officials joined thousands gathering across the country Sunday in tearful tributes, prayers and quiet reflection on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In New York, the president and first lady Laura Bush placed wreaths in pools of water where the World Trade Center's twin towers stood before two commercial airliners toppled them five years ago.

Other memorials were held in Washington, where another hijacked passenger plane slammed into the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a fourth jet crashed into a field. (Watch Bush, first lady honor those who died -- 1:59)

An estimated 2,973 people were killed in the attacks.

The death toll from the twin towers was estimated at 2,749, including the 87 passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 and the 60 on United Airlines Flight 175. Among the dead were 60 police officers and 343 firefighters who responded to the scene.

After the wreath-laying ceremony, the president and first lady attended a service at Trinity Church, an Episcopal church near ground zero.

"It's hard not to think about the people who lost their lives on September the 11th, 2001," Bush said after the service. "You know, you see the relatives of those who still grieve, and I just wish there was some way we could make them whole. So, tomorrow's going to be a day of sadness for a lot of people."

But it's also a day for affirming the nation's fight against terrorists who would commit such acts against the American people and its allies, he said.

"It's also a day of remembrance, and I vowed that I'm never going to forget the lessons of that day," he said. "And we spent time in there, looking at some of the horrific scenes inside this fantastic place of healing, and it just reminded me that there's still an enemy out there that would like to inflict the same kind of damage again. And so tomorrow's also a day of renewing resolve."

Earlier Sunday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended the Fire Department's anniversary prayer service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan to honor what he called "shining lights" in the city's "darkest day." (Watch the former fire chief remember the fallen -- 3:12)

"Let me promise you one thing: We will not forget," Bloomberg said. "We will not succumb to terrorism, and we will make sure we build a better city, a better country, and a better world for freedom-loving peoples everywhere. May God bless you all, the memories of those we've lost and may God continue to bless New York City," he said.

In Washington, thousands of Americans participated Sunday evening in the Freedom Walk, now in its second year. They walked from the National Mall to the Pentagon's south parking lot, next to the crash site.

Afterward, the Pentagon beamed 184 lights into the sky, one for each of the people who died in the U.S. military headquarters when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into it. The lights will remain lit until Tuesday. (Watch Pentagon visitors share their feelings -- 1:43)

Hundreds of people also rode their motorcycles Sunday in the third annual "Rattle the Runway" ride, cruising to the Pentagon from the National Air and Space Museum's building near Dulles International Airport.

Hundreds of people traveled to the makeshift memorial in Shanksville, the rural Pennsylvania community where United Flight 93 crashed. The president and first lady were scheduled to go to Shanksville for another wreath-laying ceremony Monday morning.

Other ceremonies scheduled Monday include a moment of silence at ground zero at 8:46 a.m., the moment Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

About 200 people will then read the names of the victims, stopping only for the moments of silence at 9:03 a.m., when the South Tower was hit; 9:59 a.m., when the South Tower fell; and then at 10:29 a.m., when the North Tower collapsed.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney are expected to attend a morning ceremony at the Pentagon, where the president and Mrs. Bush will lay another wreath after attending the Shanksville commemoration.

Cheney told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that the United States has "stayed actively and aggressively involved in the hunt for (al Qaeda leader Osama) bin Laden from the very beginning," despite media reports that the task force assigned to find him has been disbanded and reports that the trail has gone cold.

"He continues to be a top priority today. That hasn't changed," Cheney said. "The president and I get periodic reports on our efforts in that regard. There's been no lessening of our interest or of our activity with that." (Watch why the White House says the nation is safer --1:22)

Now 49, the Saudi exile founded al Qaeda in 1988 as an association of Islamic militants who had battled the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Bin Laden and his associates have released numerous videotapes since September 11, 2001, praising and encouraging attacks on Western interests and lamenting the loss of its leaders, many of whom have been killed or captured by U.S.-led troops.

On Sunday, messages posted on several Web sites used by the terror network said a statement from bin Laden's top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, will be released "soon, God willing."

Similar announcements have been followed by statements posted on the Internet or broadcast by Arabic-language networks like Al-Jazeera.

A videotape aired Thursday by Al-Jazeera showed what was described as a meeting between bin Laden and Ramzi Binalshibh, a key plotter in the September 11 attacks, making preparations for the suicide hijackings.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush lay a wreath at the site where the World Trade Center fell five years ago.


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