ARLINGTON, VA - SEPTEMBER 11: U.S. President Barack Obama comforts a family member of the 9/11 attacks at an event marking the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Pentagon Memorial September 11, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. President Obama will deliver remark and lay a wreath during the event on the ninth anniversary of the attack (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama has paid a visit to "hallowed ground'' at the Pentagon to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
He says it might be natural to focus on the searing images from "that awful morning'' in 2001 when al-Qaida struck the U.S. and so many lives "were taken so cruelly.''
The president made clear in his remarks Saturday that the U.S. is not at war with Islam. And he denigrated the al-Qaida attackers as "a sorry band of men'' who perverted religion.
Obama said their goal was to divide and demoralize Americans. But he said "we will never hand them that victory.'' He called this a day of remembrance and reflection -- as well as a day of unity and renewal.
This year's remembrances of the 2001 attacks took place with growing public suspicion of Muslims, an emotion dispute over an Islamic community center and mosque planned near ground zero in New York City, and a Florida pastor's threat to burn Qurans.
"This is a time of difficulty for our country,'' Obama said. "And it is often in such moments that some try to stoke bitterness -- to divide us based on our differences, to blind us to what we have in common.
"But on this day, we are reminded that at our best, we do no give in to this temptation,'' Obama said.
First lady Michelle Obama joined first lady Laura Bush in Shanksville, Pa., where the fourth plane crashed after passengers rushed the cockpit. Vice President Joe Biden is in New York for the service at ground zero.
Bush told mourners, "in the face of terror, Americans chose to overcome evil." A moment of silence at the service was broken with relatives reading aloud the names of the 40 passengers and crew who died and a bell tolling for each one.
Mrs. Obama said future generations will come to "see how a scar in the earth has healed.''
By late Friday, it appeared the Rev. Terry Jones had backed off his plan to burn the Muslim holy book, following international condemnation. In New York, protests were planned for Saturday by supporters and opponents of the proposed mosque.
Obama alluded in his radio address to the contentious atmosphere, though without specifically addressing either controversy.
"But on this day, we are reminded that at our best, we do no give in to this temptation,'' Obama said. "We stand with one another. We fight alongside one another. We do not allow ourselves to be defined by fear, but by the hopes we have for our families, for our nation, and for a brighter future.''
At a White House news conference Friday Obama denounced the threatened Quran burning, said Muslims have the same right as any other religion to build near ground zero and issued a full-throated appeal for religious tolerance, reminding Americans: ``We are not at war against Islam.''
In the GOP's weekly address, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., echoed Obama's plea for a common purpose. Kyl called for the country to "rrecapture the unity that allowed us to come together as a nation to confront a determined enemy.''
But without mentioning the president by name, Kyl seemed to question the Obama administration's commitment to the war on terror begun by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama recently declared an end to combat missions in Iraq even as he pledged to renew efforts to prosecute the war in Afghanistan and pursue al-Qaida terrorists.
"The fact that none of the subsequent attempts to attack us have succeeded seems to have removed some of the urgency and commitment so necessary to succeed in war,'' Kyl said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a statement honoring the victims of ``that terrible day,'' said memories of the attacks "remain searingly vivid.''
"We remember the pain of loss, but also the pride in our people and our country,'' she said.