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Year Of Infamy

On the eve of the New Year, America looks back at 2001, a year indelibly marked by a devastating terror attack that killed thousands of innocent civilians, followed by a deadly anthrax scare and a war in Afghanistan.

These epic events dwarfed the "normal" news headlines of 2001: a national economic recession, the inauguration of a new president, the execution of terrorist Timothy McVeigh, a political upheaval that put the Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate, and the violent continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Here are the news highlights of 2001:

Sept. 11 - Suicide hijackers crashed two airliners into World Trade Center, toppling the 110-story twin towers. Another plane slammed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed outside Pittsburgh. Some 3,000 people were killed in all.

The shock, sorrow and revulsion produced by the surprise attack united the nation. President Bush quickly labeled the attacks "acts of war" and asked Congress for $20 billion to rebuild and recover. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that Osama bin Laden was the prime suspect in terror attacks.

Amid sharply increased security, Americans held services and vigils in remembrance for the victims. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani emerged as a popular national leader for his skillful and energetic handling of the World Trade Center.

In the wake of catastrophic terrorism, many Americans developed a newfound respect for the country's civil servants. Among the victims of the trade center attack were 366 men and women who dedicated their lives to rescue and protection as New York firefighters and police officers. Many rushed into the burning buildings, giving their lives to save others.

In the months after the attacks, the nation resumed something approaching a normal rythmn, but major changes wrought by the attack were much in evidence. The attack severely damaged an already weak economy and set the United States on the road to war.

Read more about
new laws ushered in by 2002.

War On Terrorism - After the attacks, President Bush declared war on international terrorists and those who assist them. The U.S. military and allied Afghan forces toppled Afghanistan's Taliban regime and pursued members of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

After a slow military beginning, anti-Taliban forces backed by massive U.S. bombing drove the Talban from power in a matter of weeks.

To fill the power vacuum created by the Taliban's demise, U.N.-sponsored talks in Bonn, Germany, brought together a disparate mix of hardened fighters, tribal leaders, Islamic fundamentalists and exiled royalists. The talks lasted for nine days and culminated in delegates signing a U.N.-brokered agreement that calls for a 30-member interim authority to govern Afghanistan for six months until elections can be held.

By December, the U.S. was coducting an intense search for bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Both men remained at large at year's end.

But bombs and bullets were not the only weapons deployed in the war on terror. The Bush administration targeted the enemy's pocketbook, freezing some $33 million in assets belonging to 153 known terrorists, terrorist organizations and terrorist financial centers.

Joining the assault, more than 140 countries also issued complementary orders freezing the assets of suspected terror groups and succeeded in blocking millions more in funds.

Antrax attack - 2001 is the year America faced its first bioterrorism attack. Frightening as it was, it was not a full-scale catastrophe with a large death toll. But it killed five people and forced the nation to confront a microscopic and unfamiliar foe: anthrax.

Instead of being spread through the air with sophisticated equipment as bioterrorism doomsdayers might predict, the lethal white powder was delivered in the mail - postmarked Sept. 18 from Trenton, N.J. The letters were addressed to prominent politicians and journalists.

None of the sinister letters, addressed in crude block lettering, harmed the intended targets. The victims were postal workers, administrative assistants, congressional staffers and innocent bystanders. Thirteen people who were infected, including a baby, recovered.

The FBI and other agencies have assigned as many as 1 of every 4 investigators to the case. Theories abound about whether the terrorist is domestic or foreign, but there are few clues and, officially, no suspects.

Anthrax may not be the weapon of mass destruction as originally feared. But it certainly has proved to be a weapon of mass disruption. It briefly shut down Congress, sowed panic and has forced security steps costing billions of dollars. The crisis has exposed critical gaps in the nation's disease surveillance and emergency management systems that still are being debated.

Economy - The U.S. economy slipped into recession in 2001 as the stock market plunged and unemployment soared.

The U.S. is on pace to record more job losses in 2001 than it has in at least nine years, the job placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said. Since the terrorist attacks, companies have announced 624,411 job cuts, more than the 12-month totals for every year from 1993-1997, the firm said.

Through the end of November companies had announced close to 1.8 million job cuts in 2001, nearly three times more than were announced in 2000 and the largest number since Challenger began tabulating such figures in 1993.

The high-tech sector was particularly hard hit. The dot-com death toll, for example, more than doubled, with at least 537 Internet companies worldwide either going out of business or seeking refuge in bankruptcy court. This year's casualties joined 225 dot-coms that perished during 2000, said

But the worst may be over. The stock market bounced back nea the end of the year in what analysts hope is a prelude to a recovery in 2002. Only 21 Internet companies have failed in each of the past two months, the lowest mortality rate since 10 dot-coms failed in August 2000.

Bush presidency - Mr. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States on Jan. 20, after a near dead-heat election in which he lost the popular vote. He promised a "new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character."

One Cabinet nominee, Linda Chavez, withdrew amid controversy; another, John Ashcroft, faced bitter confirmation hearings before gaining the job of attorney general that now puts him in charge of the terror and anthrax investigations.

Mr. Bush's dominant policy concerns included tax cuts and stem cells; perhaps his biggest setback was the defection of Jim Jeffords, which tilted control of the Senate from Republicans to Democrats.

But there were major victories as well, especially sweeping tax-cut legislation that he pushed through the Congress. His handling of the war in Afghanistan has pushed his approval rating through the roof. He is now, perhaps, at the height of his popularity with the American people.

Timothy McVeigh - Before Sept. 11, the Oklahoma City bomber was public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of many Americans. In January, he refused to file an appeal to his death sentence and officials set a May 16 execution date.

There was debate over whether the execution should be public or private and who should be allowed to witness it, and outrage over a book written by two Buffalo, N.Y., reporters after extensive interviews with McVeigh. In it, McVeigh expressed no remorse for the 168 people killed in the bombing, calling the 19 children who died "collateral damage."

Just six days before his scheduled May 16 execution, the government released information that the FBI had failed to turn over thousands of documents to McVeigh's attorneys. On May 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft delayed McVeigh's execution until June 11.

On June 6, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, who presided over McVeigh's federal trial, rejected McVeigh's request to delay the execution and he was put to death 7:14 a.m., June 11.

Jeffords and the Senate - Anyone who had predicted a year ago that Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords would end up on the cover of Newsweek magazine, be touted as a possible Time person of the year, and be interviewed by Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes" would have been ridiculed.

But all that happened - and more, triggered by Jeffords' announcement in May that he would leave the Republican Party and become an independent, a move that gave Democrats control of the Senate.

Senate Republican leader Trent Lott termed Jeffords' switch "a coup of one," and GOP leaders in Vermont bitterly denounced as a "Benedict Arnold" the man who had topped their ticket for decades.

The Jeffords switch had enormous implications: It scrambld the power structure of the Senate, provided a sobering setback to President Bush.

Arab-Israeli conflict - Suicide bombings by Palestinian militants and repeated forays by Israeli forces into Palestinian communities created a climate of mistrust that severely damaged peace prospects.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon repeatedly compared Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Osama bin Laden. Syrian President Bashar Assad condemned "state terrorism," and meant Israel.

The deadly suicide bombings prompted Israeli retaliation that struck uncomfortably close to Arafat himself, though the Israelis said they had no intention to assassinate him. Instead, the Palestinian leader was declared "irrelevant."

At year's end, the lethal conflict was no closer to resolution.

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