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New York firefighters recall 9/11 victims in wake of cancelled Taliban talks

Firefighters are still dying from the effects of the 2001 terror attacks and colleagues had mixed reactions to diplomatic moves

New York firefighters recall 9/11 victims in wake of cancelled Taliban talks
A firefighter walks past the South Pool during ceremonies at the National 9/11 Memorial marking the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

New York firefighters, who continue to see colleague die of 9/11-related sickness, have offered mixed reactions to the now-cancelled secret Camp David talks with the Taliban that were set to take place three days before commemorations to mark the 18th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Some support the talks between the US and leaders of the Afghan insurgency, but others questioned the timing and wisdom of a meeting that had been planned for the presidential retreat at the weekend. Controversy was sparked when Donald Trumprevealed the hitherto clandestine plan while announcing the meeting was off.

Trial for five men charged with planning 9/11 to start in 2021, 20 years after attack

“I don’t want to see other families suffer the way I did. That’s the bottom line. Not soldiers or innocent victims of terrorism,” said retired New York deputy fire chief Jim Riches, whose son Jimmy died responding to the attack, as he spoke in support of talks in principle with the Taliban to try to bring peace to Afghanistan while withdrawing US troops.

In New York on Wednesday morning, loved ones of those who died when hijacked jets were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center began reading the names of the almost 3,000 people killed that day.

Another plane crashed into the Pentagon building in Virginia, and in Pennsylvania a fourth hijacked jet plunged into a field after passengers fought with the terrorists believed to be flying it towards the US Capitol.

A number of the readers at the attack site once known as Ground Zero in New York were children, who noted they had never met relatives who died on 9/11 but said they loved them very much.

Joseph Henry said he was named after his uncle, a firefighter who was killed, Joseph Patrick Henry. He said he wished he had got to know his uncle and that he was “honored to be named after you”.

Donald Trump delivered remarks at the Pentagon and laid a wreath.

Some firefighters or relatives who reacted to the news of proposed Taliban talks at Camp David expressed anger that a focus on Afghan Islamist militants had spared Saudi Arabia from accountability for its part in 9/11, reported the Journal of Emergency Medical Services

Rosaleen Tallon, who lost her brother, probationary firefighter Sean Tallon, and is part of a lawsuit alleging that Saudi government employees knowingly assisted the plot, said the US was “not really getting at 9/11”.

“That makes my blood boil,” she added.

Ellen Judd, who chairs the Afghanistan committee of the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and lost her partner in the attack, said she supported the withdrawal of US troops.

“I think it would be great if the troops were withdrawn. While we certainly want that, there is so much more involved in the peace process,” she said.

But some said they felt the timing of the canceled weekend talks could have been better.

“I’m all for some kind of negotiated peace to bring our guys and gals back home,” said retired firefighter Lee Ielpi. But, he said, “it has to be the correct type of peace where the Taliban and al-Qaida are told point-blank … any violation at all will be dealt with swiftly and with a lot of strength.”

The reactions came as the president drew criticism for posting a photograph of himself with the first lady, Melania Trump, their backs to the camera, with the caption: “We Will Never Forget.”

“Except when we invite the Taliban over for a photo op,” George Conway fired back on Twitter. Conway is a sharp critic of Trump and also husband to the White House aide Kellyanne Conway.

Donald and Melania Trump hold hands in front of the Pentagon during the 18th anniversary commemoration ceremony, in Arlington, Virginia. Photograph: Kevin Dietsch/Pool/EPA

The 18th anniversary commemorations also came shortly after a date was finally set for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks, at the US military base in Guantánamo Bay on 11 January 2021.

Mohammed is charged with 2,976 counts of murder and related charges. Evidence will be presented to a jury composed of military officers at a court compound called Camp Justice and presided over by Col Shane Cohen of the US air force.

Meanwhile, as commemorations got under way, dedications to fallen firefighters continue to be erected, marking the names of those who have died in the years following 9/11 from exposure to toxins while working on rescue and then recovery at Ground Zero.

Last week, a plaque to firefighter John Elges, who died from cancer caused by Ground Zero toxins, was readied for the Queens borough firehouse where he served. Workers and others in and around Ground Zero after the twin towers fell down and the wreckage burned for weeks have also been sickened or have died.

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