One year on, US ambassador recalls reaction to September 11 attacks

His Excelency Craig R. Stapleton

When the United States ambassador to Prague, Craig Stapleton, took up his post at the end of August last year, little could he have suspected what horrors lay ahead for his country. Two weeks later, the World Trade Centre was in ruins and thousands of Mr Stapleton's fellow-citizens had been killed in terrorist attacks. Czech Radio's Pavla Kvapilova spoke to US ambassador Craig Stapleton on Tuesday, and began by asking him what he was doing when he first heard about the attack on New York.

"I remember exactly where I was last year on September 11. I was in the British Embassy, having my introductory meeting with the British ambassador."

How was that? Did you believe that in the first moment?

"Our meeting had just started when his aide came up and said that two planes had hit the towers. I'd heard before I left my US Embassy that a plane had hit one of the towers. Like all Americans, we thought it was a small plane, a misdirected flight in the fog, that kind of thing."

Was that the most difficult moment for you, or did it come maybe later?

"I think that during the first few days we were so concerned with the possibility that there were other attacks world-wide, that we didn't have time to let the reality of what had happened slip in. I had two very close friends who were killed in the World Trade Centre, and I knew many people who worked there and I knew the buildings quite well; I knew exactly what had happened in New York."

I remember last year, not very long after September 11, you said in one interview that life in the United States would not change so much - do you think that you were a good prophet?

"In the good sense life hasn't changed. People need to go back and live their lives in the way Americans do in a free and open society. And I think for the most part that has been true. But at the same time Americans know that they need to be personally vigilant, about terrorism, so that's a change from September 11."

After September 11 the hunt for Osama Bin Laden began; did you expect one year ago that now, at this moment, he wouldn't be caught yet?

"Well, he hasn't been showing his face in public in a long time - there's a debate as to whether he's still alive. But more importantly, the infrastructure of terrorism that existed with the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan has been effectively destroyed."

Do you think we should be afraid of possible future terrorist attacks?

"I think we need to be very vigilant. The good new is since September 11 there've been no major attacks, world wide. But if you look out over the longer term, we believe that incremental terrorist attacks are virtually certain."

Authors: Pavla Kvapilová , Ian Willoughby
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