By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (Reuters) -On the 20th anniversary of the deadliest attack on U.S. soil, George W. Bush, who was president at the time, warned of a new danger coming from within the country.
"We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come, not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within," Bush said on Saturday at the 9/11 memorial site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"There is little cultural overlaps between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home ... they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our continuing duty to confront them."
The United States has seen an uptick https://www.reuters.com/world/us/white-supremacist-groups-pose-rising-us-threat-garland-says-2021-05-12 in homegrown terror threats in recent years, particularly from white supremacists, capped by the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by followers of Republican former President Donald Trump.
The attackers were hoping to stop U.S. lawmakers from certifying the election that Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Bush, recalling the unity of the American people after the attacks, appealed for a return to that spirit amid growing political division in the country.
"When it comes to unity of America, those days seem distant from our own," the Republican former president said. "Malign force seems at work in our common life ... so much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment."
Trump did not attend any formal 9/11 events on Saturday. In the afternoon, he repeated his frequent lie that the 2020 election was "rigged" to a group of New York police officers at a precinct near his Manhattan home, and said the city's crime would stop if police were allowed to act as they wished.
Bush and his wife Laura, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris, were attending a ceremony at the Shanksville site where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after passengers overpowered the hijackers. The plane crashed in a field, preventing another target from being hit.
"In the sacrifice of the first responders, in the mutual aid of strangers, in the solidarity of grief and grace, the actions of an enemy revealed the spirit of a people," Bush said, describing the country's reaction. "We were proud of our wounded nation."
BUSH ON AFGHANISTAN PULLOUT
Bush's has rarely spoken publicly about the 9/11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, since leaving office.
The attacks prompted Bush to launch a U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban from control in Kabul and sent al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden into hiding.
His administration's subsequent invasion of Iraq, based on the erroneous claim that Saddam Hussein's authoritarian government had illicit weapons of mass destruction diverted resources https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/americas-longest-war-20-years-missteps-afghanistan-2021-08-16 and attention from Afghanistan, leaving U.S. strategy there adrift, former officials and experts say.
Biden's withdrawal of remaining U.S. military forces in Afghanistan at the end of August, months after a deadline set by Trump, triggered harsh criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, as a lightning-fast Taliban takeover stranded Americans and Afghans seeking to evacuate.
In a July interview with German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Bush called the pullout a mistake and said he worried "the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad."
Speaking about U.S. veterans who served in Afghanistan, Bush said "you have been a force for good in the world and nothing that has followed can tarnish your honor."
(Reporting By Steve Holland, Heather Timmons and Jeff Mason, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis)