'The terrorists failed': Boris Johnson reflects on 20 years from 9/11

10 September 2021, 22:32 | Updated: 11 September 2021, 01:14

By Will Taylor

The September 11 terrorists failed to force countries to live in "permanent fear" or abandon their values, Boris Johnson has said.

The Prime Minister marked 20 years since the devastating attack, which killed thousands and marked a major turning point in history.

He also referenced the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban's victory there – the end of a war launched after 9/11 – claiming it has strengthened the determination to remember the victims.

"A handful of dates are etched into our collective memory, some joyous, others tragic," he said.

"Twenty years ago, September 11th 2001 became, in President Roosevelt's words after Pearl Harbour, a 'date which will live in infamy'.

Read more: 9/11 anniversary: How the UK is marking the September 11 attacks

"On a crystal clear morning, terrorists attacked the United States with the simple goal of killing or maiming as many human beings as possible, and by inflicting such bloodshed in the world's greatest democracy, they tried to destroy the faith of free peoples everywhere in the open societies which terrorists despise and which we cherish.

"And it is precisely because of the openness and tolerance of the United States that people of almost every nationality and religion were among the 2,977 murdered on that day, including 67 Britons, each of them a symbol of the eternal friendship between the United Kingdom and the United States.

"But while the terrorists imposed their burden of grief and suffering, and while the threat persists today, we can now say with the perspective of 20 years that they failed to shake our belief in freedom and democracy; they failed to drive our nations apart, or cause us to abandon our values, or to live in permanent fear.

"The fact that we are coming together today – in sorrow but also in faith and resolve – demonstrates the failure of terrorism and the strength of the bonds between us."

Read more: West 'closer to another 9/11' following Afghanistan pullout, ex MoD chief tells LBC

The reflections will see thoughts turn to the legacy of America's response to the 9/11 attacks.

George Bush declared a war on terror and took a coalition into Afghanistan to quell the Taliban insurgency, having overthrown their regime.

But after 20 years, lives lost and billions of dollars spent, the Taliban swept to power as international forces led – at President Joe Biden’s insistence that they depart before the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

That decision has been sharply criticised in British political circles.

Referencing a British educational charity, Mr Johnson said: “I congratulate SINCE 9/11 on their vital work to educate young people about what happened on that day.

“And in that spirit, the United Kingdom promised our American friends that we would be proud to receive a memorial, forged from the twisted steel of Ground Zero and display it permanently in the Olympic Park in London, which symbolises freedom and openness, the exact reverse of what the killers stood for.

“Recent events in Afghanistan only strengthen our determination to remember those who were taken from us, cherish the survivors and those who still grieve and hold fast to our belief in liberty and democracy, which will always prevail over every foe.”

Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer marked the 20th anniversary by recognising those who have "lost their lives to terror".

"20 years ago today the world was in shock as we witnessed an unprecedented and despicable act of violence on US soil," he said.

"9/11 saw the deadliest terrorist attack in history... with almost 3,000 people tragically murdered... including 67 people from the UK. 

"Today we remember and honour them.

"We show support to our American friends as they mark this difficult time in their history.

"And we remember those in all corners of the world who have lost their lives to terror. 

"They will always be in our hearts... and our memories.

"The consequences of the 9/11 attacks are still being felt to this day. 

"The tragedy is still so raw.

"But as we mark this anniversary I’m convinced our resolve has never been stronger.

"We will continue to fight terror and violence ...by promoting our values of justice and peace."