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President Barack Obama hugs Diane Wall, wife of Glen James Wall who died at the World Trade Center attack, after laying a wreath at the National Sept. 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York, May 5, 2011. (Charles Dharapak/AP/Charles Dharapak/AP)
President Barack Obama hugs Diane Wall, wife of Glen James Wall who died at the World Trade Center attack, after laying a wreath at the National Sept. 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York, May 5, 2011. (Charles Dharapak/AP/Charles Dharapak/AP)

In subdued ceremony, Obama honours World Trade Center dead Add to ...

Almost 10 years after the attacks that levelled the twin towers, U.S. President Barack Obama travelled to the site of the World Trade Center, closing his eyes in silent reflection on the losses suffered there and the long-awaited elimination of the man responsible for them.

By killing Osama bin Laden, his administration has closed a chapter in the history of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil and, perhaps, opened new possibilities for healing.

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But in a sign of how far the United States has travelled since those dark days of 2001 - and of how much Mr. Obama differs from his predecessor - there was no rhetoric about retribution, no claim of victory and no hint of fist-pumping.

Instead, in a subdued ceremony under a sunny, blue sky, Mr. Obama quietly laid a wreath to honour the nearly 3,000 people who died in the attacks.

Nearly a decade ago, president George W. Bush stood in the rubble of the towers, using a bullhorn to tell rescuers that "the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from all of us soon."

That promise has been kept, but by a President whose leadership style is proving radically different from the man who preceded him.

Mr. Obama is so sensitive to the suggestion that the United States is taking a victory lap in the wake of Mr. bin Laden's killing that he decided not to make public photos of his corpse. "Americans and people around the world are glad that he's gone," he said in an interview with CBS News. "But we don't need to spike the football."

Mr. Obama's low-key approach to the aftermath of Mr. bin Laden's killing reflects an understanding of the challenges the United States faces around the globe, experts said. "There's a classy way to win and then there's a way to rub the other guy's face in it," said William Cunningham, a veteran political strategist and former adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Doing the latter "doesn't really benefit the United States on the world stage."

After a whirlwind week featuring nonstop media coverage of the details of Sunday's daring raid in Pakistan, Thursday's visit refocused attention on where it all began.

At a Manhattan firehouse that lost 15 of its members in the attacks, Mr. Obama sat with firefighters over a lunch of eggplant parmesan and shrimp pasta. At the World Trade Center site, where a memorial to the attacks is almost complete, he lowered his head in silence in memory of those killed. He then met privately with family members of the victims.

In brief remarks at the firehouse, Mr. Obama said that Sunday's raid had sent the message that "when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say."

Family members of those who died in the attacks said they appreciated Mr. Obama's visit and the opportunity to speak with him personally, particularly after the complicated emotions unleashed by the news of Sunday's raid.

"I want to thank him," said Paula Grant Berry, whose husband, David Berry, was killed on Sept. 11, 2001. "There was a lot on the line and it was a very brave thing to do."

Ms. Berry, the director of New York's harbour district, said her 17-year-old son had woken her late Sunday night to tell her the news.

"He said, 'It's not going to bring dad back but at least he's not going to hurt anyone else again,' " she recalled. Her son also paused to think about Mr. bin Laden's children, telling Ms. Berry that "they lost their father tonight, too."

Anthoula Katsimatides, 39, an actress whose brother, John, perished while working on the 104th floor of One World Trade Center, said she had brought a picture of him to show the President.

Watching television with her mother Sunday night, she found herself weeping. "I didn't know what to feel," she said. "It put you right back to 10 years ago."

She was disturbed by the triumphal nature of the celebrations that erupted in New York and elsewhere, saying it reminded her of what had happened in some countries following the Sept. 11 attacks. "I thought, god, people, let's not stoop to that level - but I understand it."

All around the World Trade Center site, there was a heavy security presence and crowds of onlookers pressed to catch a glimpse of Mr. Obama's motorcade.

Bill Steyert, a retired 67-year old from Queens, stood on a corner wearing an Obama campaign hat and buttons reading "Grandpa for Peace" and "Mission Accomplished, 5/1/11."

Even though he knew he wouldn't meet Mr. Obama, Mr. Steyert felt the urge to be there. "I'm just here to say thank you, Mr. President - finally, finally," he said.

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