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White House, Air Force One were terrorist targets

© Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The White House and Air Force One were targets of Tuesday's terrorist strikes, an administration spokesman said today.

"We had specific credible information that both were intended terrorist targets, and that the plane that hit the Pentagon may have been headed for the White House," said Sean McCormack, spokesman for President Bush's National Security Council.

The White House confirmed reports that the executive mansion and presidential jet had been threatened.

That helped to explain why Bush did not immediately return to Washington from Florida on Tuesday morning and take charge of crisis operations run from the Situation Room in the White House basement.

Bush, who had been in Sarasota, Fla., for an education speech, first flew to an Air Force base in Louisiana and then to one in Nebraska before returning to the White House at dusk.

His Boeing 747, operating as a kind of airborne White House, was escorted by military fighter jets.

There was some criticism of Bush's movements, but until Wednesday afternoon, the White House had refused to discuss why Bush had flown from one undisclosed location to another. White House officials said only that they were deferring to Secret Service and military counsel.

Amid the chaos, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer appeared sensitive to any appearance the president was in hiding and not in charge.

At midday Tuesday, as Air Force One left Louisiana, Fleischer told reporters: "The president is looking forward to returning to Washington. He understands at a time like this, caution must be taken, and he wants to get to back to Washington."

Hours before Bush's return, the White House was evacuated and Secret Service agents with automatic rifles sealed off a two-block perimeter around the mansion.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, joined by a few aides, were the only ones to remain at the White House. They worked from the Situation Room, in touch with Bush by telephone and videoconference.

Throughout Tuesday, images of the Pentagon in flames -- smashed by a hijacked airliner -- and White House aides fleeing across Pennsylvania Avenue provided a sharp contrast with pictures of Bush headed into a small underground bunker at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

When Bush returned to Washington, he took a helicopter from Andrews Air Force Base, arriving on the South Lawn of the White House under cover of three decoy Marine choppers.

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From the Times wire desk
  • Day of terror shatters confidence of a nation
  • U.S. spying ability questioned anew
  • Military put on highest alert; Navy ships sent to N.Y., D.C.
  • President, leaders govern in shadow of day's chaos
  • Amid his anguish, Bush vows retaliation
  • Hijackers penetrated security with apparent ease
  • Report: Victims alive in rubble
  • Experts: Impact, fire too much for twin towers
  • 50,000 worked in towers each day
  • Shaken survivors tell tales of luck and bravery
  • Workers flee in panic, only to sit in gridlock
  • Official's wife was aboard jet
  • Jet had turned toward Washington
  • A blur in the sky, then a firestorm
  • Plane slams into Pentagon
  • Attacks in Afghanistan fuel rumors
  • Pained world condemns acts, but some cheer
  • State-by-state precautions
  • Airline numbers
  • Some of the major attacks on U.S. targets
  • A thud, then a sprint to safety
  • Terror, minute by minute
  • Flight stoppage has widespread repercussions

  • From the AP
    national wire
    From the AP
    world desk