On Sept. 11, 2011, 10 years to the day after terrorists crashed two passenger jets into the towers at the World Trade Centre in New York, 15 Americans will run out for a pool match against Ireland at the Rugby World Cup in New Plymouth, New Zealand. The date of the game is a coincidence, organizers say. There is no special reason the Americans are playing then. But the particular timing is not lost—either on the players or the security officials charged with keeping the tournament safe. The New Zealand Police have established a special unit to oversee the World Cup. A spokesman said they have “no indication” of any threat tied to the game. But they are “aware” of the occasion. As for the players, team captain Todd Clever was one of the first to see the schedule when it was released. The date of the Ireland match stood out right away. “It was yelling at me,” he said: “9/11/11.”
New Zealand sits just west of the international date line, so the men of the U.S. rugby team will be among the first Americans to live through the 10th anniversary. But as the sun moves east and the morning breaks elsewhere that day, millions more will mark an occasion that, a decade after the attacks, remains heavy with apprehension, sorrow and the niggling fear that it might just happen again.
This year’s milestone could be particularly poignant. It marks not only 10 years since nearly 3,000 people died in the worst-ever terrorist assault on American soil, but also comes just months after the man who oversaw the attacks was himself killed. U.S. Special Forces shot Osama bin Laden dead at a compound in Pakistan in May. Documents found in the raid suggest the 9/11 mastermind hoped to pull off another plot a decade after his greatest triumph. According to initial reports, bin Laden wanted to bomb a train to mark the occasion. (Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists killed hundreds in train bombings in Spain and Britain in 2004 and 2005.) Media reports have since indicated he was looking to shoot down Air Force One, assassinate U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, or fly a small plane into a sporting event. According to the Wall Street Journal, those plans never went past the earliest stages. Bin Laden kept vetoing targets, others have reported. And there are questions about how much influence the Saudi still had with al-Qaeda when he died.
Even still, as Sept. 11 approaches, fear of a repeat attack will likely spread, and not just in the United States. “We’re all curious to see, because Osama bin Laden was recently killed, if they will try to do something spectacular,” said David Belluz, a documentary filmmaker and photojournalist who lives in Kabul, Afghanistan. Sept. 11 is not generally a momentous day in that country, for locals or foreigners, Belluz said. This year, the private security firms that NGOs and other international groups employ will likely order employees locked down for the day. But that’s nothing unusual. Bombings and other suicide attacks are common enough to come as no surprise in Afghanistan, especially after the Taliban’s nighttime assault on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel in late June.
In Canada, meanwhile, police say the danger of a terrorist attack remains real. But right now there’s nothing to suggest “Sept. 11 will be any different from July 15,” said Gilles Michaud, the RCMP’s assistant commissioner for national security criminal investigations. If there was a threat, at least one the RCMP felt they couldn’t contain, Michaud said they would tell the public about it, but for now, no news is good news.
As for Canadians themselves, if travel patterns are any indication, anxiety over the big day isn’t exactly boiling over. A spokesman for WestJet said the airline hasn’t noticed any dip in ticket sales around Sept. 11 in past years and doesn’t expect this one to be any different. South of the border, it might be a different story. Amtrak has already stepped up security ahead of the anniversary. Testifying before Congress in June, the chief of police for the government-owned passenger rail carrier said a terrorist threat is “viable” and warned of “catastrophic losses” if a high-speed rail line were to be attacked. Major U.S. airlines, meanwhile, wouldn’t comment about their preparations for the milestone. But travel agents in the New York area told Maclean’s they don’t expect anyone to change their travel plans. “I do not have clients canceling because of Sept. 11,” said Barbara Bollock of Molnár travel in New York City. “The security is extremely good.”
Anticipation over the anniversary continues to build in other ways, though. In New York, the much-delayed 9/11 memorial will officially open to dignitaries and relatives of victims on Sept. 11. Tickets for public viewings, which begin the next day, have already been booked through late September.
As for the U.S. rugby team, they had hoped to commemorate the occasion with a special game-day jersey, but those plans were vetoed by the International Rugby Board. Instead, the team plans to focus on the moment privately, to “play for the cause, play for what happened,” said Clever, the team captain. “To play on the 10-year anniversary,” he added, “it’s definitely going to be in our hearts.”