AN Irishman whose sister and niece were killed in the attack on the Twin Towers had condemned the now cancelled plan by a US church to burn the Koran today as an act of madness that could have sparked a new 9/11.
Mark Clifford’s sister Ruth McCourt and her four-year-old daughter Juliana were passengers aboard the United Airlines flight which was the second to crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
In a cruel twist of fate, Mark, from Cork, had been told just hours before that his older brother, Ron, had narrowly survived the disaster, despite a near miss when a ball of flaming wreckage fell on the plaza in front of him.
Ahead of the news that the Koran burning act was called off, Mark had urged Florida-based Pastor Terry Jones to abandon plans to burn the Koran and preach forgiveness instead.
He said: “I’m very concerned that 9/11 could happen again. There’s no doubt that the burning of the Koran would incite hatred and increase the possibilities of more terrorist killings. All it would achieve is retaliation from extremists.
“It is an act of the utmost stupidity and could have terrible consequences. The pastor should be preaching forgiveness, not inciting hatred and confrontation.”
Mark, 49, who will gather with his family in Cork today to mark the ninth anniversary of the attack, also said he thinks about 9/11 every single day.
“I’ve moved on from it as best I can, but the scars still remain and they always will. Time is a great healer, but I think about what happened every single day.
“At times what happened doesn’t seem real. It almost seems like something out of a James Bond movie.
“I’ve tried to understand the motivation of those who carried out the attacks and have travelled to the Middle East a couple of times to try and get an understanding of the radical fundamentalism behind it.
“I’ve learnt that compassion and diplomacy are the only way we’re going to bridge the gap with extremists. I’ve also learnt forgiveness and often wonder if the terrorists really understood the full repercussions of what they were doing that day.
“Unfortunately, the world has changed. The countless deaths of American and British soldiers over in Iraq and now Afghanistan, most of whom are under 20, are as a consequence of 9/11.”
Mark’s brother Ron, 58, who narrowly escaped death, will today visit Ground Zero to remember his late sister and niece and pay his respects to the 3,000 people who died.
Mark said he expects to visit Ground Zero himself next year for the 10th anniversary.
He added: “I’ll be collecting my thoughts and remembering Ruth and Juliana on the anniversary at the family home in Cork.
“I have had to move on, because there is no point in being angry. The only way to stop this happening again is through diplomacy and religious tolerance.”