Rumors about the September 11 attacks

Rumors about the September 11 attacks

Misinformation and rumors about the September 11, 2001 attacks began circulating almost immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The dramatic events of the day filled many people with a sense of uncertainty, and what had previously seemed unimaginable to many had become a reality. In this environment, many wild rumors began to spread. In addition, many people hungered to find meaning in the apparently meaningless violent attacks. For all these reasons, dozens of rumors began to spread.

Some rumors, such as the involvement of al-Qaeda, turned out to be true. Others have been verifiably shown to be false, many of which are listed below.

Misinformation: rumors later shown to be false

The following rumors gained wide circulation after the attacks, but have been later revealed as untrue.

Claims that passengers intentionally crashed United Airlines Flight 93

On 2001 September 11, United Airlines Flight 93 en route from Newark to San Francisco was one of the four planes hijacked in the attack. It was the only one of the four planes that did not reach its intended target. Passengers, alerted through phone calls, attempted to subdue the hijackers. The passengers are popularly believed to have crashed the plane to keep it from reaching its target.

George W. Bush, on September 20 2001 stated:

"In the normal course of events, Presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the Union. Tonight, no such report is needed. It has already been delivered by the American people.

We have seen it in the courage of passengers, who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground -- passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer."

However, the so-called 'black box' recordings, recovered on the afternoon of September 13, have yielded additional information about the final half hour of the flight. Although its full contents have not been made public, media reports of the tape indicate that the charge by the passengers and crew did indeed take place. Nevertheless, the 9/11 Commission found from the recordings that, the passengers did not succeed in reaching the cockpit before the plane crashed.

Claims of World Trade Center survivors after September 13

The search for survivors from the wreckage of the World Trade Center continued for weeks, but the search was fruitless. Several reported rescues on September 13 proved to be false. The only persons rescued were some firefighters who became trapped earlier that day in the search and rescue operation. An office worker named Carla Guzman was, however, rescued from the remains of the South Tower on September 12.

Claims that approximately 10,000 people died in the September 11 attacks

The sheer number of casualties and the chaos of the day meant that missing persons lists were greatly inflated. The true total casualty figure of the day was very close to 3,000. The claim of 10,000 came from a variety of sources that proved to be unreliable, especially from early guesses based on the full capacity of the World Trade Center buildings (around 20,000) and the assumption that the evacuation was not as successful as it proved to have been.

Claim that over 130 Israelis died in the September 11 attacks

Early estimates of Israeli deaths, as of the total death toll, proved substantially exaggerated. George W. Bush cited the figure of 130 in his speech of September 20. In reality, there were a total of 5 Israeli deaths in the attack: Alona Avraham, Leon Lebor, Shay Levinhar, Daniel Lewin, and Haggai Sheffi.

Claim that over 250 Indians died in the September 11 attacks

Early estimates of Indian deaths, as of the total death toll, proved somewhat exaggerated. George W. Bush cited the figure of 250 in his speech of September 20. In reality, there were a total of 17 Indian deaths in the attack (plus another 100 persons of Indian origin ).

Claim that "hundreds" of British citizens died in the September 11 attacks

Early estimates of British deaths, as of the total death toll, proved somewhat exaggerated. George W. Bush cited the figure of "hundreds" in his speech of September 20. In reality, there were a total of 67 British deaths in the attack.

Claim of an alleged Nostradamus prediction

The following text (and variants) began to spread through the Internet within days of the attack:

In the city of god there will be a great thunder,
two brothers torn apart by chaos,
while the fortress endures,
the great leader will succumb.
The third big war will begin when the big city is burning
NOSTRADAMUS 1654

This is not an authentic Nostradamus quatrain. It appears nowhere in his works, and Nostradamus died long before 1654.

It has since been revealed that this passage made famous in email was originally written by a Canadian student as part of an essay on the open, general and often misleading nature of predictions both by Nostradamus & others. Following the September 11 attacks, the original work appeared and then rocketed around the world in email but was the victim of many well intentioned, but misleading revisions by people who received and then forwarded on the passage.

Claim that CNN faked Palestinian cheers

Shortly after the attacks, CNN showed footage of Palestinians cheering. Some reported that this was old footage taken out of context. This claim is false. The demonstrations did happen and were condemned by Arafat; the footage was current.

There was indeed some footage that was staged, but it was actually shot by a Palestinian camera crew. The footage is of some cheering children and a middle aged woman eating cookies. Reporters from Der Stern and Dagens Nyheter managed to trace down and interview the woman and she claimed to have no knowledge of the attack at the time she was filmed.

Claim that a tourist had a photograph taken of himself on top of the north tower seconds before plane struck

An email was circulated which showed a photograph of a tourist on top of the north tower just seconds before American Airlines flight 11 struck it. The view of the northern side of the city, and the American Airlines markings on the plane, are both unmistakable. However, this photograph is beyond any reasonable doubt a hoax. (The picture is shown, and its story discussed, on the snopes.com website.)

There were many initial clues that the photograph was inauthentic. Flight 11 was moving at hundreds of kilometers per hour just before it struck the World Trade Center. At that speed, it ought to have been a blur. Yet the shot of the plane in the photograph is very clear - it almost seems to be stationary in the air. The aircraft pictured is a Boeing 757, while Flight 11 was a Boeing 767. The World Trade Center did not open its observation tower facilities until 09:30 hrs; the plane struck at 08:46 hrs. September 11 was a warm and sunny day in New York City, yet the man is shown wearing a heavy coat and thermal cap, both designed for cold weather. Finally, there was no observation deck on the north tower.

The original picture was taken when a Hungarian named Peter (who wished that his last name be withheld) visited the Towers on November 28, 1997. The original picture without plane and other pictures of Peter can be found on Wired's website Since then the 'Accidental Tourist' has become an internet phenomenon.

Warnings to avoid malls on October 31

A number of people across the country received an e-mail chain letter making this warning. It said that an Afghan left a letter to his girlfriend on September 10, 2001, asking her not to take any flights on September 11 and not to go to any shopping mall on Halloween. It was said that the letter is now in the FBI's hands. The letter implied that there is a second phase of the terrorist attacks and the targets will be trick-or-treaters.

The email was traced back to a person named Laura Katsi, who apparently has no first-hand knowledge of the event and regrets passing the note along. The FBI has investigated the matter and took the unusual step of issuing a statement on the hoax, declaring the claim to be unsubstantiated. A few variations on this message are also circulating. All of these have been shown to be false.

Claims that Mohammed Atta was a known terrorist

There have been persistent rumors that Mohammed Atta, the suspected leader of the September 11 attacks, was a known terrorist. Reportedly he had bombed an Israeli bus in 1986 and was freed from Israel on insistence by the US as a result of the Oslo Peace Accords. This is incorrect. The bus bomber is the Palestinian Mahmoud Mahmoud Atta. He is a naturalized US citizen and was extradited by the US to Israel in 1990. He was freed after that extradition was held to be invalid by the Israeli supreme court. His whereabouts are unknown. He was 47 years old at the time of the September 11 attack, while Mohammed Atta was 33.

Claims that Oliver North warned about Osama Bin Laden

There have been claims that former Iran/Contra figure Oliver North issued a warning about Osama bin Laden during testimony in the 1980s to the U.S. Senate. This claim has been circulating via email since shortly after September 11. Oliver North did mention a terrorist during his testimony to the Iran/Contra committee, but the individual he mentioned was Abu Nidal, who has no connection to Bin Laden. The U.S. News and World Report looked into this urban legend and interviewed North himself, whose aides "confirmed the fake. North, in fact, suggests that at the time of the Reagan-era Senate hearings into the scandal, rebels like bin Laden were U.S. friends lined up against Soviet invaders. The "Urban Legends" web site also has a page debunking the Oliver North story.

Rumors of celebrating Arab-Americans

Claims that certain groups of Arab-Americans celebrated the attacks circulated through e-mail shortly after 9/11. These e-mails included calls to boycott certain businesses, such as Dunkin Donuts, which supposedly had a franchise owned by Arabs. Another rumor is that American Football Hall of Famer, Terry Bradshaw, attacked five Arabs whom he saw celebrating that day. Yet another rumor was that the Lebanese owners of the Middle Eastern restaurant La Shish, in the Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield, were celebrating the attacks on 9/11. These claims are false. More information can be found on a snopes.com page.

Claim that 4,000 Israeli/Jewish employees skipped work at the WTC on September 11

This claim, made by Al-Manar, has been repeated by a wide variety of other sources, such as Amiri Baraka; see 9/11 conspiracy claims regarding Jews or Israel. The figure "4,000" was probably taken by Al-Manar from a Jerusalem Post article of September 12 (p. 3), which said "The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has so far received the names of 4,000 Israelis believed to have been in the areas of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon at the time of the attack." This number, obviously, was not (as Al-Manar claimed) restricted to employees; in fact, Tsviya Shimon, minister of administrative affairs for the Israeli consulate and mission in New York, said on September 14 "that there might have been up to 100 Israeli citizens working in the World Trade Center". There were a total of 5 Israeli deaths in the attack (Alona Avraham, Leon Lebor, Shay Levinhar, Daniel Lewin, Haggai Sheffi), of which 3 were in the World Trade center and 2 were on the planes. (4 are listed as American on most lists, presumably having dual citizenship.)

However, since September 11 was an election day in New York that year, it is quite possible that many people did not necessarily skip work, but rather many may have gone to the polls to vote, intending to go in to work later in the day. This fact may account in part for the magnitude of the number suggested, if indeed the occupancy figures at the time of the impacts was significantly lower than would otherwise be expected.

Although only four Israelis died in the disaster, many, many Jews were killed. Confusing Israelis and Jews could lead to casualties for the latter group being radically undercounted. The U.S. State Department reports, "A total of 2,071 occupants of the World Trade Center died on September 11, among the 2,749 victims of the WTC attacks. According to an article in the October 11, 2001, Wall Street Journal, roughly 1,700 people had listed the religion of a person missing in the WTC attacks; approximately 10% were Jewish. A later article, in the September 5, 2002, Jewish Week, states, "based on the list of names, biographical information compiled by The New York Times, and information from records at the Medical Examiner's Office, there were at least 400 victims either confirmed or strongly believed to be Jewish." This would be approximately 15% of the total victims of the WTC attacks. A partial list of 390 Cantor Fitzgerald employees who died (out of 658 in the company) lists 49 Jewish memorial services, which is between 12% and 13%.

This 10-15% estimate of Jewish fatalities tracks closely with the percentage of Jews living in the New York area

Claims that Iraq was involved with the September 11 attacks

Despite initial statements by the Bush administration to the contrary, no evidence has been seen publicly linking Iraq to the attacks. The two captured planners of the attacks, Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, have reportedly denied Iraqi involvement. Other assertions, such as one claim that Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague (a claim initially made by the Czech government and which has not been retracted), are still in dispute. In 2004, the Wall Street Journal editorial page reported that Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi who was present at the summit where the attacks were planned and was later arrested in Qatar and Jordan, apparently was listed as a lieutenant colonel on three Fedayeen rosters captured by American soldiers during operation Iraqi Freedom.

Wall Street Journal Editorial "Saddam's Files"

The 9/11 Commission Report states on page 335 that Paul Wolfowitz had pressed the administration to invade Iraq just days after the attacks. "Secretary Colin Powell recalled that Wolfowitz--not Rumsfeld--argued that Iraq was ultimately the source of the terrorist problem and should therefore be attacked. [...] He argued that if there was even a 10% chance that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attack, maximum priority should be placed on eliminating that threat. Wolfowitz contended that the odds were far more than 1 in 10, citing Saddam's praise for the attack, his long record of involvement in terrorism, and theories that Ramzi Yousef was an Iraqi agent and that Iraq was behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center."

The Report also observes that "Condoleezza Rice's chief staffer on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, concurred in its [a September 18 memo by Richard Clarke] conclusion that only some anecdotal evidence linked Iraq to al Qaeda."

On page 61, the Report notes that "Bin Laden was also willing to explore possibilities for cooperation with Iraq, even though Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, had never had an Islamist agenda--save for his opportunistic pose as a defender of the faithful against "Crusaders" during the Gulf War of 1991. Moreover, Bin Laden had in fact been sponsoring anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan, and sought to attract them into his Islamic army."

In Chapter 5, we find that "To Mohammed Atta, Saddam Hussein was an American stooge set up to give Washington an excuse to intervene in the Middle East."

Retired General Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor to George H.W. Bush, wrote an essay published in the Wall Street Journal in August 2002 in which he wrote, "Saddam's strategic objective appears to be to dominate the Persian Gulf, to control oil from the region, or both. That clearly poses a real threat to key U.S. interests. But there is scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations, and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks. Indeed Saddam's goals have little in common with the terrorists who threaten us, and there is little incentive for him to make common cause with them. [...] There is little evidence to indicate that the United States itself is an object of his aggression. Rather, Saddam's problem with the U.S. appears to be that we stand in the way of his ambitions. He seeks weapons of mass destruction not to arm terrorists, but to deter us from intervening to block his aggressive designs.

Claims which turned out to be true

Some rumors turned out to be correct, although many are merely strange coincidences.

Osama and "Evil Bert"

Claim that a "Bert is Evil" website was removed because of an image showing Osama bin Laden and the popular muppet.

A photograph of a pro-bin Laden rally in Bangladesh showed a poster of Osama bin Laden with a small but clearly identifiable image of Bert, a muppet from the children's television show Sesame Street, over his right shoulder. (Another smaller image of bin Laden is immediately to the right of Bert's image.) The photo is from Reuters, and was not doctored. In fact, the image of Osama and Bert had been created (using an image editing tool) by a humorist earlier and placed on a website, and the person who made the poster must have copied it from the World Wide Web, leaving in the image of Evil Bert.

As a response to this, the creator of the "Bert is Evil" website has taken down the site and posted a note explaining the decision. "I am doing this because I feel this has gotten too close to reality," he says, "and I choose to be responsible enough to stop it right here." For full message text, see. For a detailed account of the use of the image, in South Asia as well as by Western news agencies, see. (The latter also argues against the notion that inclusion of the Bert image of the photo is some kind of coded communication.)

Although the creator of Bert is Evil requested that all mirror versions of his site be taken down, versions of the site remain widely accessible online as of 2004.

The smoke demon

Several photographs were circulated throughout the Internet in the days following the tragedy that depicted smoke rising from the Twin Towers that resembled demonic heads. It has been confirmed by AP that at least one of these photos is authentic. See. and

The pictures certainly seem to be genuine, but most people see this as an example of pareidolia.

Other rumors

Various incidents have occurred since September 11, 2001, with no evidence to support a causal link to the terrorist attack. They include:

  • On September 21, 2001, a chemical factory in Toulouse, southern France, exploded, causing 29 deaths. On October 4, 2001, France's environment minister declared that it may have been a terrorist attack. But it was then later confirmed that the explosion was due to chemicals put in a wrong warehouse.
  • In the morning of October 3, 2001, a man slit the throat of the driver of Greyhound bus No. 1115, en route from Nashville to Atlanta, southeast of Nashville. The bus crashed, killing four of the 36 passengers. Early reports stated at least 10 were killed. Later reports assert that the bus attacker was a drug addict with a history of erratic behavior.
  • On October 4, 2001, a Russian jetliner en route from Tel Aviv to Siberia with 77 passengers exploded in mid-air before plunging into the Black Sea. All flights from Ben Gurion International Airport were grounded in response. Later reports asserted that a Ukrainian missile mistakenly took down the jetliner. Missile fragments were recovered from the crash site, and the government of Ukraine has accepted responsibility for the accidental targeting of the jet.
  • On October 4, 2001, it is announced that Bob Stevens, a 63-year-old Lantana, Florida, resident was admitted to a hospital on Tuesday with non-contagious pulmonary anthrax. He later died. Bob Stevens, a British-born outdoorsman and gardener, was a photo editor at the supermarket tabloid The Sun. On October 8, 2001 health officials and the FBI report that they have discovered bacillus anthracis spores on a computer keyboard at the offices of The Sun and in the nose of a co-worker, who was not diagnosed with the disease. The FBI sealed the building.
  • On October 11, 2001, 700 pounds (318 kg) of explosives were discovered missing from a facility in Texas.
  • On October 12, 2001, a case of anthrax was reported in New York City. A female NBC Nightly News employee was reported to have been exposed to anthrax. It was believed that she received it from a letter containing powder on September 25. The powder in the letter tested negative for anthrax. A skin test of the employee by the CDC returned positive for non-contagious cutaneous anthrax. She had been exposed on September 25. She began presenting symptoms on September 28. She began receiving Cipro on October 1. A biopsy was done on October 10 and sent to the CDC.

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