> Misinformation and rumors about the September 11, 2001 attacks
|Sep 11, 2001 attacks |
| Timeline |
|Background history |
|September 11, 2001 |
|Rest of September |
| Victims |
|Missing Persons |
|Foreign casualties |
|Rescue workers |
| Effects |
|U.S. government response |
|World political effects |
|World economic effects |
|Airport security |
|Closings and cancellations |
|Movies and TV shows |
| Response |
|Rescue and recovery effort |
|Financial assistance |
|Memorials and services |
| Perpetrators |
| Miscellaneous |
|Slogans and terms |
|Misinformation and rumors |
| Inquiries |
|U.S. Congress Inquiry |
|9/11 Commission |
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. A few have not yet been proven or disproven, but the unfolding of events and the diligence of the 9/11 Commission may eventually lay these rumors to rest.
This page is created in the interest of having a record of some of the rumors and misinformation that can arise in the face of tragedy. It is not intended to be disrespectful of those who, perhaps innocently, might relay incorrect information believing it to be true.
Misinformation: rumors later shown to be false
The following rumors gained wide circulation after the attacks, but have been later revealed as untrue.
Claims of Kashmiri responsibility
There were early claims of Kashmiri responsibility for the attacks. These were quickly disproven. It is nearly universally accepted that Kashmiri separatists played no role in the attacks.
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.  (http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101020909/asurvivor.html)
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, especíally 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 (http://www.burbank.com/PresidentBush09202001.shtml) 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 (http://www.burbank.com/PresidentBush09202001.shtml) of September 20. In reality, there were a total of 17 Indian deaths in the attack (plus another 100 persons of Indian origin  (http://www.outlookindia.com/pti_news.asp?id=82851)).
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 (http://www.burbank.com/PresidentBush09202001.shtml) of September 20. In reality, there were a total of 67 British deaths in the attack (http://www.guardian.co.uk/ukresponse/story/0,11017,789635,00.html).
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 in fact Nostradamus died long before 1654.  (http://www.snopes2.com/rumors/predict.htm)
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.
Rumors of a passing UFO
Soon after the attacks, webpages appeared that claimed to show 'unreleased' stills of a UFO rushing past the towers several seconds after the second plane hit.
Closer inspection reveals that the object in question was a bird flying between the World Trade Center and the camera.
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.  (http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/weekly/aa091101aa.htm)
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 (http://www.snopes.com/rumors/crash.htm) 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 (http://www.wired.com/news/gallery/0,2072,48397-2383~2382,00.html). Since then the 'Accidental Tourist' has become an internet phenomenon.
Claims that Osama bin Laden owns part or all of Snapple soft-drinks and Citibank
He does not. Citibank is owned in part by Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who at some point after the attacks was apparently confused with Osama bin Laden. Bin Talal has no connection with al-Qaeda.
The New York Post reported the Snapple story as part of a general story about the Saudi bin Laden Group owning part of this company. The Chief Executive of Snapple, Michael Weinstein, released a statement denying it.
Claims that September 11's events generated a baby boom
There was no recorded rise in the US birth rate in June 2002, or in any other part of that year.
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.  (http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/wtae/20011011/lo/924697_1.html)  (http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/breaking/1011halloweenrumor11%2DON.html)  (http://www.snopes2.com/rumors/mallrisk.htm) 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.  (http://www.snopes2.com/rumors/atta.htm)  (http://www.jpost.com/Editions/2001/11/07/LatestNews/LatestNews.37713.html)
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." (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/politics/whispers/november2001.htm) The "Urban Legends" web site also has a page debunking the Oliver North story. (http://www.snopes.com/rumors/north.htm)
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. These claims are false. More information can be found on a snopes.com page.  (http://www.snopes.com/rumors/dunkin.htm)
Claims that the towers were blown up with explosives
Some claim that the towers could not have been leveled only from damage caused by collision with the hijacked planes. They find it implausible that the relatively small amount of rapid-burning jet fuel could have melted the towers' steel beams. Some furthermore indicate as suspicious the fact that both buildings fell straight down even though the plane crashed into the corner of Tower 2.
Several variations of this claim exist, but each concludes that the World Trade Center must have been detonated from within.
For example, video footage has led some people to believe that the buildings were demolished professionally with explosives.  (http://www.serendipity.li/wtc.htm) A group of engineers believe the Twin Towers and 7 World Trade Center strangely collapsed, regarding the vertical collapse of the three buildings as an unlikely occurrence without the aid of explosives. "Explosives put in WTC concrete.." (http://www.rumormillnews.com/cgi-bin/archive.cgi?read=25146)
However, most engineers view the collapse as sensible and even predictable given the conditions. According to this view, the jet fuel (which never burns hot enough to actually melt steel anyway) acted to instantaneously spread the fire. The impact furthermore blew insulation off of steel beams. Because of these factors, the steel was quickly heated enough to lose significant strength. In concert with structural damage, this softening of steel caused failure.  (http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/0112/Eagar/Eagar-0112.html) Once failure thus occurs, the monolithic mass and internal center of gravity permitted each tower to fall essentially in only one direction: straight down. This view has been officially confirmed by forensic analysis of key components of debris.
Significant debate among engineers exists about exactly which mechanisms felled the towers, especially because each tower appears to have failed in a different way, but claims about explosives are not entertained by mainstream forensic and structural engineers.
See also: Collapse of the World Trade Center
The Americans Radio Editorial
Following the attacks, an e-mail was widely forwarded purporting to be Canadian journalist Gordon Sinclair's response to September 11. While his stirring denouncement of those who criticize or attack Americans provided great comfort to many who read it, Sinclair -- who died in 1984 -- had in fact written the editorial in 1973, in response to the end of the Vietnam War.
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 Zionist conspiracy theories regarding the September 11, 2001 attacks. 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 (http://usinfo.state.gov/is/Archive_Index/World_Trade_Center_Tragedy_Hits_All_Nationalities.html), 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.
Claims of other Attacks on 9/11/2001
On September 11th 2001 reporters for WCBS TV NY Channel 2 and CNN claimed that there were reports from the Police that there were gunshots fired at the U.S. State Department and FBI Headquaters and NASA Headquarters and that they had found hundreds of pounds of explosives on the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River and at the Vince Lombardi Rest-Stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. Calls to reporters said this never ever happened and was just bad reporting.
Rumors that have not definitively been proven false
Due to their nature, some claims cannot be conclusively disproven or confirmed. Others have not been refuted nor confirmed at this time, but may be in the future.
Claims of a Jewish conspiracy to frame Arabs
Various rumors circulated in the Arab world following the attack to the effect that non-Muslims, in particular Israelis or supporters of Israel, perpetrated the attack to frame Arabs and Muslims; see Zionist conspiracy theories.
Claim that Sharon stayed away because of a Shabak warning
Al-Manar claimed that:
- Suspicions had increased further after Israeli newspaper Yadiot Ahranot revealed that the Shabak prevented Israeli premier Ariel Sharon from traveling to New York and particularly to the city's eastern coast to participate in a festival organized by the Zionist organizations in support of the "Israel". Aharon Bernie, the commentator at the newspaper, brought up the issue and came up with a negative conclusion, saying "no answer". He then asked about the clue behind the Shabak's position in preventing Sharon's participation, and again without giving an answer.
A massive pro-Israel rally, led by the United Jewish Communities, had been planned for September 23, 2001, and Ariel Sharon had been going to speak there (http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/16680/edition_id/328/format/html/displaystory.html). It was canceled on September 12 (http://www.ujc.org/content_display.html?ArticleID=15820). However, according to The Forward, Sharon was still scheduled to speak there at that point (http://www.forward.com/issues/2001/01.09.14/news3.html).
Claims of a "credible threat" against Bush
After President Bush faced some criticism for flying around the US in Air Force One instead of returning immediately to Washington or New York, members of his administration (Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice) told the press on several occasions that there had been a "credible threat" against Bush by terrorists. Later, AP and CBS news investigated this claim and found it to be false. In response to this, the Administration officials said that there had been a "misunderstanding". White House officials also claimed that the plane which crashed into the Pentagon originally was aimed at the White House. That claim was also debunked.
Claims that the Pentagon was not hit by a Boeing 757
Image of the explosion at the Pentagon
A French Web site (http://www.asile.org/citoyens/numero13/pentagone/erreurs_en.htm) has disputed that Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. It does not explain what happened to the plane and its crew and passengers. Its claims have later been published in two books by Thierry Meyssan, The Big Lie (ISBN 1592090265) and Pentagate (ISBN 1592090281).
In March 2002 the US authorities released photographs from a surveillance camera. The pictures, complete with times (set to another time zone) at the bottom corner, can be found on this BBC webpage (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1861977.stm) or at this CNN webpage (http://archives.cnn.com/2002/US/03/07/gen.pentagon.pictures/index.html). The first picture is timed 17:37:19 and the last 17:37:23. It is however impossible to recognize the shape of a plane from these pictures, and only a ground-level explosion can be seen, fueling speculation that the Pentagon was not hit by a commercial jet.
Some claim the object depicted in photographs about to strike the building has a different shape and size than a Boeing 757, and that photographs taken after the Pentagon was hit and before the damaged part collapsed, show the hole being less than that a 757 would produce, even assuming that most of the wings did come off. It's claimed that the small hole in the Pentagon is inconsistent with the damage caused by similar planes to the World Trade Center. Opponents to the theory counter that the Pentagon's wall's greater mass limited structural damage that a plane's wings could cause. On the other hand, the massive Kevlar walls of the Pentagon, blocking the wings from slicing through the construction, may have caused a lot of plane debris and parts to be visible in the area if they were not pulled into the building. The lack of significant debris in pictures of the pentagon lawn also fuels speculation that a 757 did not strike the building.
Some have alleged inconsistencies in the official version and also purport that video footage from at least 4 cameras alongside the plane approach (on hotel rooftop, at a gas station and on the highway) route were confiscated by the FBI minutes after the explosion and never released  (http://www.freedomunderground.org/memoryhole/pentagon121.swf).
Immediately after the explosion some eyewitnesses described the object as a missile, although most recalled some sort of plane. Indeed, several specifically recall a large plane  (http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/blflight77w.htm). Conflicting recollections demonstrate at best the unreliability of memory around tragic events. Other quotes supposedly come from firefighters working inside the building who claim no debris from the Boeing 757 plane exist. Other witnesses and photographs show parts in the wreckage that are identifiable as parts used in a 757.  (http://www.rense.com/general32/phot.htm).
The speculations about what happened at the Pentagon have caused much interest, and there are websites in support or against this rumor.
- This (http://www.cyberspaceorbit.com/math_geometry.html) is a webpage that claims it is mathematically impossible for the plane to have hit the Pentagon in that time without moving at mach speeds.
- A rebuttal page (http://www.snopes.com/rumors/pentagon.htm) exists at snopes.com.
- This page (http://www.rense.com/general32/phot.htm) shows pictures of wreckage and debris inside the pentagon, and also the hole in the Pentagon's wall.
- This site (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/jpdesm/pentagon/english.html) presents many pictures and graphic analyses of them, and suggests that it was likely that a Boeing 757 crashed into the Pentagon, but also that the official version is faulty and that the truth is being hidden.
Claims that US military aircraft shot down Flight 93 to stop it reaching Washington
US authorities have denied shooting down Flight 93, but some claim there is contrary evidence.
Although US authorities claim the plane crashed at 10:03, seismic activity in the region indicates that the plane actually crashed at 10:06. One hypothesis presented is that an F-16 shot out one of the engines just after UA 93 flew over the Johnstown Cambria County Airport around 10:03 AM after which the plane crashed in Shanksville at 10:06 15-16 minutes before it would have otherwise reached Washington DC. This would be consistent with the seismic activity and consistent with a timeline given in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (http://www.post-gazette.com/popup.asp?img=/images2/20011028Flight93map.jpg).
Wreckage (including engine wreckage) was found upwind of the crash site, and roughly in the direction from which the plane came, implying that the plane broke up at least to some degree before it crashed. However, this is ambiguous and much wreckage can be expected to be strewn as a result of the crash that occurred. Had the plane broken up in midair, at least some of the bodies would have been scattered. Instead they were all found in the crater.
There are observations by many eyewitnesses who saw other aircraft in the area. US authorities have said that they have identified a civilian aircraft that was in the area, and that it had nothing to do with the downing of Flight 93.
Additional evidence can be garnered from a Meet the Press interview on September 16th 2001 between Tim Russert and Dick Cheney: VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, the - I suppose the toughest decision was this question of whether or not we would intercept incoming commercial aircraft. MR. RUSSERT: And you decided? VICE PRES. CHENEY: We decided to do it. We'd, in effect, put a flying combat air patrol up over the city; F-16s with an AWACS, which is an airborne radar system, and tanker support so they could stay up a long time.
More speculation was fueled by a statement made by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Christmas Eve 2004 during a visit to troops after the suicide bombing of a mess tent. He said that the people who committed the tent bombing were the same ones who hit the World Trade Center and "shot down the plane over Pennsylvania".
A statement that a sonic boom was detected shortly before the crash has now been withdrawn by its author and contrary to what several media reports have stated, passenger Edward Felt did not report seeing 'white smoke' pouring into the toilet from where he was making a phone call from the plane.
Claims that Bush knew of the attacks in advance
President Bush certainly knew that bin Laden was a terrorist who would like to attack the USA, as is confirmed by the release of the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing, but the specificity of Bush's knowledge is hotly debated. Some rumors suggest that Bush may have had detailed knowledge of the actual attack, and that he allowed the attacks to occur for political reasons, but no substantiating evidence has been made public. The PDB does mention "seventy full field investigations" and that the intellegence community has been unable to "confirm some of the more sensational threat reporting", leaving open the question as to whether detailed information about the plot was available to the administration.
Bush has claimed many times that he had no specific forewarnings of an impending attack on U.S. soil, and it remains unclear exactly what Bush might have anticipated.
Bush's December 4, 2001 comment, and I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower -- the TV was obviously on, and I use to fly myself, and I said, "There's one terrible pilot.", (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/12/20011204-17.html) (http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0112/04/se.04.html) even though footage of the first plane hitting the WTC was not televised until the a day or two after, was interpreted by some as proof that the President had advance knowledge of the attack. Bush is not known for his clarity of speech, and the statement could also be taken to mean "I saw that an airplane had hit the tower" - meaning, Bush had seen the damage to the building caused by the first crash, as was widely televised before the second crash, rather than the impact of either plane.  (http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0112/04/se.04.html)
(For whatever reason, he substantially repeated himself a month later: "when we walked into the classroom, I had seen this plane fly into the first building. There was a TV set on. And you know, I thought it was pilot error and I was amazed that anybody could make such a terrible mistake." (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020105-3.html))
This is further discussed in 9/11 domestic conspiracy theory.
Reports that Zacarias Moussaoui was the '20th hijacker'
When Zacarias Moussaoui was initially taken into custody he was alleged to have been part of the September 11 plot. He was commonly referred to as the "20th hijacker".
Although Moussaoui seems to have been training for an act of aircraft terrorism, there has been no evidence found to link him with Flight 93 or any of the other aircraft. He did not train with the other hijackers and seems to have had no contact with them. According to Ramzi Binalshibh, a person who was part of the plot, a role for Moussaoui was contemplated but never materialized.
Claims that the hijackers took control of the aircraft solely with box cutters
What little information that is available about tactics used to take control of the aircraft came from the phone calls from passengers and flight attendants. They used a variety of weapons, in which box cutters did play a part.
Barbara Olson, who was on Flight 77, reported th