Bin Laden may have died, but not 9/11 conspiracy theories

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:53 pm IST

Published - May 03, 2011 08:38 pm IST - New Delhi

Before the birthers, came the ‘Truthers' — a coalition aimed at “exposing official lies” about the 9/11 attacks to “understand the truth that the U.S. government and covert policy apparatus orchestrated” them. This ‘movement,' has, however, been only one of many engines to churn out conspiracy theories about 9/11. And while the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. forces in Pakistan on Monday will close the manhunt for America's ‘Most Wanted Terrorist,' grandiose theories about the deed that made him infamous are likely to persist.

Most theories have suggested that the attacks might have been an “inside job” or even the handiwork of Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency. Proponents claim, even more fancifully, that none of the Jews who worked in the twin towers turned up for work that day, a patent fiction belied by the fact that Jews were among the people of all religions who perished in that terrorist attack.

Fanciful narratives

The initial aftermath of 9/11 saw Osama bin Laden denying any involvement in the attacks, and Washington's failure to prove his complicity led to a flourish of fanciful narratives.

The surprising popularity of books like ‘9/11: The Big Lie' spawned new theories, several of which claimed that the U.S ‘military-industrial' complex was behind the attacks. Some raised the possibility of a “controlled demolition,” while others ventured to speculate that the Pentagon was hit by a U.S. missile.

As early as December 2001, U.S. officials released a ‘smoking gun' tape that showed bin Laden asking his “overjoyed” followers to “remain patient,” after the first of two planes struck the World Trade Center towers. If that were not enough, the conspiracy theory should have been put to rest in 2004, when bin Laden, through a videotape released to Al Jazeera by the Pentagon, was seen claiming responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. “It entered my mind that we [al Qaeda] should destroy the towers in America,” he said, “in order that they taste some of what we tasted.” Years later, a visibly upset Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2, lashed out at theories suggesting Israel was behind the attacks.

But conspiracy theories got the better of al-Qaeda's best efforts to appropriate credit for 9/11. Sensational films like the Loose Change series and the Zeitgeist documentary continued to challenge the “official account.” These theories were nudged on by reports in mainstream media as well. In 2006, Le Monde carried a three-page story carrying the headline “11 September – An Inside Job?,” while TIME magazine ran a piece titled “Why the 9/11 Conspiracy Theories Won't Go Away”. Without endorsing any, the stories gave enormous publicity to these claims, with TIME calling such conspiracy theories “seductive.”

Bin Laden's death, it seems, will make little difference. The day after the al-Qaeda's leader was killed, the ‘9/11 Truth Movement' website was abuzz with activity. It seems the FBI's ‘Most Wanted List' had updated Osama's profile to ‘deceased,' but the crimes listed against him did not include those in connection with 9/11. The game was already afoot.

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