Nine years on, 9/11 questions linger

In the Muslim world, the nine years since the 9/11 attacks in New York City and Washington DC have seen wars waged, populations displaced and regimes changed. This year, the congregation of a Florida church had planned to mark the attacks' anniversary by publicly burning copies of the Koran, before canceling the event at the last minute following an international outcry.

But in Egypt–as in the US itself–analysts continue to question the official US government account of 9/11, with many increasingly convinced the attacks were an “inside job” intended to justify subsequent US-led wars in Central Asia and the Middle East.

“Evidence to emerge since 9/11 points to a degree of foreknowledge of the attacks among US security agencies–along with others, perhaps–if not downright complicity,” Diaa Rashwan, senior analyst at the semi-official Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

For one, critics of the official story continue to question how US air defenses–especially in and around the US capital–could have failed so egregiously on the morning of 11 September, 2001. They remain unconvinced by the findings of the official US 9/11 Commission, which, in its seminal 2004 report on the attacks, attributed the massive security failure on that day to a series of unlikely blunders on the part of US federal agencies.

“Until now, this remains the overriding question. Why didn’t the US military make any serious effort to thwart the attacks?” Rashwan asked. “A full hour and a half after the first tower was hit, a civilian plane allegedly managed to fly into the pentagon–the epicenter of American military power–without encountering any resistance whatsoever. This is inconceivable.”

“In nine years, virtually no evidence has been released–photographic or otherwise–that the pentagon was even hit by a plane,” added Rashwan.

Skeptics also point to the strange circumstances surrounding the collapse of the three skyscrapers in New York City–the iconic twin towers along with the 47-story World Trade Center (WTC) 7, which was not even struck by a plane–as further evidence of foul play.

“Numerous respected structural engineers in America have attested to the fact that the twin towers could not possibly have been brought down by the planes alone,” said Rashwan. “WTC 7, meanwhile, fell in such a way that could only have been the result of a controlled demolition.”

Hamdi Hassan, a parliamentary representative for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement, is no less dubious about the US government's official version of events.

“The collapse of WTC 7 and the absence of any evidence of a plane hitting the pentagon, coupled with the conspicuous lack of any serious investigation into either of these issues, strongly suggest that the official story is a fabrication,” Hassan told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

In August 2008, US federal investigators released a report attributing WTC 7's collapse to a few scattered fires that had broken out on some floors of the building as a result of falling debris from the nearby towers. While claiming to refute so-called conspiracy theories regarding the collapse of the structure–which fell neatly into its own footprint some eight hours after the twin towers came down–the report nevertheless admits the event represented the first time in history for a steel-reinforced building to collapse due solely to fire.

Critics of the official account of 9/11 also continue to question the role of the elusive Osama Bin Laden–and the “al-Qaeda” terrorist network he is said to lead–in the events of 11 September.

In the immediate wake of the attacks, Bin Laden, in a series of videotaped messages, denied any involvement. But in December 2001, the Pentagon released footage that it said depicted the alleged al-Qaeda leader discussing details of the operation with colleagues in Kandahar. "We calculated in advance the number of casualties… based on the position of the tower," he says at one point, going on to note that the death toll had surpassed expectations.

Although the video was hailed by the media as definitive proof that Bin Laden–who remains at large until this day–was behind the attacks, many 9/11 skeptics remain unconvinced.

“No Arab or Muslim nation or group has the technical capacity to carry out an attack of such sophistication, which required a level of operational planning only found in the intelligence services of advanced nations,” said Hassan. “The so-called ‘evidence’ implicating Bin Laden and the 19 Arab hijackers, the latter of which included a passport found in the rubble of the WTC and Korans left at airports, is laughable.”

Supporters of the official US government line, for their part, point to a handful of additional video recordings to have emerged in recent years as proof of al-Qaeda's culpability.

In September 2006, Arabic-language news channel Al Jazeera aired footage–said to have been taken before the attacks–showing Bin Laden in Afghanistan in the company of some of the alleged hijackers, including Ramzi Binalshibh. Otherwise known as the "twentieth hijacker," Binalshibh was captured by the US in 2002 and is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay.

And in March 2007, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani al-Qaeda member described by the official 9/11 Commission Report as the "principal architect" of the attacks, pled guilty to masterminding the operation before a US military tribunal. Skeptics, however, question the sincerity of the confession, which was made after four years in captivity–including six months of detention and alleged torture at Guantanamo Bay.

According to Gamal Mazloum, retired major-general and expert on geo-strategy and defense issues, the attacks could not have been executed by the kind of rag-tag guerrillas portrayed in the videotapes. "The 9/11 operation was carried out by people with access to the highest levels of planning, training and technology," he said, "not a loose group or nebulous organization, but an advanced country.”

Besides a handful of snippets of grainy video footage, said Rashwan, “not a single bit of hard evidence has been produced within the last nine years implicating Bin Laden in the attacks." Rashwan, an authority on Islamic movements, went on to point out that the behavior of the alleged hijackers–who reportedly drank alcohol and frequented strip-clubs in the days before 9/11–“was not that of Muslims preparing for a martyrdom operation.”

Skeptics further point to the notable absence of any criminal investigation, even though the attacks–which resulted in the death of almost 3000 people–constituted the single biggest mass murder in US history.

“What happened on 9/11 was a criminal act, not a political one, and therefore requires certain legal procedures, such as collection of evidence, questioning of suspects, and a trial before an independent court,” said Rashwan. “But since 9/11, none of this has happened, with the exception of a closed military trial of suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.”

As for motive, say Egyptian critics, this is obvious: the attacks were meant to furnish neo-conservative hawks in the George W. Bush administration with an excuse to invade and occupy energy-rich regions of Central Asia and the Middle East–a view largely borne out by subsequent events.

“9/11 was fabricated to justify the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq,” Mazloum told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “In the years since the attacks, the US has used the ‘al-Qaeda’ threat to build a new world order in which it controls all energy resources and has troops deployed across the globe, particularly in the Middle East and Muslim world.”

A report issued in September, 2000 by the Project for the New American Century, a Washington-based neo-conservative think-tank, explicitly stated that US geopolitical ambitions might be expedited by "some catastrophic and catalyzing event [in the US]–like a new Pearl Harbor."

According to Rashwan, the 9/11 attacks were “instrumental” in convincing the US public that it was under threat from militant Islam. “They attacked Afghanistan for harboring Bin Laden, and two years later used the same excuse–Saddam Hussein’s alleged links with al-Qaeda–to mobilize public opinion against Iraq,” he said.

Hassan agreed, saying the attacks were intended to incite American sentiment against Islam in advance of a broad military campaign–on multiple fronts–against the Muslim world.

“The Muslim Brotherhood condemned the 9/11 crime the day it happened, and continues to do so,” he said. “Nevertheless, the US government has exploited the event to convince its public that Arabs and Muslims somehow represent a threat.”

Some Egyptian analysts also point to evidence of an Israeli role in the attacks–an issue that has become the subject of fierce debate on numerous internet forums devoted to researching 9/11.

Proponents of an Israeli connection note that five Israelis with intelligence backgrounds were arrested by New York police for “puzzling behavior” after being caught videotaping the first attack on the WTC while “shouting in what was interpreted as cries of joy and mockery,” as reported by Israeli daily Haaretz on 17 September, 2001. Several weeks later, they were quietly sent back to Israel without any explanation from US authorities.

Remarkably, during a subsequent interview on an Israeli television talk show, one of the five men admitted: "Our purpose [in New York City on 9/11] was to document the event."

A further indication of possible Israeli foreknowledge and/or complicity, say skeptics, is the fact that more than 200 Israeli intelligence operatives–some of whom had reportedly lived next door to the alleged Arab hijackers–were arrested throughout the US in the months before and after the attacks. Although otherwise ignored by the mainstream media, the story was reported by the US Fox television network in a December, 2001 news report.

“The 9/11 tragedy was a conspiracy perpetrated by the Israeli-Zionist entity and its agents in the US,” asserted Hassan. “Israel's role in the attacks is obvious; there is no lack of evidence.”

He went on to cite reports that Israelis working in the WTC at the time had received advance warning of the attacks, noting that only five Israelis were killed on 9/11 according to official tallies in the Israeli press. In December, 2002, Haaretz reported that employees of an Israeli mobile-phone messaging service “received messages two hours before the twin towers attack on September 11 predicting the attack would happen.”

“From the available evidence, logic dictates that Israel had a role in the event,” concluded Rashwan. “But without a criminal investigation, the nature of this role is impossible to determine.”

Mazloum, too, agreed that an Israeli role in the attacks “can not be ruled out,” noting that the self-proclaimed Jewish state had been "the only strategic beneficiary of 9/11 and the subsequent wars in the region." What's more, he added, "Israel has a historical tendency to carry out violent operations on which it can blame its adversaries."

Mazloum went on to recall the infamous 1954 "Lavon Affair"–named after Israel's defense minister at the time, Pinhas Lavon–when a number of Egyptian Jews working for Israeli intelligence were caught planting bombs at US and British targets throughout Egypt. Israel, it later emerged, had hoped to blame the bombings on its Egyptian enemies, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Israel has always tried to portray Arabs and Muslims–and especially the Palestinians–as terrorists in the eyes of the public, particularly the American public," Mazloum said.

But while independent groups devoted to what has become known as "9/11 truth" have proliferated in the US and Europe, the issue has received relatively little attention in the Arab Middle East, where, ironically, the political fallout from 9/11 has had the greatest impact.

“Even though the truth of 9/11 would vindicate Arabs and Muslims from the blanket charge of terrorism, Arab governments don’t appear to be interested in the mounting evidence against the official story,” said Mazloum. “They’re only concerned with maintaining their tight grip on power.”

“As for the Arab public, given current economic realities," he added, "they're too worried about making ends meet to care.”

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