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The 9/11 Conspiracy Theories Explained – OpEd

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The September 11 attacks changed the world perhaps forever, but many now not only cast doubt on the official government narrative; they moved on and created a whole parallel world of conspiracy theories in which these events took place but for totally different reasons and by other actors. 

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Believers in the 9/11 conspiracy theories come from different backgrounds; there are ordinary people, celebrities, and even intellectuals; there is now a community that organizes marches, gatherings, and conferences. Organizations such as Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth are conducting research and advocating for a new investigation. 

There are ten conspiracy theories surrounding the event: 

The controlled demolition: This theory suggests the collapse of the buildings was a result of an explosion. Proponents of this theory argue that the crash of the planes is not sufficient enough to lead the towers to collapse. In 2012, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) investigated and concluded that this theory is unlikely. 

A missile from the US government hit the Pentagon:  believers in this theory contend that American flight 77 did not hit the Pentagon building, and a rocket caused that from the ground-launched by insiders from the government. Some argue the hole in the building was too small to have been made by the plane. This theory was criticized by many, even from within the 9/11 conspiracy community. It could be readily challenged and refuted by many pieces of evidence, such as the debris of the planes near the building, the black box, and the DNA test of the passengers’ remains. 

The foreknowledge theory: this is a typical conspiracy theory that claims the government had prior knowledge about the attack and opted to allow it to take place. The 9/11 commission report mentions that the attack was a shock but should have come as no surprise given the numerous signals by Islamic extremists to kill Americans, many government officials such as the then U.S. President George W. Bush, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and FBI Director Robert Muller denied having any prior information about the attack. A poll conducted in 2004 found that almost half of New York residents believed the government had previous information and failed to act consciously. 

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The no planes theory: This theory was crafted by Morgan Reynolds, former Chief Economist at the Labor Department under the Bush administration. This theory asserts that there were no planes in the attacks and that it was impossible for planes to penetrate the steel frames of the buildings. He suggested that digital compositing, a known technique used to assemble multiple images to form the final print, was used to depict the plane crash.

Flight 93 was shot down: This theory is concerned with the United Airlines flight 93, which was found in an open field near Shanksville in  Pennsylvania. The theory claims the U.S. government shot down the plane, causing it to crash; Alex Jones, the infamous conspiracy theoris,t endorsed this theory, he argues that the debris was found away from the crash site, and this is not the standard case; another version of this theory claims the government decided to take down the plane because the passengers figured out about the entire plot and attempted to stop it. 

The Building 7:  This building was collapsed by the heavy debris of the nearby World Trade Center. A conspiracy theory created around this building states that it, too, collapsed in a controlled way. The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s investigation concluded that the fire sprinkler system had failed to extinguish the fire, leading the structural steel to collapse.

There were inside tradings: This theory claims that some had information about the forthcoming attack and decided to invest in the event by selling their United Airlines and American Airlines stocks. This theory is backed by many observations and analyses of movements of stock-exchange markets in the days leading up to the attack; the 9/11 commission report concluded that all these events were coincidental. 

The Air-Defense stand-down theory: Some conspiracy theorists claim that North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) could have prevented the attack, but they issued a stand-by order to allow the hijacker to reach their destination without interference. Still, this theory is debunked by many released recordings. 

Invasion and war against terror: some conspiracy theorists speculated the U.S. government plotted the whole attack to find a justification to rage war on Iraq and Afghanistan, Andreas von Bülow, a former research minister in the German government, and Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad supported this theory. 

It was a plot by Israel: This conspiracy theory asserts that the Israeli government orchestrated the whole attack to push the U.S. to attack Israeli enemies or to cover its violations against the Palestinians. Advocates of this theory usually cite that about 4000 Jewish were warned about the attack in advance and hence given a chance to skip work at the World Trade Center. While this theory appears compelling, it’s challenged by the officially published numbers that estimated at least 400 Jewish deceased inside the buildings. 

More than twenty years later, many still believe in these conspiracy theories; they are motivated by different reasons, but filling the information gap by the government and independent investigation reports about certain parts of the events will help to avoid creating a ground for speculations and new theories to find a place to nurture and grow. 

  • Mohamed Suliman is a senior disinformation researcher at Northeastern University’s Civic AI lab and holds a degree in Engineering from the University of Khartoum. 

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