Bizarre Conspiracy Theories That Have Haunted 9/11 Attacks for Two Decades
On 11 September, 2001, four commercial planes were hijacked by Al-Qaeda* terrorists and flown in the direction of the World Trade Center skyscrapers and the Pentagon building, leading to thousands of casualties, colossal damage and shock across the world.
The circumstances of the deadliest terror attack in US history have evoked numerous theories challenging the official account of the events despite official probes proving conspiracy theorists wrong.
According to the official version of the tragic 9/11 events, four commercial planes were hijacked by Al-Qaeda* terrorists and flown in the direction of the World Trade Center skyscrapers and the Pentagon building, leading to numerous casualties, colossal damage and shock across the world. Only one of the planes failed to reach its destination in Washington, DC, having crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
In the wake of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, US President Joe Biden has ordered the declassification of all documents related to the 2001 terror attacks, except for those sealed for the "strongest possible reasons". The order was particularly welcomed by Saudi Arabia, with Riyadh saying that the release of the classified documents will bring the "baseless allegations" against the Kingdom to an end.
When it comes to allegations, however, many people who refuse to accept the official version of the 9/11 events turn to a diverse palette of conspiracy theories that have flourished since the first days after the attack and continue to be discussed online up to this very day.
Here is a roundup of the most popular of them.
US Government Involvement
Many advocates of 9/11 conspiracies believe that the US government might have had foreknowledge of the attack and even contributed to it.
Suggestions differ, offering claims that the US administration needed a pretext for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or for curbing American civil liberties.
Some theorists have claimed that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) deliberately ordered the fighters to stand down in order to let the hijackers reach their targets without any interference, even though it had the capabilities to stop the attack.
Foreign Governments Knew About the Planned Attack
Other conspiracy theorists go even further, claiming that foreign governments also had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks or could even have been involved in carrying them out.
One of the theories claims that Israeli agents could have been involved, citing the arrest of several Israeli nationals by the FBI hours after the attack. The arrested individuals were said to have been filming the smoking skyline while appearing to be reveling in the unfolding events. They were charged for illegally residing in the US and working without permission for a company named Urban Moving Systems, speculated to have been engaged with terrorist organisations. The FBI, however, later ruled that the men had no foreknowledge of the attacks.
According to multiple suggestions, intelligence warnings about the possible terrorist attack against the United States were provided by France, the United Kingdom, Israel, Russia, Iran, Germany and many other countries. Even the Taliban* was named among those trying to warn Washington of what's coming, allegedly due to the militant movement being afraid that American retaliation could target all of Afghanistan.
It could have been about money, another conspiracy theory suggests, pointing at reports claiming that days before the attack, an "extraordinary" amount of put options were placed on stocks of United Airlines and American Airlines - the two airline companies that had their planes hijacked by the terrorists.
Similar speculative market activity took place involving insurance companies around the world prior to the attack, including in countries like the US, the UK, Japan, Switzerland and others, along with Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch.
This led many conspiracy advocates to claim that the insiders might have had the knowledge of the attack. The 9/11 Commission report, however, ruled that there was "no evidence that anyone with advance knowledge of the attacks profited through securities transactions".
Missiles, Not Planes
Some conspiracists cast doubt on the existence of the planes themselves, claiming that the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon building were in fact targeted by missiles. The advocates of this theory claimed that the damage caused to the skyscrapers was far too minor to have been done by a commercial aircraft.
Even though the official report later stated that the wreckage was caused by the planes, some of the most dedicated conspiracists, like former MI-5 officer and whistleblower David Shayler, believe that there might have been some sort of hologram involved to make the missiles look like planes.
The far-fetched theory, however, ignores the fact that photographic evidence emerged later after the incident, showing the bodies of the passengers and crew at the site. Thousands of people witnessed the planes flying into the buildings, particularly into the Pentagon, taking photographs of the scene, making it impossible for anyone planting debris not to be spotted.
These theories go further, with some speculation asserting that the explosions were caused neither by planes nor missiles, but by explosives that were built into the World Trade Center skyscrapers in advance.
Promoters of this version claim that the buildings fell quickly and perfectly fit into their own footprints, insisting that such preciseness could only be caused by controlled demolition.
Proponents of the demolition theory, however, do not elaborate on how the explosives could have been placed in the WTC buildings without drawing attention. Moreover, no signs of thermite were ever found during the examination of the building's debris.
What About Building 7?
The "controlled demolition" theory echoes with claims that the 7 World Trade Center building (WTC-7) - the building that was situated near the North Tower, with its devastation significantly damaging the building - did not actually collapse due to the fires.
The official ruling was disputed by The Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth (AE911T) - activists related to the notorious 9/11 Truth movement that refuse to accept the official version of the events. According to the activists, the WTC-7 collapse was a “near-simultaneous failure of every column in the building”. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found, however, that the columns' failures were triggered when joists and beams “walked off” their connections.
A claim widely shared online said that "jet fuel cannot melt steel beams", insisting on explosives demolishing the WTC buildings. However, officials from NIST concluded that the planes significantly damaged the support columns of the buildings, dislodging fire-proofing. In some areas, the fires reached up to 1,000C, causing the steel beams to melt and therefore prompting the collapse of the buildings.
Flight 93 Mystery
The United Airlines Flight 93 - the fourth hijacked plane - was the only one that did not cause any damage to a prominent American building, having crashed in an open field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
This fact has also triggered multiple speculations, with some people claiming that the plane was in fact "shot down" by the government because some of the passengers somehow found out about the plot of the attack. Some even referred to a "small jet" spotted nearby that allegedly did the job, but the FBI later clarified that this small plane was a business jet asked to survey the impact.
10 July 2018, 21:21 GMT
The claims are largely based on suggestions that the main body of the engine landed miles away from the main wreckage site - a distance considered by some as too big for an ordinary plane crash.
Others suggested that Flight 93 actually safely landed in another airport, and the crash involved a "substituted" aircraft. The most enthusiastic of believers even reportedly harassed Valencia McClatchey - a woman who took a photo of the mushroom cloud from the impact of Flight 93 moments after it hit the ground - claiming that she somehow faked it.
However, even among conspiracists, there are disagreements in regard to these claims, as they are debunked by activists from the 9/11 Truth movement such as Jim Hoffman and Scholars for 9/11 Truth & Justice.
Some conspiracists, especially during the initial confusion that followed the 9/11 attacks, believed that the hijackers themselves were faked.
Their claims were based on several media reports, particularly those by the BBC, that listed the names of the purported hijackers. Some of those people, however, were later discovered to be alive - a finding that prompted many to think that there were no hijackers at all.
The media later acknowledged that many names were associated with the hijackers by mistake due to their being very common in Arabic and Islamic countries. The FBI joined in, saying that it identified all the hijackers and none of the media inquiries had raised doubts about their identities.
*Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are terrorist groups outlawed in Russia