Seven years after terrorist attacks killed several thousand people in the United States, a new global public opinion poll shows that many people do not believe the attacks were the work of the al-Qaida terror network. VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington.
An independent U.S.-based group called World Public Opinion.org asked 16,000 people in 17 countries who they thought was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Majorities in only nine of the 17 countries believed that al-Qaida was behind the attacks, a finding that surprised World Public Opinion.org's director, Steven Kull.
"I think it is very striking, given that even bin Laden has publicly made statements affirming that al-Qaida was behind the September 11th attacks," he said.
An average of 46 percent of the people polled in each country blames al-Qaida for the attacks. If not al-Qaida, then who? Kull says an average of 15 percent say the U.S. government plotted the attacks.
"In Turkey, 36 percent have this view, Turkey, one of our allies. Palestinian territories, 27 percent have this view. In Mexico, 30 percent have this view, and perhaps most surprising of all, in Germany, 23 percent have the view that the United States was behind the 9/11 attacks."
Of those who said the United States was the perpetrator, Steven Kull says many believe it was an attempt to justify an impending U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"Some people backed themselves into the belief, saying, 'Well, the U.S. had an interest in this, therefore it is clear that it must be the case.' And that interest that is suggested is that the U.S. was looking for an excuse to go to war with Iraq," he said.
Seven percent of the people polled blame Israel for the 9/11 attacks, and one in four questioned say they do not know who was responsible.
People in the Middle East, especially Muslims, were especially likely to tell the pollsters they believe the United States plotted the attacks. Kull says his group's polling over time shows that Muslims believe the attacks were morally wrong and contrary to Islam.
"So it is very hard for them to accept that a Muslim could do such a thing. At the same time, they do feel some resonance with many of the things that bin Laden says, so they feel some conflict about this," he said. "They are basically using a kind of defense mechanism to deny the strong evidence that al Qaida was behind 9/11, as a way of resolving the kind of internal conflict they feel."
Kull says he interprets the global ambivalence about the origins of the 9/11 attacks as a result of doubts about the United States' role in the world.
"Broadly, I think what this tells us is that there is a lack of confidence in the United States around the world. It is striking that even among our allies, the numbers that say al-Qaida was behind 9/11 do not get above two-thirds, and barely become a majority. So this is a real indication that the United States is not in a strong position to, in a sense, tell its story. The American narrative is not as powerful in the world today."
Respondents with a positive view of the U.S. influence in the world are more likely to blame al-Qaida for 9/11, and less likely to blame the United States, than those with a negative view.