'Bin Laden is not dead' and other conspiracy theories

When bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEAL Team Six last year, it was considered a 'drama' by 66% of Pakistanis!

Abdul Majeed May 02, 2012
During a discussion with some fellow medical students, I was astounded to observe that they thought 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy and that al Qaeda is just a figment of some people's imagination. I found it surprising how most of them did not know the origins and genesis of al Qaeda, one of the largest terrorist organizations in the world.

The aim of writing this post is not to launch a tirade against the conspiracy theory culture prevalent in our society. It is to discuss a couple of popular controversies and try to provide some answers to the much debated questions. The authors I have mentioned are the ones whose work is considered best by several independent bodies.

1. Osama bin Laden was not killed in the Abbottabad operation

It has been a whole year since the operation that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, and a majority of Pakistanis still do not believe it ever happened.

Nicholas Schmidle, winner of  2008 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism, wrote a detailed article named "Getting Bin Laden: What happened that night in Abbottabad" in The New Yorker on August 8, 2011. That article is one of the most comprehensive accounts of the Abbottabad operation till date. Regarding the planning of the operation, the article mentions:
In late 2010, Obama ordered Panetta to begin exploring options for a military strike on the compound. Panetta contacted Vice-Admiral Bill McRaven, the SEAL in charge of JSOC. In January, 2011, McRaven asked a JSOC official named Brian, who had previously been a DEVGRU (Naval Special Warfare Development Group) deputy commander, to present a raid plan.

On March 14th, 2011, Obama called his national-security advisers into the White House Situation Room and reviewed a spreadsheet listing possible courses of action against the Abbottabad compound. Most were variations of either a JSOC raid or an airstrike. At the end of the meeting, Obama instructed McRaven to proceed with planning the raid.

About the SEAL team, the article states:
During the ninety-minute helicopter flight, James and his teammates rehearsed the operation in their heads. Since the autumn of 2001, they had rotated through Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa, at a brutal pace.

The Abbottabad raid was not DEVGRU’s maiden venture into Pakistan, either. The team had surreptitiously entered the country on ten to twelve previous occasions. Most of those missions were forays into North and South Waziristan, where many military and intelligence analysts had thought that bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders were hiding. (Only one such operation—the September, 2008, raid of Angoor Ada, a village in South Waziristan—has been widely reported.) Abbottabad was, by far, the farthest that DEVGRU had ventured into Pakistani territory. It also represented the team’s first serious attempt since late 2001 at killing “Crankshaft”—the target name that the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, had given bin Laden.

Regrading the Killing of Osama bin Laden, it says:
The Americans hurried toward the bedroom door. The first SEAL pushed it open. Two of bin Laden’s wives had placed themselves in front of him. Amal al-Fatah, bin Laden’s fifth wife, was screaming in Arabic. She motioned as if she were going to charge; the SEAL lowered his sights and shot her once, in the calf. Fearing that one or both women were wearing suicide jackets, he stepped forward, wrapped them in a bear hug, and drove them aside.

A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. “There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,” the special-operations officer told me. Nine years, seven months, and twenty days after September 11th, an American was a trigger pull from ending bin Laden’s life. The first round, a 5.56-mm. bullet, struck bin Laden in the chest. As he fell backward, the SEAL fired a second round into his head, just above his left eye. On his radio, he reported, “enemy killed in action.”

Hearing this at the White House, Obama pursed his lips, and said solemnly, to no one in particular, “We got him”.

2. Al Qaeda is a “western propaganda”

Lawrence Wright, in his 2007 Pulitzer-prize winning book, The Looming Tower: al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 has described the genesis and evolution of al Qaeda and the ideas upon which it was formed along with its operations around the world - including 9/11.

Lawrence Wright has given detailed biographies of Sayyid Qutb, the ideological father of al Qaeda, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, the founder of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, the face of al Qaeda, Muhammed Atta, the pilot of one of the 9/11 planes and Ayman al Zawahiri, the current head of al Qaeda operations. Some important points mentioned in the book include:

  •  Sayyid Qutb in his book Milestones had openly announced that he considered Muslims living under democracy as belonging to “Jahiliyya”, the tribal pagan society that existed in Arab Peninsula before the advent of Islam. This was a clear message of Takfeer. (one Muslim declaring another Muslim a disbeliever)

  • Sheikh Abdullah Azzam and other Saudi fighters had not participated as such in the war and still claimed to have “defeated a super power”. Their contribution to the war was negligible.

  • Ayman al Zawahiri was an adherent of Sayyid Qutb’s philosophy and his previous organization namely “al Jihad” was involved in the assassination of Anwar Saadat. Later, al Jihad was merged into al Qaeda and was involved in murder of both Abdullah Azzam and Ahmad Shah Massoud.

  • Al Qaeda was formed in Pakistan in August 1988. The book noted:

The mentioned al Qaeda is basically an organised Islamic faction, its goal is to "lift the word of God, to make His religion victorious," the secretary recorded in his minutes of the first meeting. The founders divided the military work, as they termed it, into two parts: “limited duration,” in which the Arabs would be trained and placed with Afghan mujahideen for the remainder of the war; and “open duration,” in which “they enter a testing camp and the best brothers of them are chosen.” The graduates of this second camp would become members of the new entity, al Qaeda.

3. The 9/11 twin towers attack

Jason Burke, author of  On the Road to Kandahar and 9/11 Wars said that after 9/11, history of the last 30 years can be divided into a “pre-9/11” and a “post-9/11” world. The planes flown by al Qaeda members not only hit the twin towers killing thousands of innocent people, they also dug the goldmine for conspiracy theorists around the world.

A science and technology magazine named Popular Mechanics published a report based on the most famous conspiracy theories about 9/11 in March 2005 and debunked them using critical analysis and interviews with experts. The report is named “Debunking the 9/11 Myths”.

There are also various documentaries about the incident, apart from the infamous “Loose Change" whose first part was popularised in Pakistan, but the others were never discussed.


4. Jews are planning the downfall of Muslims

Tarek Fatah in his book, The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism tried to trace the roots of the widespread anti-Semitism in Muslim countries, especially Pakistan. He noted that anti-Semitism gained roots in the Islamic world after the conquest of European territories by Muslim Conquerors. The Christians who converted to Islam brought with them anti-Semitism rooted in the history of Christianity. The book also examines how anti-Semitism was used by people such as the aforementioned Sayyid Qutb to harness their anti-Shia sentiments.

Sadly, the problem facing our society is not just a widespread belief in conspiracy theories, it is also the way educated people embrace these theories and add twists to them. After every national disaster, a new conspiracy theory emerges; the most recent example being of  Zaid Hamid, who following the Siachen tragedy, posted a video alleging Indians of deliberately causing an avalanche.


This ignorance is not a novel phenomenon. When Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEAL Team Six, it was considered a “drama” by 66% of Pakistanis. Pakistanis in general are more willing to believe in conspiracy theories as opposed to facts. This may be because these theories provide a feasible explanation of events in a narrow frame of reference.

Read more by Majeed here, or follow him on twitter @abdulmajeedabid
Abdul Majeed A final year medical student with interests in history, political economy and literature. He blogs at http://abdulmajeedabid.blogspot.com/ and tweets as @abdulmajeedabid
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Natasha | 10 years ago | Reply @Author: You are to conspiracies what atheists are to religion. Are you so narrow-minded that you cannot even for a second consider the slightest possibility of the truth being different from what you believe it to be? You believe in facts. What is a 'fact' when it comes to global incidents? It is a compilation of reports from other people. People just like you and me. How easy is it then to play around with a fact? I am not a firm believer in conspiracy theories. Neither am I a firm believer in man-made 'facts'. Whether you are a die-hard believer in conspiracy theories or a die-hard believer of what concerned authorities say are facts, remember one thing: extremism goes both ways.
Sexton Blake | 11 years ago | Reply Apart from one or two exceptions these contributors have come up with with some very intelligent comments. Arguably, the best in a long time. The reason many people come up with alternative viewpoints, as somebody else has mentioned, is that politicians in every country are becoming trusted less and less. That is because they issue disinformation all the time. This also includes America. Many Americans do not trust the Washington Government, although there are still a surprising number of totally conditioned people who do. What has really happened is that Governments make very bad decisions, and now there are more and more well educated people questioning those decisions. To counter this Governments, and America started it, use the term Conspiracy Theory, in a sneering way, to do a put down. Unfortunately, the media of various kinds, who do not do any serious investigation of their own usually support the Government. It is so much easier for low grade journalists to sneer at well meaning people with the term Conspiracy Theorist as a put down, and invariably it seems to work and people back off. I do not back off. If people ask me if I am being a Conspiracy Theorist I reply that I am a Factual Theorist, and I do not believe the nonsense that Governments and their faithful media keep serving up to us. Thus, if America could produce Osama Bin Laden's body I would believe the Abbottabad operation was successful. I believe that Al Qaeda exists, but not everything they are accused of. If the Americans had found Nukes in Iraq they would be half way believable. The Oklahoma bombing and the 9/11 explanations do not appear plausible. I will not go into the Jewish thing too far, but after 1945 everybody felt sorry for the Jews, but since then Tel Aviv seems to have gone out of its way to make many enemies. It is not to late to make the world a better place, but bombing, killings, and drones do not make for a happy lifestyle. Although there will always be evil people around, if the West, and others, had spent the wasted military trillions on helping the less well endowed countries and exhibited a little less arrogance I would suggest there would be, at the very least, a lot more peace in the world, together with a much better living standard. Unfortunately, such a theory is only "pie in the sky".
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