Special Reports

Few memorials across Arab world as conspiracy theories abound

CAIRO, Egypt — Arab anger at U.S. threats toward Iraq and American support for Israel was evident Wednesday, but passions that had sent celebrants into the streets in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks were muted.

There were few services across the region honoring the more than 3,000 victims of the terrorist attacks. Those that were held were mainly at U.S. embassies.

In Egypt, a few of those who wanted to remember strolled through a downtown Cairo lobby turned gallery for “Images from Ground Zero,” a touring exhibition sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

“It is an international human tragedy. Regardless of where and why, thousands of people died here,” said Amin Barakat, a 52-year-old accountant, as he peered at a photograph of a makeshift memorial amid the crumpled steel and concrete of the World Trade Center Towers — a still life of flowers, teddy bears, and debris.

In Iraq, the official weekly publication Al-Iktisadi covered its front page Wednesday with a photograph of a burning World Trade Center tower and a two-word headline in red: “God’s Punishment.”

Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and the West Bank, which had been the scene of celebration last year, were quiet as were the campuses of Tehran.

The only public gathering of Muslim radicals took place in London, where they gathered to discuss the “positive outcomes” of violence and to praise the aims of Osama bin Laden.

“Definitely al-Qaida has got rational justification for what they did on Sept. 11. Maybe I disagree with them, but they have the right to fight back especially after they (the United States) bombed Sudan, then they bombed Afghanistan,” said Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed of the radical group Al-Muhajiroun.

The Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera broadcast live coverage of commemorative events from New York and Washington.

Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, Prince Nayef, complained in remarks published Wednesday that the kingdom, which was home to 15 of the hijackers, had been “subjected to an unjustified media campaign, but we will take several steps against the attempts to distort the kingdom’s image.” He did not elaborate.

In Cairo, Galal Amin, a respected economist and professor at the American University in Cairo, gave a well-received public lecture on campus in which he said there was no proof bin Laden was responsible and questioned the speed with which bin Laden was named as a suspect.

Others continued to spout wild conspiracies theories popular in the Middle East that the United States or Israel had engineered the Sept. 11 attacks to create a pretext for striking Arabs and Muslims.

“Sept. 11 was previously planned and they (Americans) are the ones who did it to blame Arabs and have the excuse to control Arab countries and achieve their interests in our region specially the oil resources,” said Hazem Bakir, a 34-year-old Amman shopkeeper.

In the United Arab Emirates, a center affiliated with the Arab League said it had released a translation of a French book which claims that a faction within the U.S. military plotted the Sept. 11 attacks in order to advance a military agenda, including waging war in Afghanistan.

An official at the Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-up, speaking on condition of anonymity Tuesday, said the center wanted people to have access to another interpretation of the terror attacks.

Nineteen Arab men hijacked four planes on Sept. 11 and carried out the worst terror attack in U.S. history.

“The desire to deny is natural, and it conceals a need to evade responsibility, and therefore, the consequences,” Lebanese political commentator Satieh Noureddin wrote in the Beirut newspaper As-Safir Wednesday.

Wednesday also was a day to remember that nearly 500 non-Americans were also killed in the attacks blamed on Saudi-born Muslim extremist Osama bin Laden.

At a memorial service at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, Romaine Iskandar remembered her nephew Waleed Iskandar, a Lebanese management consultant who was a passenger aboard one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. She said she had faith the United States would one day find those responsible for his death.

“Nothing can make us feel the world will be a safe place again until those behind the attack are captured and punished,” she said.

Egyptian singer Rula Zaki came to a Sept. 11 commemoration at a Cairo church Wednesday evening to perform a song written by her father she described as “a message of love to the world.” She said she feared “everybody was going to hate Arabs and Muslims” because of Sept. 11.

“None of these innocent people should have died,” she said.