Less Than Half the World Believes al Qaeda Was Behind 9/11 Attacks

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet. Posted September 11, 2008.

A poll of 16,000 people in 17 countries reveals the damage done to the credibility of the United States by the Bush administration.

An international poll released this week by the Project on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found that outside the United States, many are skeptical that al Qaeda was really responsible for the Sept.11 attacks.

Sixteen thousand people in 17 countries -- allies and adversaries in Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East -- were asked the open-ended question: "Who do you think was behind the 9/11 attacks?"

On average, fewer than half of all respondents said al Qaeda (although there was significant variation between countries and regions). Fifteen % said the United States government itself was responsible for the attacks, 7% cited Israel, and fully 1 in 4 said they just didn't know.

Among our closest allies, very slim majorities believe al Qaeda was the culprit. According to the study, "Fifty-six percent of Britons and Italians, 63 percent of French and 64 percent of Germans cite al Qaeda. However, significant portions of Britons (26%), French (23%), and Italians (21%) say they do not know who was behind 9/11. Remarkably, 23% of Germans cite the U.S. government, as do 15% of Italians."

Whatever one thinks of "alternative" theories of who the perpetrators were that day, the results are an eye-opening indication of how profoundly the world's confidence in the United States government has eroded during the Bush era. The researchers found little difference among respondents according to levels of education, or to the amount of exposure to the news media they had. Rather, they found a clear correlation with people's attitudes toward the United States in general. "Those with a positive view of America's influence in the world are more likely to cite al Qaeda (on average 59%) than those with a negative view (40%)," wrote the authors. "Those with a positive view of the United States are also less likely to blame the U.S. government (7%) than those with a negative view (22%)."

Interestingly, Americans are also dubious, with more than a third of those polled by Scripps Howard News Service in 2006 saying it was "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that "federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them" because they "wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."

The poll didn't, however, distinguish between those who believed the government actively participated in the events of that day or merely had foreknowledge that the attacks were imminent. (Another poll that year, by CBS News and the New York Times, found that fewer than 1 in 5 Americans believed the government was being fully forthcoming about the attacks.)