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Debunking the week's rumors

By Times staff and wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 17, 2001


Throughout last week's events, the public has experienced a steady stream of horrific images, emotional moments and somber speeches. While the vast majority of reports have been true, some initial ones were wrong. Rumors, too, have circulated widely, some with a seeming life of their own. Here's an update on some of the most prominent stories and rumors:

Firefighters in a sport utility vehicle were rescued from the towers' rubble: Reports of firefighters recovered alive in a buried SUV were carried by television stations and news agencies, including the Associated Press. Authorities were ecstatic. But the story wasn't true. The accurate report: Two firefighters had been temporarily trapped in an underground air pocket and freed by other rescue workers.

Someone rode the building down and survived: This story seemed to spring up early and take on an almost urban myth status. There is no mention of this in any reliable news source.

Afghanistan was bombed on the evening of Sept. 11: The source of explosions at Kabul airport has been tracked to rockets fired by opposition rebels. They destroyed three aircraft of the ruling Taleban militia in retaliation for bombing raids by Taleban jet fighters the prior weekend.

The CNN footage of the Palestinians dancing in the street was shot in 1991. CNN says that footage was forwarded to it by the Associated Press and Reuters, and it was dated Sept. 11, 2001. The network assumes that's correct. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who condemned the terrorist attack, reportedly attributed any celebrations to a small band of children.

The World Trade Center towers were insured for only half their worth: In the spring of 2001, the World Trade Center was valued at $1.2-billion when it was leased by its owners, the Port Authority, to a consortium of investors for 99 years. At the time of the 1993 bombing at the center, it was insured for $600-million in property damage and $400-million in liability coverage. Insurance experts say that losses will almost certainly wind up in the billions after factoring in property, worker's compensation, payments to families of the dead and accident and business-interruption claims. Estimates of the payout range from $5-billion to $25-billion. The final cost to the world's insurers will depend on the fine print.

A bomb was found Sept. 11 on a plane at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. The FBI says Delta officials ordered Flight 1989 to land at the Cleveland airport because it was on the same Boston-to-Los Angeles path as the two planes that hit the World Trade Center. The FBI unloaded the passengers and questioned them. The plane had neither been hijacked nor had a bomb aboard. All passengers were released.

Osama Bin Laden's brother attends Harvard University. The Associated Press reported on Sept. 12 that bin Laden has longstanding family ties to Boston. Several of his relatives have lived in the area during the past decade. One, Mohammaed M. bin Laden, owns six condominiums in the Flagship Wharf condominium complex in Charlestown, Mass. A brother, Sheik Bakr Mohammed bin Laden, established scholarship funds at Harvard Law School and School of Design. Harvard officials said they were satisfied Osama bin Laden had no connection with the programs, and that the family members who took part were estranged from him.

A woman talked on a cell phone with her husband and other police officers trapped in the Trade Center rubble: New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik was present when a hysterical Sugeil Mehia, dressed in medical scrubs, told authorities that she had just gotten a call from her husband. "It was all fake," Kerik said Friday. Mehia was charged with reckless endangerment, obstructing fire operations and filing false reports.

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