This week, I went to Brooklyn in search of an “urban myth” about the World Trade Center assault. Was word of the attack on the street before Sept. 11? What I found out was chilling—this story is no myth.There have been thousands of articles, webpages, even movies about how 9/11 was a conspiracy by the US, or Zionists, or whoever. The evidence is laughable and the methods these "truthers" use of "just asking questions" would cast doubt on any historic event, including World War II.
...The story I was looking for had circulated less widely and in more general form. It recounted the story of a kid who bragged around school before the attacks that the World Trade Center was going to be destroyed. On Oct. 11, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, an aggressive young reporter for The New York Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y., published an article that tracked the story to New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. Shapiro identified a teacher who witnessed a freshman in her class saying the week prior to the World Trade Center attacks: “Do you see those two buildings? They won’t be standing there next week.”
“This is the only case we know of where someone said the World Trade Center was coming down prior to it happening,” a police source told me.
...Since Sept. 11, hundreds of calls have poured into the local police precinct, but real incidents have been few. ...
It’s that context that makes the story of the Pakistani freshman so strange. I can’t tell you who filled in the details for me; the heat is on, and the FBI is particularly jumpy. Both teacher and student have, with the help of the school, successfully ducked all efforts to contact them. But here’s what I’ve pieced together:
On Sept. 6—five days before the attack—Antoinette DiLorenzo, who teaches English as a second language to a class of Pakistani immigrants, led a class discussion about world events. She asked a freshman (his name has been withheld): “What are you looking at?” The youth was peering out the third-floor window toward lower Manhattan. After he made the remark about the World Trade Center not being there next week, the teacher didn’t immediately think much of it, though it stuck in her mind.
On Sept. 11, school was canceled after the attack and again the following day. On Thursday, Sept. 13, a clearly agitated DiLorenzo, saying she had been afraid to come forward, reported the incident to the principal’s office. “It scared the hell out of everyone,” according to a source at the school.
The police and FBI were alerted and 12 NYPD officers entered the school and secured DiLorenzo’s classroom for three hours, locking the doors with the students inside. While the students were brought lunch and a movie and told to be calm, the youth in question and his older brother, a sophomore, were taken to be interrogated by the FBI, stationed at the police precinct nearby.
DiLorenzo, the key to the believability of this story, was also questioned. She was described by school officials as having a superb and unblemished record in the New York school system. A police source described her as “100 percent credible.”
Moreover, according to police, the youth confirmed having made the Sept. 6 statement about the towers. At the moment he did so, his older brother elbowed him, said he had been “kidding,” and the youth in question agreed. The younger brother seemed upset and said he was “having a bad day.” When asked why, he said that his father was supposed to come back from Pakistan that day. Further details of the interrogation are unclear, in part because the FBI is not discussing it.
...So what to make of all of this? There is no doubt in my mind that the story is true. But what does it mean?
There are only three possibilities. One, the youth was clairvoyant. Two, the youth, knowing about the 1993 bombing, was just venting anger in a particularly timely way. Three, word of the attack on the World Trade Center was rumored in his neighborhood and he heard about it.
Investigators don’t know what to believe. “It’s creepy,” one told me before I got on the subway to go back to the office. “But what the hell are we going to do about it now?”
Here, however, we have an incontrovertible fact: a high school kid from a Muslim community said to his classroom that the World Trade Center would not be there a week later.
Jonathen Alter is not the only reporter to cover this story. The person he mentioned, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, wrote more about it a year later. He says that the boy was not Pakistani - but Palestinian (the original article had mistakenly said Pakistani, according to Shapiro):
Many people believed this story was nothing more than an urban legend when they first heard it. Everyone has heard similar stories in the wake of such a disaster. Despite the almost unbelievable circumstances of the story, I was able to confirm it last October while working as a crime reporter for the Journal News, a New York-based Gannett newspaper. Catie Marshall, a spokeswoman for the New York City Board of Education, confirmed that school officials reported the incident to police and that the matter since had been taken over by the FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force [FBI-JTTF].
...After federal agents questioned DiLorenzo, police detectives questioned her fourth-period class to see if anyone else had heard the boy's comments. Once the detectives were finished, the boy and his brother were taken to 62nd Precinct headquarters, where two investigators with the FBI-JTTF questioned them for several hours. Their father, who was visiting Palestinian relatives in Israel at the time of the attacks, was scheduled to fly home Sept. 11 on a commercial airliner, but he was delayed when all flights to the United States were grounded.
Shapiro then goes into some second-hand information. While not quite as credible, it is enough to raise eyebrows:
During my continued investigation I learned that the FBI-JTTF was investigating two other students in the New York metropolitan area for the same reason.Shapiro is a freelancer, and he could not find any media outlet that would be willing to pay him to mount a proper investigation. It could be because the media outlets he contacted didn't think it was credible - although the story of the New Utrecht boy was confirmed. The more likely reason is that no one wanted to touch this story because of what it might reveal.
On Sept. 10, 2001, a sixth-grade student of Middle Eastern descent in Jersey City, N.J., said something that alarmed his teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. "Essentially, he warned her to stay away from lower Manhattan because something bad was going to happen," said Sgt. Edgar Martinez, deputy director of police services for the Jersey City Police Department. Initially, the Jersey City rumor was met with some controversy. The New York Times called it an unsubstantiated rumor, and both the Daily News and the Jersey City Journal quoted a board-of-education official who denied that the boy had made any reference to the Sept. 11 attacks at all. Despite their reports, Martinez said the FBI-JTTF took over the matter for further investigation.
On Sept. 11, NYPD school-safety officers interrogated a Middle Eastern boy at Health Opportunities High School in the Bronx who had made similar comments that alarmed his teacher. Catie Marshall said the boy told his peers something as the school was being evacuated on Sept. 11.
"He warned them not to ride any city buses because he had been told at his mosque the week before to stay off all public transportation for a while," said one NYPD officer from the investigating 40th Precinct. "He said it wouldn't be safe." The FBI-JTTF since has taken over the matter.
One New Utrecht official told me that of the 509 Arab-American students who attend the school, many have come forward with their own stories about having prior knowledge. "Kids are telling us that the attacks didn't surprise them," she told me. "This was a nicely protected little secret that circulated in the community around here. I guess they were talking about it among themselves, but they didn't share it with us - at least not before the attacks."
According to students, many of their Arab-American peers were seen taking photographs of the crumbling twin towers from New Utrecht on Sept. 11. "Don't you think it's strange so many of them happened to take their cameras to school that particular day?" one student asked me.
Shapiro goes on:
I don't have the resources to continue an ongoing investigation into who had prior knowledge of the attacks - but I am sure someone out there does. Many things have happened since I broke my first story. On Nov. 9, 2001, my sources informed me that the same boy who predicted the attacks told school officials there would be a plane crash on Nov. 12. I decided to inform an FBI agent I knew who told me that, without specific information, there was little they could do.The official investigation into Flight 587 said that it was human error that caused the crash, but there is some controversy about that.
Once again, the boy's prophecy came true. Three minutes after American Airlines Flight 587 took off from JFK International Airport to the Dominican Republic, its tail snapped off and both engines fell from its wings, dooming the plane to crash in Belle Harbor, located in the Rockaway section of Queens. None of the 260 people aboard survived. To date, authorities suspect the crash was an accident. I'm not so sure.
Recently I learned the investigation into the New Utrecht incident had been closed because authorities were "unable to obtain any further viable information that would explain what really happened." School sources tell me DiLorenzo has "stood firm" on her account of the boy's comments.
There's a story out there - and it needs to be covered.
Perhaps there is an innocent explanation for the incident, and the others are just unsubstantiated rumors. It is interesting that in Al Qaeda's list of 18 successful terror attacks, 17 are generally known to have been their handiwork and the 18th is Flight 587, supposedly taken down with a shoe bomb identical to Richard Reid's terror attempt one month later.
If the evidence pans out, this means that there was at least one set of Arabs or Muslims in America who had foreknowledge of 9/11 and who did not lift a finger to save the lives of thousands. If Arab teenagers knew about the attack, it means that this group was sizable.
There are problems with assuming this was a larger conspiracy of silence. It was by no means certain that the towers would actually fall down - even Bin Laden was surprised by that - yet the teen predicted that the towers would no longer be there. We would also have to assume that the police and FBI simply gave up when they couldn't get any answers from the Muslim community in Brooklyn.
In the end, this is a story not only of what appears to be a case of foreknowledge, but more importantly it looks like it is a story that was known - and purposefully dropped by the media. Nine years later, the leads have grown cold, but the media at the time seem to have actively refused to research the incident further, perhaps fearful of the backlash against Arabs and Muslims that could result from such a sensationalist story being confirmed. Remember, President Bush bent over backwards to limit any backlash against Muslims; in such an environment, it is easy to see how the media would stay away from this story.