A widespread e-mail says terrorists will target malls on Halloween, but the FBI, and urban legend trackers, discount the source.
The e-mail, titled “Malls on 10/31,” references a “friend’s friend” who “was dating a guy from Afghanistan.” The “guy” suddenly disappeared a few days before Sept. 11, but he sent a letter to his girlfriend, according to the e-mail.
“The part worth mentioning is that he BEGGED her not to get on any commercial airlines on 9/11 and to not to go [sic] any malls on Halloween,” the e-mail continued. “As soon as everything happened on the 11th, she called the FBI and has since turned over the letter.”
The New York Times reported on Oct. 11 that the FBI received no such letter but was examining the e-mail.
The FBI then released a statement on Oct. 15 that said: “The FBI has conducted an inquiry into the source of this e-mail and determined that the alleged threat is not credible.”
This type of e-mail “hoax” is rare because it contains the name and contact information of the sender: Laura Katsis, an implementation specialist for Volt Technical Services in Orange County, Calif.
Urban legend trackers contacted Katsis, who said she reported accurately what she heard.
Katsis “told us she got this story from a friend, who in turn heard it from the warned girl,” wrote urban legend tracker Barbara Mikkelson at www.snopes2.com.
“That one person believes a rumor does not make the rumor true, of course,” wrote Mikkelson. “But that we can trace this rumor to the person who started the e-mail does make this case more intriguing.”
Nevertheless, this legend falls into a well-known urban legend genre sometimes called the “helped terrorist” or “warning stranger,” according to www.snopes2.com.
For example, a legend circulates in England about someone with “a light Irish accent” who warns a British citizen to avoid certain areas, presumably because of planned terrorist activity.
These legends are popular because they offer hope for security, wrote Mikkelson.
“The horrible truth about terrorists is they can strike in any place at any time,” wrote Mikkelson. “That’s too large and too borderless a concept for most of us to be able to accept, so we make up rumors about a particular when and where that can be defended against because that reduces the menace to something that can be grasped, understood, and countered.”
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.