Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A group of Muslim women clutching briefcases and text messaging during films were spotted making a terrorist attack "dry run" in a Raleigh, North Carolina theater.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2008]
Origins: Because concern about the potential for additional terrorist attacks on U.S. soil lives on, tales like the one above fall upon believing ears. Acts that previously would not have drawn much comment or notice are now regarded as potentially life-threatening when carried out by folks of Middle Eastern appearance.
The e-mailed account about suspicious activity at a daytime showing at the North Hills Movie Theater in Raleigh, North Carolina, of the film Atonement first reached the snopes.com inbox on
The message (which is clearly phrased as a second-hand account of an occurrence at which the writer was not present) has been looked into by the Raleigh Police Department. Although a woman dressed in Middle Eastern garb was present at the showing and was texting during the film, there was no coordinated movie-going group of such women in all the theaters. Also, the lone woman doing the texting was not holding a briefcase on her lap (it was her purse), nor was she found to have been engaged in any activity that posed a security threat:
Raleigh Police Department employees were among those who received a version of the message on their personalPeople do use cell phones during theater screenings of movies, and some do send and receive text messages throughout films (perhaps deludedly thinking they aren't disturbing fellow theater-goers if they text instead of talk on their phones). And women, or at least those who give a thought to the usual state of the floors in movie houses, do indeed sit with their handbags in their laps in such
"It was determined in the end that there had been a single movie-goer, a female in Middle Eastern attire," Sughrue said. "We're not faulting anybody for anything that happened. We ran it down, and we were more than happy to run it down and report that there was not a security threat."
Was this a terrorist on a "dry run" practicing her part in a coordinated plan to detonate bombs or unleash biochemical agents in crowded spaces? Or was it a woman that had an afternoon to herself who thought to spend it watching a film she'd wanted to see? The woman's Middle Eastern appearance has a significant impact on one's assumptions.
Had the woman not looked like she came from the Middle East or had she not been clad in a chador (full robe) or wearing a hijab (head scarf), her actions in the theater likely wouldn't have been regarded as suspect. Although others trying to watch the film might have regarded her as yet another ill-mannered yahoo on a cell phone, she wouldn't have been thought a potential terrorist practicing up for the big day. Perhaps, at most, she'd have been considered a potential bootlegger furtively recording a current film so it could be sold on pirated DVDs. But because of the way she was dressed, the woman attracted suspicion.
A similar scare was initiated in late-2001 when a man described as being of "Middle Eastern descent" was seen purchasing large amounts of candy from a Costco in
Last updated: 7 February 2008
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