PARIS A senior French politician, now a minister in President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, suggested last year that U.S. President George W. Bush might have been behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, according to a website.
The www.ReOpen911.info website, which promotes September 11 conspiracy theories, has posted a video clip of French Housing Minister Christine Boutin appearing to question that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group orchestrated the attacks. Boutin's office sought to play down the remarks.
Asked in an interview last November, before she became minister, whether she thought Bush might be behind the attacks, Boutin says: "I think it is possible. I think it is possible."
Boutin backs her assertion by pointing to the large number of people who visit websites that challenge the official line over the September 11 strikes against U.S. cities.
"I know that the websites that speak of this problem are websites that have the highest number of visits ... And I tell myself that this expression of the masses and of the people cannot be without any truth."
Boutin's office sought to play down the remarks, saying that later in the same interview she says: "I'm not telling you that I adhere to that position." This comment does not appear on the video clip on ReOpen911.
Numerous other websites have also posted the clip in recent days and the story has started to seep into the mainstream media.
"Christine Boutin snared by her controversial suggestions about September 11," Le Monde newspaper said in a headline.
Liberation newspaper on Saturday quoted Boutin's spokesman Christian Dupont as saying that she had not wanted to appear pro or anti-Bush at a time when Sarkozy was being branded a "U.S. poodle" after meeting the president in Washington.
"And then she is not the foreign minister," Dupont added.
France appears to be particularly fertile ground for conspiracy theories. In 2002, a book that claimed that no airliner hit the U.S. Pentagon in the September 11 attacks topped the French bestseller lists.
However, the French are not alone in their skepticism.
According to a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll carried out last July, more than one-third of Americans suspect U.S. officials helped in the September 11 attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could later go to war.
The U.S. State Department has rejected these accusations.
Almost 3,000 people died when hijackers crashed planes into New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.