When a notorious Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, told reporters in London that the space shuttle disaster was "a punishment from God" because the crew included the "trinity of evil" of an American, a Hindu and an Israeli, he was condemned. On Tuesday, government officials kicked him out of his mosque.
Yet while his comments were unusual in their grotesqueness, they bore one similarity to comments being heard from others: many people believe the tragedy happened for a reason.
The interpretations of "the message" could not vary more widely. Some say God intervened to prevent more loss of life; others that it was a sign that America's posture toward the world is too arrogant, and still others are chilled by what they feel are suggestive coincidences but cannot fathom the meaning.
On Internet message boards, in man-on-the-street interviews and among some spiritual teachers, certain facts or assertions are being strung together as evidence that something special happened:
At a time when America is preparing to wage war on Iraq, one of the Space Shuttle Columbia crew members who died was an Israeli pilot who had bombed an Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981.
The first debris spotted by TV cameras had fallen in a town called Palestine, Texas.
One of the crew members, Laurel Clark, had a first cousin, Timothy Haviland, who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Columbia exploded over George Bush's home state.
Apollo 1 burned up in 1967 on Jan. 27, the Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986 and the Columbia on Feb. 1.
Columbia took off on 1/16, for 16 days, expected to land at 8:16 a.m.
Might Over America
Some in the Arab world viewed this as evidence against America.
"God wants to show that his might is greater than the Americans. They have encroached on our country. God is avenging us," an Iraqi government employee Abudul Jabbar Quraishi told Reuters news service.
Referring to the Israeli astronaut, a Baghdad car mechanic said, "Israel launched an aggression on us when it raided our nuclear reactor without any reason. Now times has come and God has retaliated to their aggression."
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, a leader in Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based terrorist group, told attendees at a graduation ceremony, "What happened yesterday is a message to all humanity, and especially Arab, Muslim and Third World people, a message to those who thought in the past few years that America was a god that couldn't be defeated or defied."
France's "Liberation" newspaper discussed the tragedy in an editorial titled "Humility": "Some think they see a bad omen in this latest drama. The disaster should be a lesson in humility and show the United States that whatever its financial might, its scientific know-how, its technological prowess, its training of men, it cannot control all, dominate all, foresee all, parry all."
Poignantly, even some in Israel concluded there was a hostile message. A 16-year-old student whose high school had designed an experiment that was aboard the shuttle, told The New York Times, "Maybe someone didn't want us to be happy. No matter what we do, nothing comes up right."