WASHINGTON, (AP) — An FBI declassified document pertaining to logistical support provided to two Saudi hijackers during the sept. 11 attacks provides details about contacts between the men with Saudi associates in Washington. However, it doesn’t prove that senior Saudi officials were complicit.
On Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the attacks’ attack, the document was released. It is the first investigative record to have been made public since President Joe Biden ordered declassification of materials that had been kept secret for many years. This 16-page document summarizes an FBI interview that was conducted in 2015 with a man who was in frequent contact with Saudi nationals living in the U.S. and who helped the first hijackers arrive in the country.
Biden instructed the Justice Department, and other agencies, to conduct a review of declassification and release as many documents as possible over the next six month. The families of victims pressed Biden to release the records, as they seek the records in a New York lawsuit alleging that officials from Saudi Arabia supported the hijackers.
After Biden had attended 9/11 memorial events in New York, Pennsylvania, as well as at the Pentagon, the document was heavily redacted and released. The relatives of victims had indicated that they would not allow Biden to attend the remembrances, as long as classified documents were kept.
The Saudi government has always denied any involvement in the attacks. Washington’s Saudi Embassy has stated that it supports full declassification of all records to end “all baseless allegations against the Kingdom.” According to the embassy, any claim that Saudi Arabia is complicit in the conspiracy was “categorically false.”
The documents were published at a sensitive political time for Saudi Arabia and the U.S., who have established a strategic alliance, even if it is difficult, on counterterrorism matters. The February intelligence assessment by the Biden administration implicated Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi (a U.S.-based journalist), but Democrats criticised the decision to avoid a direct sentence for the royal.
The relatives of victims said that the document’s publication was a major step in their efforts to link the attacks to Saudi Arabia. Brett Eagleson, whose father Bruce was killed in the World Trade Center attacks, stated that the FBI material’s release “accelerates the pursuit of truth” and justice.
Jim Kreindler, a lawyer representing the relatives of victims, stated in a statement, “The findings and conclusions from this FBI investigation validate our arguments in the litigation regarding Saudi government’s liability for the 9/11 attacks.”
He said that the document along with all the evidence available to date provides a blueprint of how al-Qaida operated in the US, with active and knowing support from the Saudi government.
This includes, he stated, Saudi officials having phone conversations with al-Qaida agents and then having “accidental talks” with hijackers, while giving them help to settle down and find flight schools.
Since the attacks on Sept. 11, speculation has been rife about official involvement. It was discovered that 15 of the attackers were Saudis. Osama bin Laden was the leader at that time of al-Qaida. He belonged to a prominent royal family.
According to previously released documents, the U.S. investigated certain Saudi diplomats as well as others with Saudi government ties that knew hijackers who arrived in the U.S.
The 9/11 Commission report from 2004 did not find any evidence that Saudi officials or institutions funded the al-Qaida attacks. However, it acknowledged that money could have been diverted to the group by Saudi-linked charities.
Particular attention has been paid to the support they received and Nawaf al–Hazmi and Khalid al–Mihdhar who were the first hijackers to reach the U.S.
Soon after they arrived in Southern California in February 2000, they met Omar al-Bayoumi (a Saudi national) who helped them lease and find an apartment in San Diego. He had previously been under FBI surveillance and had connections to the Saudi government.
Bayoumi described the restaurant meeting with Hazmi, Mihdhar and in a casual way as a chance encounter. The FBI conducted multiple interviews to verify that this description was true.
The FBI document was based on a 2015 interview of a man who applied for U.S. citizenship. He had years before maintained repeated contacts with Saudi nationals. Investigators stated that they provided “significant logistical support” to several hijackers. According to the document, Bayoumi was one of the man’s contacts.
Although his identity is obscured throughout the document it is stated that he worked at the Saudi consulate Los Angeles.
Fahad al–Thumairy, a diplomat at the Saudi Consulate Los Angeles at the time, is also referenced in this document. Investigators claim that he was responsible for an extremist faction of his mosque. According to the document, communications analysis revealed that Thumairy made a seven-minute call in 1999 to Thumairy’s Saudi Arabian family phone. This call was between Thumairy and two brothers, who were later detained at Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) prison.