WASHINGTON – The FBI released a new declassified document late Saturday related to military support given to two of the Saudi hijackers for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The document details the hijackers’ contacts with Saudi allies in the US, but does not provide evidence that senior Saudi government officials were involved in the conspiracy.
Released on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, the document is the first investigative record to be disclosed since President Joe Biden ordered a declassification review of materials that have been out of public view for years. The 16-page document is a summary of an FBI interview conducted in 2015, which had frequent contact with Saudi citizens in the US who supported the first hijackers who arrived in the country before the attacks.
Biden last week ordered the Justice Department and other agencies to conduct a declassification review and release what documents they may release over the next six months. They had faced pressure from the victims’ families, who had long sought records as they pursued a trial in New York that alleged Saudi government officials supported the kidnappers.
The heavily revised document was revealed on Saturday night, hours after Biden attended the September 11 memorial events in New York, Pennsylvania and northern Virginia. Relatives of the victims had previously objected to Biden’s appearance at formal events until the documents were classified.
The Saudi government has long denied involvement in the attacks. The Saudi Embassy in Washington has supported the complete declassification of all records as a way to “end the baseless allegations against the Kingdom once and for all”. The embassy said any allegations of Saudi collusion were “clearly false”.
The trove of documents is being released at a politically delicate time for the US and Saudi Arabia, two nations that have built a strategic – if difficult – alliance, particularly on counter-terrorism matters. The Biden administration released an intelligence assessment in February implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but criticized Democrats for avoiding the crown prince’s direct punishment.
Relatives of the victims hailed the release of the document as an important step in their effort to link the attacks to Saudi Arabia. Brett Eagleson, whose father Bruce was killed in the World Trade Center attack, said the release of the FBI material “accelerates our search for truth and justice.”
Jim Kreindler, an attorney for the victims’ relatives, said in a statement that “the findings and conclusions in this FBI investigation validate the arguments made at the trial regarding the Saudi government’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.”
“This document, together with the public evidence gathered to date, provides a blueprint for how (al-Qaeda) operates inside the US with the active, knowing support of the Saudi government,” he said.
This included, he said, Saudi officials exchanging phone calls among themselves and al-Qaeda operatives and then holding “casual meetings” with the hijackers, while assisting them to find settlers and flight schools. provide.
With regard to 11 September, there had been speculation of official involvement since the immediate aftermath of the attacks, when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudis. Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda at the time, was from a prominent family in the state.
The US investigated links to some Saudi diplomats and others who knew the hijackers after their arrival in the US, according to documents that have already been declassified.
Nevertheless, a 2004 9/11 Commission report found that “there is no evidence that there was an institution or senior Saudi officials personally funded” by the Saudi government who were the masterminds of al-Qaeda, although It was noted that Saudi-linked charities could access funds to the group. .
The investigation in particular focused on the first two hijackers to arrive in the US, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, and the support they received.
In February 2000, shortly after his arrival in Southern California, he encountered a Saudi national named Omar al-Bayoumi at a halal restaurant, who helped him find and lease an apartment in San Diego, Had ties to the Saudi government and had previously attracted an FBI investigation. .
According to the document, Byumi described his restaurant meeting with Hajmi and Mihadhar as a “chance encounter” and the FBI made several attempts during his interview to determine whether the characterization was accurate. Or was it actually arranged in advance.
The 2015 interview that forms the basis of the document was of a man who was applying for US citizenship and who had repeated contact with Saudi nationals years earlier, who said investigators found several of the hijackers “critical logistics”. assistance” was provided. According to the document, Byumi was also among his contacts.
The person’s identity has been revised throughout the document, but he is described as working at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles.
Also referenced in the document is Fahad al-Thumairi, an accredited diplomat at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles at the time, who investigators say led an extremist faction at his mosque. The document states that communications analysis identified a seven-minute phone call from Thumari’s phone in 1999 to the home phone of the Saudi Arabian family of the two brothers, who were future prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison. became.
Both Byumi and Thumari had left the US weeks before the attacks.