FBI releases newly declassified record on September 11 attacks
Sept 12, 2021: The FBI has released a new 16-page document relating to logistical support provided to two Saudi hijackers during the 9/11 attacks.
A document released over the weekend described the hijackers’ links to Saudi allies in the United States, but did not provide any evidence that the Saudi government was involved.
This is the first investigative record by FBI to be revealed since US President Joe Biden ordered a review of declassification of material that has been out of the public eye for years.
Biden has faced pressure in recent weeks from the families of the victims, who have long sought records in New York following the trial, alleging that senior Saudi officials were involved in the attacks. Speculation of government involvement came shortly after the attacks when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudis. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was also from a prominent family in the kingdom.
However, the Saudi government has long denied any involvement. The Saudi embassy in Washington on Wednesday said it supported a complete declassification of all records “as a way to eliminate baseless allegations against the kingdom once and for all.” The embassy said any allegations made by Saudi Arabia were “clearly false.”
Biden last week ordered the Justice Department and other agencies to review the declassification of investigative documents and release what they can within the next six months.
The 16-page release was released Saturday night, just hours after Biden attended the September 11 commemorations in New York, Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia. Relatives of the victims – who are demanding billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia – had previously objected to Biden’s presence at official ceremonies as long as the documents were classified.
The heavily redacted FBI record describes an interview in 2015 with a man applying for US citizenship and years of repeated contacts with Saudi nationals whom investigators said were linked to several hijackers and who may have rovided “critical logistical support”.
The entire document keeps the identity of the man unknown, but describes him as working at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. According to the document, his contacts included a Saudi citizen named Omar al-Bayoumi. Al-Bayoumi, who had ties to the Saudi government, helped two hijackers find and lease an apartment in San Diego shortly after arriving in Southern California.
Al-Bayoumi called his restaurant meeting with hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihadhr in February 2000 a “face-off”, and the FBI made several attempts during his interview to determine if the feature was correct.
The document states that “Bayoumi’s participation and assistance to Mahdi includes translation, travel, housing and financial assistance.” The document cites Fahd al-Thomiri, then a credible diplomat at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, who, according to investigators, led a hardline faction in his mosque.
Relatives of the victims described the release of the document as an important step in trying to link the attacks to Saudi Arabia.
Brett Eagleson, whose father, Bruce, was killed in the World Trade Center attack, said the release of FBI material “accelerates the pursuit of truth and justice.”
The United States has previously investigated links between some Saudi diplomats and other Saudi government officials who knew the hijackers when they arrived in the United States. But the FBI’s 9/11 Commission’s report found “no evidence that the Saudi government, as an organization or as a senior Saudi official, individually financed the attacks”.
However, the commission noted the “possibility” of Saudi-run charities. The new documents are being released at a politically critical time for the United States and Saudi Arabia, two countries that have forged a strategic – if difficult, alliance, especially on counterterrorism issues.
The Biden administration released an intelligence assessment in February in which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was implicated in the 2018 assassination of American-born journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but drew criticism from democrats for falling short of punishing the crown prince himself.
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