Saturday September 18, 2021

Biden admin declassifies FBI memo: No direct link between Saudi govt, hijackers found

The US investigated some Saudi diplomats and others with Saudi government ties who knew hijackers after they arrived in the US
September 13, 2021
File photo of the World Trade Centre (WTC) hit by planes on 9/11.
File photo of the World Trade Centre (WTC) hit by planes on 9/11. 

WASHINGTON: A declassified FBI document related to logistical support given to two of the Saudi hijackers in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks details contacts the men had with Saudi associates in the United States but does not provide proof that senior kingdom officials were complicit in the plot.

The document released Saturday, on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, is the first investigative record to be disclosed since President Joe Biden ordered a declassification review of materials that for years have remained out of public view. The 16-page document is a summary of an FBI interview done in 2015 with a man who had frequent contact with Saudi nationals in the US who supported the first hijackers to arrive in the country before the attacks.

Biden ordered the Justice Department and other agencies to conduct a declassification review and release what documents they can over the next six months. He was under pressure from victims’ families, who have long sought the records as they pursue a lawsuit in New York alleging that the Middle Eastern country’s government officials supported the hijackers.

The heavily blacked-out document was released hours after Biden attended Sept 11 memorial events in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. Victims’ relatives had said they would object to Biden’s presence at those remembrances as long as the documents remained classified.

The Saudi government has long denied any involvement in the attacks. The Saudi Embassy in Washington has it supported the full declassification of all records as a way to “end the baseless allegations against the Kingdom once and for all.” The embassy said that any allegation that Saudi Arabia was complicit was “categorically false.”

The US investigated some Saudi diplomats and others with Saudi government ties who knew hijackers after they arrived in the US, according to previously declassified documents.

Still, the 9/11 Commission report in 2004 found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the attacks that al-Qaeda masterminded, though it noted Saudi-linked charities could have diverted money to the group.

Particular scrutiny has centered on the first two hijackers to arrive in the US, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, and support they received.

In February 2000, shortly after their arrival in Southern California, they encountered at a halal restaurant a Saudi national named Omar al-Bayoumi who helped them find and lease an apartment in San Diego. He had ties to the Saudi government and had earlier attracted FBI scrutiny.

Bayoumi has described his restaurant meeting with Hazmi and Mihdhar as a “chance encounter,” and the FBI during its interview made multiple attempts to ascertain if that characterisation was accurate or if the meeting had actually been arranged in advance, according to the document.

The 2015 interview that forms the basis of the FBI document was of a man who was applying for US citizenship and who years earlier had repeated contacts with Saudi nationals, who investigators said, provided “significant logistical support” to several of the hijackers. Among the man’s contacts was Bayoumi, according to the document.

The man’s identity is blacked out throughout the document, but he is described as having worked at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles.

Also referenced in the document is Fahad al-Thumairy, at the time an accredited diplomat at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles who investigators say led an extremist faction at his mosque. The document says communications analysis identified a seven-minute phone call in 1999 from Thumairy’s phone to the Saudi Arabian family home phone of two brothers who later were detained at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison.