The FBI late Saturday released a newly declassified document related to logistical support given to two of the Saudi hijackers in the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The document details contacts the hijackers had with Saudi associates in the U.S. but does not provide proof that senior Saudi government officials were complicit in the plot.
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 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 U.S. who supported the first hijackers to arrive 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 can over the next six months. He had encountered pressure from victims’ families, who have long sought the records as they pursue a lawsuit in New York alleging that Saudi government officials supported the hijackers.
The heavily redacted document was disclosed on Saturday night, hours after Biden attended Sept. 11 memorial events in New York, Pennsylvania and northern Virginia. Victims’ relatives had earlier objected to Biden’s presence at ceremonial events 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 trove of documents are being released at a politically delicate time for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, two nations that have forged a strategic — if difficult — alliance, particularly on counterterrorism matters. The Biden administration in February released an intelligence assessment implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but drew criticism from Democrats for avoiding a direct punishment of the crown prince himself.
PURSUIT OF TRUTH, JUSTICE
Victims’ relatives cheered the document’s release as a significant step in their effort to connect 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 pursuit of truth and justice.”
Jim Kreindler, a lawyer for the victims’ relatives, said in a statement that “the findings and conclusions in this FBI investigation validate the arguments we have made in the litigation 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-Qaida) operated inside the US with the active, knowing support of the Saudi government,” he said.
That includes, he added, Saudi officials exchanging phone calls among themselves and al-Qaida operatives and then having “accidental meetings” with the hijackers while providing them with assistance to get settled and find flight schools.
Regarding Sept. 11, there has been speculation of official involvement since shortly after the attacks, when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudis. Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida at the time, was from a prominent family in the kingdom.
The U.S. investigated some Saudi diplomats and others with Saudi government ties who knew hijackers after they arrived in the U.S., according to documents that have already been declassified.