On the 20th anniversary of the deadliest attack on American soil, the FBI (the US federal police, which also acts as an intelligence service) released access to a document analyzing possible connections between several Saudi citizens in the United States and two of the men who carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Relatives of victims of the Twin Towers attacks have been calling for the release of these confidential files for years, arguing that Saudi authorities had prior knowledge of the attack and had not tried to stop it.
Of the 19 men who hijacked the planes that day, 15 were Saudis.
However, the document — the first of several expected to be made public — does not provide any evidence that the Saudi government was linked to or was aware of the plot against the Twin Towers.
The Saudi embassy in Washington had already expressed its support for the files to be released. The embassy denies any link between its country and the kidnappers and says these allegations are “false and malicious”.
What does the document say?
The 16-page FBI document is based on interviews with a source whose identity is kept confidential (called PII) and describes contacts between several Saudi citizens and two of the plane’s hijackers — Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.
Both pretended to be students to enter the US in 2000.
The FBI memo says they later received significant logistical support from Omar al-Bayoumi, who witnesses said was a frequent visitor to the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles, despite his official status at the time being that of a student.
According to the FBI source, Bayoumi had “very high status” at the consulate.
“Bayoumi’s assistance to Hamzi and Midhar included translation, travel, accommodation and financing,” the document says.
On the other hand, the FBI document also shows that there were links between the two kidnappers and Fahad al-Thumairy, an imam (Muslim leader) at King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles, who the sources cited describe as a person “of beliefs extremists”.
Bayoumi and Thumairy left the US weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the AP news agency.
The agency also quoted Jim Kreindler, an attorney for the 9/11 victims’ relatives, as saying the published document “validates the arguments they presented in litigation regarding the Saudi government’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.”
Last month, a lawsuit initiated by relatives led to several former Saudi officials being questioned.
Previous governments — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — have refused to release the documents, claiming there is a threat to national security.
But the current president, Joe Biden, last week ordered a review of the documents and asked authorities to release what they could over the next six months.
There has been speculation for years about Saudi Arabia’s official ties to the attack, given the number of Saudi citizens involved and the background of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The US and Saudi Arabia have long been allies, although the relationship is sometimes complex. Former President Donald Trump has strengthened ties between his country and the Saudi monarchy.
But Biden even called Saudi Arabia an “outcast” after a US intelligence report in February this year implicated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bin Salman denies ordering the murder, which took place at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said Biden has since softened his stance on Saudi Arabia’s most powerful man, reflecting the importance of the alliance between the two countries.
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