WASHINGTON (AP) – The FBI released a recently declassified 16-page document on Saturday night relating to logistical support provided to two of the Saudi hijackers in the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The document describes the contacts that the hijackers had with Saudi partners in the United States, but does not offer evidence that the Saudi government was complicit in the plot.
The document, released on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, is the first investigative record to be released since President Joe Biden ordered a declassification review of materials that for years have remained out of the public eye. Biden had faced pressure in recent weeks from the victims’ families, who have long searched the records while filing a lawsuit in New York alleging that senior Saudi officials were complicit in the attacks.
The Saudi government has long denied any involvement. The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington said on Wednesday that it 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 that any accusation that Saudi Arabia was an accessory was “categorically false.”
Biden last week ordered the Justice Department and other agencies to conduct a declassification review of the investigative documents and release what they can over the next six months. The 16 pages were published Saturday night, hours after Biden attended the September 11 commemorative events in New York, Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia. Relatives of the victims had previously objected to Biden’s presence at ceremonial events as long as the documents remained classified.
The highly redacted log released Saturday describes a 2015 interview with a person who was applying for US citizenship and years earlier had had repeated contacts with Saudi nationals who investigators said provided “significant logistical support” to several of the hijackers.
The documents come at a politically sensitive time for the United States and Saudi Arabia, two nations that have forged a strategic, albeit difficult, alliance, especially on counterterrorism. The Biden administration released an intelligence assessment in February implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 assassination of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but drew criticism from Democrats for avoiding direct punishment from the Crown Prince himself.
Regarding 9/11, there has been speculation about 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 United States investigated some Saudi diplomats and others with ties to the Saudi government who became acquainted with the hijackers after they arrived in the United States, according to documents that have already been declassified.
Still, the 9/11 Commission report found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the attacks that Al Qaeda planned. But the commission also noted “the likelihood” that Saudi government-sponsored charities would do so.
Particular scrutiny has focused on the first two hijackers to reach the United States, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. In February 2000, shortly after their arrival in Southern California, they ran into a Saudi national named Omar al-Bayoumi at a halal restaurant who helped them find and rent an apartment in San Diego, had ties to the Saudi government, and it had previously attracted FBI scrutiny. .
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