The FBI is still coy on the Saudi government’s involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks but there’s enough in its latest document release to suggest that Saudi government officials assisted with hijacker logistics.
Reading the first documents the FBI has released in response to US President Joe Biden’s executive order seeking seek full accountability for the terrorist attacks of September 11, you could be forgiven for thinking that the FBI is not keen to comply with the order.
Biden’s executive order was provoked by survivors and victims’ family members demanding to know more about the attacks and in particular about suspected Saudi government support for the attacks.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens, providing good reason for the victims’ quest to find out more about the Saudi government’s involvement.
Biden’s order states that information collected and generated in the United States government’s investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks “should now be disclosed, except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise”.
But the redactions in the latest FBI document give the impression that the agency is still covering up for the behaviour of a key player or players. A variety of reasons are given for the redactions with most justified on the grounds of the Privacy Act. The FBI says this information “will be released pursuant to a Privacy Act order in litigation”.
In the meantime we must do as best we can to work out what the document actually says.
The document released is a transcript of interviews in 2015 with an individual whose name is redacted and who was seeking US citizenship.
The FBI was seeking details of this individual’s contact with persons providing logistics support to Saudi hijackers, Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Al-Midhar, who were on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
According to the FBI the redacted citizenship-seeking individual had multiple personal and phone contacts with people who provided, or were suspected of providing, significant logistic support to Hazmi and Midhar.
Reading between the redacted lines, it appears that the individual the FBI was questioning was employed in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Los Angeles. I am going to refer to him as the Saudi consulate official.
Two men who provided the terrorists Hazmi and Midhar with logistic support were Omar Al Bayoumi, a person the FBI once investigated as a possible Saudi intelligence officer and Fahad Al Thumairy, an imam at the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles.
The FBI asked the consulate official whether the meetings between Bayoumi and Hazmi and Midhar were arranged in advance or occurred by chance, as Bayoumi claimed.
The Saudi consular official was forthcoming with numerous specific details but claimed an inability to remember what he and Bayoumi discussed. He repeatedly claimed that after the attacks no one he knew ever discussed 9/11 at the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles. But the FBI said this claim was directly contradicted by other sources with one source stating that after the attacks he was offered the greeting: “Isn’t it great that our brothers are fighting?”.
A separate source, whose reporting had proved reliable in the past, advised that [redacted name, who could well be the consular official] was “very vocal against Christians, Jews and enemies of Islam.”
FBI analysis of telephone numbers associated with the consular official show he had contacts with multiple individuals who assisted Hazmi and Midhar, including a phone call to Bayoumi.
But during his interview he stated that he did not know who Bayoumi was when he first met him at the consulate on or about January 2, 2000.
The consular official said his work was providing assistance to Saudi college students studying in the US. The FBI then noted that Hazmi and Midhar had told witnesses they were travelling to the US as students.
In interviews the consular official admitted showing Hazmi and Midhar the Mediterranean Gourmet Restaurant. He said he assisted them because he was a good Muslim and helping two new students in town was the Muslim way. He said he assisted them multiple times. Asked if he had ever assisted anyone else in the same manner and to the same extent as he assisted Hazmi and Midhar he replied that he had not.
He said he had twice dropped Hazmi and Midhar off at bus stops, without any further assistance such as purchasing tickets or giving directions. The hijackers did not speak or read English. On the first occasion he had dropped them so that they could travel from Culver City to downtown LA. The second time he dropped them at a Greyhound bus stop so that they could travel from downtown LA to San Diego.
The FBI comments at this time Hazmi and Midhar were unable to communicate in English and were so unfamiliar with the US that they could not identify street signs while traveling in a private vehicle with a companion guide.
FBI analysis shows that while Hazmi and Midhar were in Los Angeles and San Diego, Bayoumi was in almost daily contact with Osama Bassnan. On October 17, 1992 Bassnan hosted a party at his house in Washington for the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Towers bombing.
Multiple sources said Bassnan expressed enthusiastic support for Bin Laden and endorsed human suicide bombings.
The document released by the FBI is not the smoking gun that proves that the Saudi government was complicit in the 9/11 attacks. We cannot say that Saudi government representatives knew in advance that Hazmi and Midhar intended to crash a plane into the Pentagon.
But the document adds to the evidence that senior Saudis were happy to associate with those who held extremist jihadist views and it reveals that some government officials assisted those who provided logistics support for two of the 9/11 terrorists.