WASHINGTON (AP) – The FBI on Saturday evening released a newly declassified 16-page document regarding logistical support provided to two of the Saudi hijackers in the run-up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The document describes the contacts that the hijackers had with Saudi associates in the United States, but offers no evidence that the Saudi government was complicit in the plot.
The document, released to mark the 20th anniversary of the attacks, is the first investigative record to come out since President Joe Biden ordered a declassification review of documents that for years have remained out of sight of the government. public. Biden had come under pressure in recent weeks from families of the victims, who had long sought the cases as they continued a trial in New York City alleging senior Saudi officials were complicit in the attacks.
The Saudi government has long denied any involvement. The Saudi embassy in Washington said on Wednesday it supported the full declassification of all records as a way to “end once and for all the baseless allegations against the Kingdom.” The embassy said any claim that Saudi Arabia was complicit was “categorically false”.
Biden last week ordered the Justice Department and other agencies to conduct a declassification review of investigative documents and release what they can over the next six months. The 16 pages were released on Saturday night, hours after Biden attended the 9/11 commemorative events in New York City, Pennsylvania and northern Virginia. Relatives of the victims had previously objected to Biden’s presence at ceremonial events as long as the documents remained confidential.
The heavily redacted dossier released on Saturday describes a 2015 interview with a person applying for US citizenship who, years earlier, had had repeated contact 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 countries that have forged a strategic alliance – albeit a difficult one – especially on counterterrorism issues. The Biden administration in February published an intelligence assessment implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 murder of US journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but drew criticism from Democrats for avoiding direct punishment from the crown prince himself.
Regarding 9/11, there was speculation about an official involvement 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, came from a prominent family in the kingdom.
The United States has investigated some Saudi diplomats and others with Saudi government ties who knew of the hijackers after they arrived in the United States, according to documents that have already been declassified.
Yet the 9/11 Commission report found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the attacks orchestrated by al-Qaida. But the commission also noted “the likelihood” that Saudi government sponsored charities have done so.
Particular examination focused on the first two hijackers to arrive in the United States, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. In February 2000, shortly after arriving in Southern California, they met at a halal restaurant a Saudi national named Omar al-Bayoumi who helped them find and rent an apartment in San Diego, had ties to the Saudi government and had previously attracted the attention of the FBI. .
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