Federal Bureau of Investigation releases first document related to its probe of 9/11 attacks on US and suspected Saudi support for hijackers, following an order by President Joe Biden.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has released the first document related to its investigation of the 9/11 attacks on the United States and suspected Saudi government support for the hijackers, following an executive order by President Joe Biden.
The heavily redacted document released late on Saturday details contacts the hijackers had with Saudi associates in the US but does not provide proof that senior Saudi government officials were complicit in the plot.
It details the FBI's probe into the alleged "logistical support" a Saudi consular official and a suspected Saudi intelligence agent in US provided to at least two hijackers.
Released on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, the document is the first investigative record to be disclosed since President 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 US who supported the first hijackers to arrive in the country before the attacks.
Push from victims' families
The push for more information is being driven by victims' families suing Saudi Arabia for alleged complicity in the horrific attack.
The families have long expressed frustration at the number of documents that remain off-limits.
The lawsuit took a major step forward this year with the questioning under oath of former Saudi officials, and family members have long regarded the disclosure of declassified documents as an important step in making their case.
Fifteen of the hijackers were Saudi, as was Osama bin Laden, whose Al Qaeda network was behind the attacks.
Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania, where passengers on United Flight 93 overcame the hijackers and the plane crashed in a field, preventing another target from being hit.
Hundreds more first responders have died in the two decades since from illnesses they developed while trying to save lives in the smoky and dust-filled ruins of the attacks, particularly in New York City where thick plumes of dark ash filled the air.
Countless other victims were sickened, some fatally, by the debris.
The Saudi government has long denied any involvement in the attacks. The Saudi Embassy in Washington has said 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."
Victims' relatives cheered the document's release as a significant step in their effort to connect the attacks to Saudi Arabia.
"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," Jim Kreindler, a lawyer for the victims' relatives, said in a statement.
"This document, together with the public evidence gathered to date, provides a blueprint for how (Al Qaeda) operated inside the US with the active, knowing support of the Saudi government."
In a statement on behalf of the organisation 9/11 Families United, Terry Strada, whose husband Tom was killed, said the document released by the FBI put to bed any doubts about Saudi complicity in the attacks.
"Now the Saudis' secrets are exposed and it is well past time for the Kingdom to own up to its officials' roles in murdering thousands on American soil," the statement said.
The US investigated some Saudi diplomats and others with Saudi government ties who knew hijackers after they arrived in the US, according to documents that have already been declassified.
Still, the 9/11 Commission report found in 2004 "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded" the attacks that Al Qaeda masterminded, though it noted Saudi-linked charities could have diverted money to the group.
Particular scrutiny has centered on the first two hijackers to arrive in the US, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar and the support they received.
In February 2000, shortly after their arrival in southern California, they encountered at a halal restaurant a Saudi national named Omar al Bayoumi who helped them find and lease an apartment in San Diego, had ties to the Saudi government, and had earlier attracted FBI scrutiny.
Bayoumi has described his restaurant meeting with Hazmi and Mihdhar as a "chance encounter," and the FBI during its interview made multiple attempts to ascertain if that characterisation was accurate or if it had actually been arranged in advance.
The 2015 interview that forms the basis of the document was of a man who was applying for US citizenship and who years earlier had repeated contacts with Saudi nationals who investigators said provided "significant logistical support" to several of the hijackers.
The man's identity is redacted throughout the document, but he is described as having worked at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles.
That includes Bayoumi, according to the document.
Also referenced in the document is Fahad al Thumairy, at the time an accredited diplomat at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles who investigators say led an extremist faction at his mosque.
The document says communications analysis identified a seven-minute phone call in 1999 to the Saudi Arabian family home phone of two brothers who became future detainees at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison.
Both Bayoumi and Thumairy left the US weeks before the attacks.