GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — The FBI released declassified records from its secretive investigation that explored potential links between the Saudi government and 9/11, with some of the long-anticipated documents released on the 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Families of the 9/11 victims have sought a host of details tied to possible Saudi government involvement in the attacks. Last week, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing the Justice Department to declassify information stemming from an FBI inquiry into possible Saudi-9/11 links.
Although Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attacks, the 9/11 victims’ families have pointed to links such as Omar al Bayoumi, said to have been a former Saudi intelligence officer, and Fahad al Thumairy, a former Saudi consulate official, who allegedly had contacts with Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi, two of the 15 Saudis among the 19 hijackers.
Mihdhar and Hazmi, who went on to be the “muscle” hijackers on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, went to a training camp in Afghanistan and were apparently selected by Osama bin Laden for the 9/11 hijacking operation. They were the first hijackers to enter the United States, arriving in Los Angeles in January 2000. The two met Bayoumi at a Los Angeles restaurant early the next month, and he reportedly helped the duo open bank accounts and rent apartments in the same complex as him in San Diego.
The 17 pages of declassified but still partially redacted records, dated April 4, 2016, relate to the FBI’s “electronic communication” tied to Operation Encore, an FBI investigation into Sept. 11, 2001, which included scrutinizing possible links between the Saudi government and the terrorist attacks that occurred that day. Many names are redacted, allegedly to protect “personally identifiable information” (dubbed PII throughout the records), making tracking people throughout the documents nearly impossible.
The “synopsis” in the declassified document is an “update regarding interview (12 and 13 November 2015) and associated analysis pursuant to his pending U.S. Citizenship application and statements regarding the circumstances of his contact with persons who provided logistic support to 9/11 hijackers” Hazmi and Midhar. The redacted person “had multiple personal and phone contacts with individuals who provided, or are suspected of providing, significant logistic support to Hazmi and Midhar,” including Bayoumi, Thumairy, Mohammed Muhanna, three redacted names, “and the subjects of multiple other FBI investigations.”
The 9/11 Commission Report, released in 2004, conceded that “Saudi Arabia has been a problematic ally in combating Islamic extremism” and that “Saudi Arabia’s society was a place where al Qaeda raised money directly from individuals and through charities.” But the report concluded: “It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11. … Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.”
The Saudi Embassy in the U.S. said last week that the kingdom “welcomes the release of classified documents” related to 9/11, arguing that “any allegation that Saudi Arabia is complicit in the September 11 attacks is categorically false.”
Many of the newly declassified records centered on Bayoumi meeting the two future hijackers at the restaurant, casting serious doubt on his claims that the meeting happened by chance.
“PII stated that he needed to bring Hazmi and Midhar to the Mediterranean Gourmet Restaurant located on Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles,” the FBI wrote.
The bureau said that “after meeting PII at the Consulate in late January 2000, Bayoumi, accompanied by Bin Don, drove to the Mediterranean Gourmet Restaurant where they encountered Hazmi and Midhar” and that “this is the same restaurant” the redacted person said that “he needed to deliver Hazmi and Midhar to.”
“Bayoumi’s logistic support to Hazmi and Midhar included transaction, travel assistance, lodging, and financing. Anomalous money transfers within Bayoumi’s bank accounts coincide with translations wherein Bayoumi provided assistance to Hazmi and Midhar,” the bureau continued, adding, “Bayoumi provided statements in 2003 to federal investigators as to how he met Hazmi and Midhar on or about 2/1/20000 and how he assisted them. … Bayoumi’s statements are directly contradicted by eyewitness statements.”
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, “They encountered Omar al Bayoumi and Cayman Bin Don at a halal food restaurant on Venice Boulevard in Culver City, a few blocks away from the King Fahd mosque. Bayoumi and Bin Don have both told us that they had driven up from San Diego earlier that day so that Bayoumi could address a visa issue and collect some papers from the Saudi Consulate. Bayoumi heard Hazmi and Mihdhar speaking in what he recognized to be Gulf Arabic and struck up a conversation. … Bayoumi told them how pleasant San Diego was and offered to help them settle there. The two pairs then left the restaurant and went their separate ways.”
The commission said Bayoumi and Bin Don were interviewed “many times” about the Feb. 1, 2000, lunch, and their accounts corroborated each other “for the most part.”
“However, Bayoumi has said that he and Bin Don attempted to visit King Fahd mosque after lunch but could not find it. Bin Don, on the other hand, recalls rising the mosque twice that day for prayers, both before and after the meal. Bin Don’s recollection is spotty and inconsistent. Bayoumi’s version can be challenged as well, since the mosque is close to the restaurant and Bayoumi had visited it, and the surrounding area, on multiple occasions, including twice within six weeks of February 1. We do not know whether the lunch encounter occurred by chance or design,” the commission said.
But the FBI wrote in 2016 that “approximately one hour prior to meeting Hazmi and Midhar, Bayoumi and Caisin Bin Don visited the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles and met with” a redacted name, and that after the meeting, Bayoumi and Bin Don drove to a “Mediterranean Gourmet Restaurant.”
Bayoumi told the FBI that there was then a “chance” encounter with Hazmi and Midhar, but the bureau said “the facts of which are contradicted in eye-witness descriptions provided by Bin Don.” Bayoumi claimed he heard the two future hijackers talking, recognized their Gulf Arabic accents, then went over to talk with them, but Bin Don “contradicts Bayoumi’s statements, saying Bayoumi entered the restaurant and positioned himself to be looking out the front window” and that “when Bayoumi observed Hazmi and Midhar walk into the restaurant, he approached them from a distance where he could not have heard them speaking first.” The FBI said Bin Don told them “the group spoke for approximately thirty minutes in Arabic, which Bin Don reports being unable to understand since he did not speak Arabic,” and then, “they exchanged telephone numbers and departed.”
The FBI also said that “Bayoumi stated he never spoke to Hazmi or Midhar about Jihad,” but one month after 9/11, the ex-wife of a redacted name was interviewed and said she met Mayoumi multiple times and “Bayoumi was always talking about the Islamic community needs to take action” and that he told her and her husband that they were “at Jihad.”
Additional 9/11 commission report pages were declassified in 2016, stating: “While in the United States some of the 9/11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected with the Saudi government.” Since the release of the commission’s report, the FBI inquiry unearthed more information.
The 9/11 Commission said that “Thumairy has denied preaching anti-Western sermons, much less promoting violent jihad” and that he “claimed not to recognize Hazmi or Mihdhar,” adding that “both denials are somewhat suspect.” The commission said Thumairy “likewise denied knowing” Bayoumi, “even though witnesses and telephone records establish that the two men had contact with each other.”
“After exploring the available leads, we have not found evidence that Thumairy provided assistance to the two operatives,” the commission concluded.
Yet, the FBI’s newly declassified records stated that “PII was tasked by Thumairy to assist Hazmi and Midhar while they were in Los Angeles” and that the redacted person described the hijackers as “two very significant people.”
The FBI document also states that “there is significant phone connectivity between” one redacted name and another “prior to and directly following key events of logistic assistance provided by” a redacted name “to Hazmi and Midhar.” The bureau said that “this pattern of phone connectivity between PII and PII is not identifiable prior to the hijacker’s arrival in Los Angeles and does not occur between PII and PII after the hijackers depart California.”
“Twenty years ago today, they murdered our loved ones and inflicted immeasurable pain and suffering on our lives,” Terry Strada, a leader of 9/11 Families United whose husband, Tom, was killed in the World Trade Center, said Saturday evening. “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.”
Brett Eagleson, who lost his father, Bruce Eagleson, in the terrorist attacks 20 years ago, said it was “particularly meaningful” that Biden “today began to fulfill his promise to the 9/11 community.”
“Today marks the moment when the Saudis cannot rely on the U.S. government from hiding the truth about 9/11. The release of the 2016 FBI Operation Encore Final Review accelerates our pursuit of truth and justice against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the worst terrorist attack to occur on U.S. soil,” he said. “We look forward to more transparency and releases of information from the Biden administration that finally provide the American people the truth they have long-deserved, while our resolve strengthens to hold the Saudi government fully accountable for the tremendous pain and losses we suffered.”
Biden’s September order required Attorney General Merrick Garland to release applicable declassified documents to the public over the next six months, saying the declassification effort must include further scrutiny of the April 2016 FBI document and a review of the 2021 FBI electronic communication closing Operation Encore.
“When I ran for president, I made a commitment to ensuring transparency regarding the declassification of documents on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America,” Biden said. “As we approach the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, I am honoring that commitment.”
Author : Jerry Dunleavy