The FBI released a declassified 16-page internal memo on Saturday night regarding its investigation of support given to two 9/11 hijackers and their links to Saudi citizens living in the U.S., including Saudi diplomats. Though the 2016 memo is heavily redacted, it does not offer conclusive evidence that the Saudi government played a role in the attacks.
The memo is the first document to be released after President Biden issued an executive order instructing the Justice Department and other agencies to conduct a declassification review of information withheld from the public about the attacks. The order followed pressure from nearly 1,800 people affected by the attacks, including family members of victims, who had told Biden he would not be welcome at events commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11 if he did not release more information — and in particular, long sought documents regarding any links between the Saudi government and the Al Qaeda hijackers, most of whom were Saudi nationals.
From the Washington Post’s summary of the newly declassified report:
[The document] shows that FBI agents were still investigating as recently as 2016 possible ties between two of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, and those who may have helped them after they arrived in the United States in 2000. Investigators were particularly interested in details about the Saudi government’s connections to Fahad al-Thumairy, a former Saudi consulate official, and Omar al-Bayoumi, a person the FBI once investigated as a possible Saudi intelligence officer. …
The FBI document released Saturday contains significant redactions, but nevertheless shows that FBI officials were skeptical of claims by various witnesses that Saudis in the United States who met with the two hijackers did so accidentally through chance encounters. It was “difficult to reconcile” the connection between the hijackers and those who gave them support, the FBI document states, noting that one individual claimed he met the hijackers at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Northern Virginia “during a ‘chance meeting,’ in a uniquely similar fashion to the way Bayoumi described his ‘chance meeting’ with Hazmi and Midhar in Los Angeles.” The report also said Bayoumi’s “logistical support to Hazmi and Midhar included translation, travel assistance, lodging and financing.”
Victims’ groups celebrated the release of the memo. 9/11 Families United, a group of survivors and victims’ family members, claimed in a statement on Sunday that the newly released document “puts to bed any doubts about Saudi complicity in the attacks.” And Jim Kreindler, a lawyer who has been attempting to sue Saudi Arabia on behalf of victims’ relatives, insisted “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,” and that the document “provides a blueprint for how (al-Qaida) operated inside the US with the active, knowing support of the Saudi government.”
Saudi Arabia’s government has long denied that it was in any way involved in the attacks. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission said it hadn’t found evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials had funded Al Qaeda, but concluded Saudi nationals had played a major role in supporting the terrorist organization. Some members of the Commission have also subsequently said that the investigation could have dug deeper into the possible links.
Last week, the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. said it supports the U.S. declassifying additional documents, insisting it hopes doing so will “end the baseless allegations against the Kingdom once and for all.”