Newly declassified pages from a congressional report into 9/11 released on Friday have reignited speculation that some of the hijackers had links to Saudis, including government officials — allegations that were never substantiated by later US investigations into the terrorist attacks.
Congress released the last chapter of the congressional inquiry that has been kept under wraps for more than 13 years, stored in a secure room in the basement of the Capitol. Lawmakers and relatives of victims of the attacks, who believe that Saudi links to the attackers were not thoroughly investigated, campaigned for years to get the pages released.
The lightly redacted document names individuals who helped the hijackers get apartments, open bank accounts and connect with local mosques. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals and several were not fluent in English and had little experience living in the West.
Former Florida senator Bob Graham, the co-chairman of the congressional inquiry, who pushed hard for the last chapter of the inquiry’s report to be released, believes the hijackers had an extensive Saudi support system while they were in the United States.
Saudi Arabia itself has urged the release of the chapter since 2002 so the kingdom could respond to any allegations.
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubier told reporters on Friday that his government welcomed the release of the 28 pages and said the documents should finally put to rest questions about Saudi Arabia’s suspected role in the September 11 terrorist attack.
“The surprise in the 28 pages is that there is no surprise,” al-Jubier said.
The 9/11 Families and Victims welcomed the release, and said it confirmed what they’ve long known.
“Each of the claims the 9/11 families and victims has made against the kingdom of Saudi Arabia enjoys extensive support in the findings of a broad range of investigative documents authored by multiple US intelligence agencies,” the families said.
Terry Strada, National Chair for 9/11 Families United For Justice Against Terrorism, said: “There is so much more on the Saudi connection to 9/11 and this is the tip of the iceberg, but you had to get this first. It’s the beginning, but I don’t think it’s the end.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement that the documents “provide more than enough evidence to raise serious concerns”.
The document mentions scores of names that the congressional inquiry believed deserved more investigation. They included:
Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national who helped two of the hijackers in California, was suspected of being a Saudi intelligence officer. The 9/11 Commission report found him to be an “unlikely candidate for clandestine involvement” with Islamic extremists. The new document says that according to FBI files, al-Bayoumi had “extensive contact with Saudi government establishments in the United States and received financial support from a Saudi company affiliated with the Saudi Ministry of Defence. ... That company reportedly had ties to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda,” which orchestrated the attacks.
Osama Bassnan, who lived across the street from two of the hijackers in California. According to an FBI document, Bassnan told another individual that he met the hijackers through al-Bayoumi. Bassnan told an FBI asset that “he did more than al-Bayoumi did for the hijackers”.
The office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday also released part of a 2005 FBI-CIA memo that said “there is no information to indicate that either (Bayoumi) or (Bassnan) materially supported the hijackers wittingly, were intelligence officers of the Saudi government or provided material support for the 11 September attacks, contrary to media speculation”.
The document also notes that US and coalition forces retrieved the telephone book of Abu Zubaydah, the first high-profile al Qaeda terror suspect captured after the September 11 attacks. The telephone book, obtained during his capture in Pakistan in March 2002, contained an unlisted number traced to ASPCOL Corp. in Aspen, Colorado, which the FBI field office in Denver determined “manages the affairs of the Colorado residence of Prince Bandar (bin Sultan),” who was the Saudi ambassador to the United States at the time.
The document, however, also stated that “CIA traces have revealed no ‘direct’ links between numbers found in Zubaydah’s phone book and numbers in the United States”.
Other individuals named in the document include Saleh al Hussayen, a Saudi interior ministry official who stayed at the same hotel in Herndon, Virginia, as one of the hijackers. “While al-Hussayen claimed after September 11 not to know the hijackers, FBI agents believed he was being deceptive. He was able to depart the United States despite FBI efforts to locate and re-interview him,” the document said.
Former President George W Bush classified the chapter to protect intelligence sources and methods, although he also probably did not want to upset US relations with Saudi Arabia, a close US ally.
Two years ago, President Barack Obama ordered a declassification review of the chapter. National intelligence director James Clapper conducted that declassification review and transmitted the document to Congress, which released the pages online on Friday.
Several investigations into 9/11 followed the congressional inquiry, which released its report — minus the secret chapter — in December 2002. The most well-known investigation was done by the 9/11 Commission, led by former governor Tom Kean, R-N.J., and former Rep Lee Hamilton, D-Ind.
Kean and Hamilton said the 28 pages were based almost entirely on raw, unvetted material that came to the FBI. “The leads developed in 2002 and 2003 were checked out as thoroughly as possible,” they said in a statement Friday.
The commission’s 567-page report, released in July 2004, stated that it found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda.
Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, and vice-chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., urged the public to read the results of other investigations by the CIA and FBI that “debunk” many of the allegations, and put conspiracy theories to rest.