The administration of US President Joe Biden on Saturday declassified an FBI memo that fortified suspicions of official Saudi Arabian involvement with the hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but it fell well short of proof that victims’ families suing the Persian Gulf state had hoped for.
The memo from April 4, 2016, showed links between Omar Bayoumi, at the time a student, but suspected to have been a Saudi Arabian intelligence operative, and two of the al-Qaeda operatives who took part in the plot to hijack and crash four airliners into targets in New York and Washington.
Based on 2009 and 2015 interviews with a source whose identity is classified, the document details contacts and meetings between Bayoumi and the two hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, after the two arrived in California in 2000.
It also strengthens earlier reported links between the two and Fahad al-Thumairy, a conservative imam at the King Faad Mosque in Los Angeles and an official at the Saudi Arabian consulate there.
The document said that telephone numbers associated with the source indicated contact with a number of people who assisted al-Hamzi and al-Midhar while they were in California, including Bayoumi and al-Thumairy, as well as the source himself.
It said the source told the FBI that Bayoumi, beyond his official identity as a student, had “very high status” in the consulate.
“Bayoumi’s assistance to Hamzi and Midha included translation, travel, lodging and financing,” the memo said.
The document also said the FBI source’s wife told them that Bayoumi often talked about “jihad.”
It also linked meetings, phone calls and other communications, Bayoumi and al-Thumairy with Anwar al-Alaki, a US-born cleric who became an important Al-Qaeda figure before he was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
The document was still significantly redacted and did not offer a clear direct link between the Saudi Arabian government and the hijackers.
It was released after Biden was pressured by family members of those killed in the attacks who have sued Saudi Arabia for complicity.
Three successive US administrations have refused to declassify and release documents related to the case, apparently because they do not want to damage the US-Saudi Arabian relationship.
Jim Kreindler, one of the leaders of the lawsuit, said that the document validated the suit’s key contention that Riyadh helped the hijackers.
“With this first release of documents, 20 years of Saudi Arabia counting on the US government to cover up its role in 9/11 comes to an end,” Kreindler said in a statement.
The families are still hoping for stronger evidence when more classified material is released within the next six months, based on a Biden order.
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