WASHINGTON (AP) – The FBI on Wednesday released hundreds of pages of newly declassified documents on its lengthy efforts to explore links between the Saudi government and the 9/11 attacks, revealing the scope of an arduous but ultimately unsuccessful investigation, many of which question the outcome of this investigation. daytime.
For more than a decade, agents have investigated the support given to several of the hijackers upon their arrival in the United States, focusing in particular on whether three Saudi nationals – including an official Saudi Embassy in Washington – had prior knowledge of the attacks.
Ultimately, investigators found insufficient evidence to accuse one of the three of illegally supporting the hijackers, according to a May FBI memo that closed the investigation and was among more than 700 pages. published on Wednesday. FBI noted in the memo that al-Qaida compartmentalized roles within its major attacks and “did not disclose plans of attack in advance to others” for fear the news would leak. .
“More specifically, with regard to the September 11 attacks, the hijackers knew there was a martyrdom operation, but did not know the nature of the operation until shortly before the attack for certain reasons. operational security, ”the FBI memo reads. It is not known how the FBI came to this conclusion since all of the hijackers died in the attack.
The documents were the latest documents to be released under an executive order from President Joe Biden to release long-standing investigative reports related to the attacks. A separate investigative document was released to mark the 20th anniversary of the September attacks. The files have long been sought by relatives of the victims as they sue in a New York federal court to try to prove the Saudi government was complicit, which Riyadh officials have vigorously denied.
The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, but issued a statement in September calling the allegations baseless and categorically false.
U.S. government investigations over the past two decades have documented support by Saudi government officials for several of the hijackers upon their arrival in the United States, but have not produced clear evidence that senior government leaders helped prepare for the attacks. The FBI note closing the investigation said the office “has not identified any other groups or individuals responsible for the attack other than those currently charged.”
Despite this, the documents reveal years of FBI efforts to seek possible Saudi government involvement and to examine Saudi nationals’ support in the United States for the first two hijackers to arrive in the United States. , Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar.
Andrew Maloney, senior attorney for the victims’ families, said the FBI has “now released a substantial amount of highly incriminating material regarding the role of the Saudi government in helping al-Qaida and these two hackers. air in particular “.
In February 2000, shortly after arriving in Southern California, they met at a halal restaurant a Saudi national named Omar al-Bayoumi, who then helped them find and rent an apartment in San Diego. He had previously attracted the attention of the FBI but had never been charged with his dealings with the future hijackers.
According to documents released Wednesday, the FBI has been investigating links between al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar and people linked to the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which funds mosques and efforts to promote Islam to the world.
According to one of the documents, the FBI investigated whether members of Al-Qaida had “infiltrated” the ministry without the knowledge of the Saudi government or whether there had been “collaboration between members of AQ and certain radical elements within the Ministry of Islamic Affairs for mutually beneficial purposes. . “
The FBI investigated whether the Saudis who had provided financial support to al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar had any connections to the plotters of the attack.
According to the documents, al-Bayoumi was in contact with Musaid al-Jarrah, who was director of Islamic affairs at the Saudi embassy in Washington and whom the FBI suspected of “attempting” to bring extremists to the United States in using its embassy. position. In its final summary of the investigation, the FBI described al-Jarrah as an “influence controlling, guiding and directing all aspects of Sunni extremist activity in Southern California.”
Maloney, counsel for the plaintiffs, said the allegations are important.
“Here we now have for the first time the FBI telling the world that Jarrah was an extremist, and he brought in extremist Sunni imams to the United States and then supervised them,” he said.
But authorities did not have enough evidence that al-Jarrah, al-Bayoumi and a third man – Fahad al-Thumairy, who was a diplomat accredited to the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles and who investigators said led a faction. extremist in his mosque – had knowingly conspired. to help the hijackers.
None of the three have been charged and all have since left the country.
The Trump administration fought to keep al-Jarrah’s identity private before the Justice Department accidentally released it last year in a court file.
In a September 8, 2021 memo, the FBI corrected a previous claim it made and said there was no evidence to prove that al-Jarrah had direct personal contact with the two. hijackers who were the subject of the investigation.
The documents also show that investigators repeatedly questioned Mohdar Abdullah, a Yemeni student who befriended hijackers al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar when they settled in San Diego. He was arrested after the attacks as a suspected important witness, an allegation he denied. After nearly three years in detention, he was deported to Yemen in 2004.
Abdullah told investigators he believed Saudi officials may have been complicit in the 9/11 plot by helping hijackers take root in Southern California. But he was unable to provide any evidence to the officers.
“When asked why he believed this, Abdullah said that was his opinion and that he knew nothing more than what he had provided to the FBI in the past,” the documents say.
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