The FBI has released a newly declassified document that looks into connections between Saudi citizens in the US and two of the 9/11 attackers.
Relatives of victims have long advocated for the release of the files, claiming that Saudi officials were aware of the attacks but did nothing to prevent them.
However, the document contains no evidence that the Saudi government was involved in the 9/11 plot.
Fifteen of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Ahead of the declassification, the Saudi embassy in Washington welcomed the release and once again denied any link between the kingdom and the hijackers, describing such claims as “false and malicious”.
The document, which was declassified on the 20th anniversary of the deadliest terror attacks on US soil (nearly 3,000 people were killed after four planes were hijacked), is the first of several that are expected to be released.
Some victims’ families had urged President Joe Biden to declassify the documents, saying he should not attend Saturday’s commemoration ceremonies in New York if he was unwilling to do so.
This 16-page FBI document is still heavily redacted. It is based on interviews with a source whose identity is classified (listed as PII) and outlines contacts between a number of Saudi nationals and two of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.
In the year 2000, the hijackers pretended to be students in order to enter the United States. According to the FBI memo, they then received significant logistical support from Omar al-Bayoumi, who, according to witnesses, was a frequent visitor to the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles despite his official status as a student at the time.
According to the FBI source, Mr Bayoumi had “very high status” at the consulate.
The memo stated that “Bayoumi’s assistance to Hamzi and Midha included translation, travel, lodging, and financing.”
According to the FBI document, the two hijackers had ties to Fahad al-Thumairy, a conservative imam at the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles. Sources described him as having “extremist beliefs.”
According to the Associated Press, both Mr Bayoumi and Mr Thumairy left the United States weeks before the 9/11 attacks.
According to the AP, Jim Kreindler, a lawyer for 9/11 victims’ families, the released document “validates the arguments we have made in the litigation regarding the Saudi government’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.”
Several top former Saudi officials were questioned under oath in a lawsuit filed by relatives last month.
The documents were refused to be declassified by the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, citing national security concerns.
Joe Biden, on the other hand, ordered a review of investigative documents last week, instructing officials to release what they could over the next six months.
Given the number of Saudi nationals involved and Osama Bin Laden’s Saudi background, there has long been speculation of official Saudi links to the plot.
The 9/11 commission report, on the other hand, found no evidence to implicate the Saudi government or senior officials.
Although their relationship has been strained at times, the United States and Saudi Arabia have long been allies.
Despite Trump’s efforts to strengthen ties, Joe Biden labelled Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for its role in the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.
According to the BBC’s Frank Gardner, Mr. Biden has since softened his stance toward Saudi Arabia’s most powerful man, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reflecting the harsh reality of the alliance’s importance.