The FBI ended the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by releasing a newly declassified document regarding its investigation into support given to two of the Saudi hijackers. The heavily redacted 16-page document details how the hijackers had contact with lots of Saudi associates in the run-up to the attacks but fails to provide conclusive proof that senior officials of the Saudi government were complicit. The document, which was released late on Saturday, is the first record disclosed by the FBI since President Joe Biden issued an executive order calling for the declassification of documents related to the attacks. Families of the victims of the attack had called on Biden to skip memorial events on Saturday if he didn’t declassify documents that they claim will show how Saudi officials played a role in the attacks. Biden has called on the Justice Department and other federal agencies to release declassified documents of the attacks over the next six months.
The document relates to an interview conducted in November 2015 with an unidentified Saudi man who was applying for U.S. citizenship. The man had lots of contact with Saudi nationals in the United States who supported the hijackers when they arrived in the country before the attacks. “But the document released on Saturday provided no new conclusive evidence about the Saudi government’s role,” details the New York Times. Families of victims don’t quite see it that way though. In a statement, 9/11 Families United said the document “puts to bed any doubts about Saudi complicity in the attacks.” Terry Strada, whose husband Tom was killed on Sept. 11 and is part of the group, said the document has “exposed” the secrets of Saudi Arabia “and it is well past time for the Kingdom to own up to its officials’ roles in murdering thousands on American soil.” Jim Kreindler, a lawyer for the relatives of victims, said “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.”
There have long been questions about whether Saudi government officials played a role in the attack. The speculation was in large part fueled by the repeated refusal to declassify 28 pages of a 2002 congressional investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks that addressed connections to Saudi Arabia. The document was released in 2016 and detailed suspicious meetings and hints of financing while also exposing how Saudi Arabia tried to push back against U.S. operations targeting al-Qaida. Saudi Arabia has long denied any role in the attacks and publicly welcomed Biden’s declassification drive as a way to “end the baseless allegations against the Kingdom once and for all.” Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.
In its final report released in 2004, the Sept. 11 Commission found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the attacks. But the carefully worded statement left open the possibility that lower-level Saudi officials were involved. Plus the commission encouraged the FBI to continue looking into the issue.