The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has released a newly declassified document related to logistical support provided to two of the Saudi hijackers in the run-up to the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The 16-page document was released on Saturday night, hours after US President Joe Biden attended memorial events on the 20th anniversary of the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and northern Virginia.
The newly declassified document details contacts the hijackers had with Saudi associates in the United States but offers no evidence the Saudi government was complicit in the plot.
It is the first investigative record to be disclosed since US President Joe Biden ordered a declassification review of materials that for years have remained out of public view.
Biden last week ordered the Justice Department and other agencies to conduct a declassification review of investigative documents and release what they can over the next six months. He had encountered pressure in recent weeks from victims’ families, who have long sought the records as they pursue a lawsuit in New York alleging that senior Saudi officials were complicit in the attacks.
Speculation of official involvement swirled shortly after the attacks when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudis. Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda at the time, was also from a prominent family in the kingdom.
However, the Saudi government has long denied any involvement. The Saudi Embassy in Washington said on Wednesday that it supported the full declassification of all records as a way to “end the baseless allegations against the Kingdom once and for all”.
The embassy said any allegation that Saudi Arabia was complicit was “categorically false”.
The heavily redacted record is a summary of an FBI interview done in 2015 with a man who had frequent contact with Saudi nationals in the US who supported the first hijackers to arrive in the country before the attacks.
The man’s identity is redacted throughout the document, but he is described as having worked at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles.
Among his contacts was a Saudi national named Omar al-Bayoumi, according to the document.
Al-Bayoumi, who had ties to the Saudi government, helped two of the hijackers find and lease an apartment in San Diego, shortly after their arrival in southern California.
Al-Bayoumi has described his restaurant meeting with the hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar in February 2000 as a “chance encounter”, and the FBI during its interview made multiple attempts to ascertain if that characterisation was accurate or if it had actually been arranged in advance, according to the document.
“Bayoumi’s assistance to Hazmi and Mihdhar included translation, travel, lodging and financing,” the document said, adding that the wife of the FBI’s source told them al-Bayoumi often talked about “jihad”.
Also referenced in the document is Fahad al-Thumairy, at the time an accredited diplomat at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles who investigators say led a hardline faction at his mosque.
The document says communications analysis identified a seven-minute phone call in 1999 from al-Thumairy’s phone to the Saudi Arabian family home phone of two brothers who became future detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Both al-Bayoumi and al-Thumairy left the US weeks before the attacks.