The FBI began releasing newly declassified documents this past weekend related to its investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks following President Biden’s executive order earlier this month.
The move, which came on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, follows years of pressure from lawmakers and the families of 9/11 victims who demand further transparency into the U.S. government’s knowledge of how the attacks were plotted and carried out.
The victims’ families say the U.S. government has been withholding details from the public that show Saudi Arabian officials were involved in the planning and execution of the attack.
“It is particularly meaningful that President Biden and his administration today began to fulfill his promise to the 9/11 community, as my family and thousands of others memorialized those who were lost and injured 20 years ago,” said Brett Eagleson, who lost his father Bruce in the attacks. “Today marks the moment when the Saudis cannot rely on the U.S. government from hiding the truth about 9/11.”
The document released late Saturday is a still-heavily-redacted FBI analysis from 2016 detailing the FBI’s investigation into allegations that Saudi officials provided materiel support to two 9/11 hijackers.
The release offers new details, without drawing final conclusions, on the investigation into Saudi national Omar al Bayoumi, who was connected to two Saudi national 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hamzi.
Mr. al Bayoumi is described in the 9/11 Commission Report as a business student in the United States who was “supported by a private contractor for the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority, where Bayoumi had worked for over 20 years” and concluded that there was no evidence Mr. al Bayoumi “believed in violent extremism or knowingly aided extremist groups.”
Past investigations, including the 9/11 Commission Report, have outlined ties between Saudi nationals and some of the hijackers, but have not established the Saudi government was directly involved. The Saudis, citing the 9/11 Report findings, have denied any involvement in the attacks.
The report released Saturday, however, includes an interview with an unnamed individual who described Mr. al Bayoumi as being “well regarded by Consulate personnel who held a ‘very high status’ when he entered the building.” The report confirms that Mr. al Bayoumi visited the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles in January 2020, immediately prior to meeting with al Mihdhar and al Hamzi.
The report also includes details of an interview with an unnamed individual who said Mr. al Bayoumi had discussed jihad on several occasions. The report also shows that Saudi officials placed phone calls to al Qaeda operatives, two of whom are now detained at Guantanamo Bay.
The new details fell short of conclusive evidence of involvement in the attacks by anyone in the Saudi government, but Mr. Eagleson said Saturday’s release is a breakthrough in their decades-long fight.
“The release of the 2016 FBI Operation Encore Final Review accelerates our pursuit of truth and justice against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the worst terrorist attack to occur on U.S. soil,” he said.
Previous administrations have resisted a broader disclosure, in an effort, critics say, to prevent potentially explosive information from being disclosed and to preserve the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
In 2016, Congress passed a measure allowing individuals to take legal action against foreign governments accountable that support terrorist attacks in the U.S. President Obama vetoed the legislation but Congress later overturned the veto. Lawmakers and advocates have continued to push for transparency under Mr. Biden.
In May, 22 members of Congress led by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland challenging the previous administrations’ assertion of “state secret privilege” to block declassification of the 9/11 files. In June, Reps. Ted Deutch, Florida Democrat, and Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, called on FBI Director Christopher A. Wray to release the documents.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey and fellow Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut last month introduced a bill that would order a full declassification review of the 9/11 investigation and require a justification for any decisions to keep details classified in the future.
Mr. Biden’s executive order requires Attorney General Merrick Garland to make the declassified documents public over the next six months.
Mr. Eagleson expects further documents to be released as part of the review.
“We look forward to more transparency and releases of information from the Biden administration that finally provide the American people the truth they have long-deserved, while our resolve strengthens to hold the Saudi government fully accountable for the tremendous pain and losses we suffered,” he said.
Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.
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