Families of 9/11 victims suing Saudi Arabia for role in attacks Melanie Eversley , USA TODAY Published 9:13 p.m. ET March 20, 2017 | Updated 10 hours ago
The lawsuit, brought in the federal court that covers lower Manhattan, is years in the making. USA TODAY
A lawsuit filed Monday in federal court on behalf of the families of 850 people who died and another 1,500 who were injured in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S. holds the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia responsible for helping some of the attackers.
The suit filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, in Manhattan, is being handled by Kreindler & Kreindler in New York City, an aviation law firm that has been working with the families for the last 16 years.
The claim seeks unspecified monetary damages.
"This lawsuit demonstrates ... the families are never going to give up until we establish that Saudi Arabia is accountable," said lawyer Jim Kreindler.
The suit, which will be heard by U.S. District Judge George Daniels, alleges Saudi Arabia supported al-Qaeda in four ways, Kreindler told USA TODAY.
The suit names several Saudi Arabian charities that were "alter egos of the government" that were staffed by the government, that ran terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and "the whole world knows they were dirty," Kreindler said. The charities worked with late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to open offices in Pakistan and Afghanistan and establish the terrorist organization, the suit alleges.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia directly funded al-Qaeda, the lawyer said. Saudi Arabia supported the terrorists by supplying assistance such as passports and worldwide transportation, he said.
And finally, the suit identifies Saudi officials who worked with the hijackers in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sarasota, Fla., Washington, D.C., and Virginia in the 18 months leading up to the attacks, Kreindler said.
In September, Congress passed a measure allowing countries to be sued in terrorism cases even when the alleged act or acts take place outside of the United States — the Justice Against State Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) — which enables the suit to go forward.
Another lawyer working with the plaintiffs said the families he represents are grateful to Congress and to President Trump, who has backed their efforts.
"We just hope President Trump continues," Andrew Maloney said. "I would like to hear some continued expressions of support by the president."
Michael Kellogg, a Washington-based lawyer representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, did not respond to a message left at his office Monday evening.
The White House blasted what it called "rapid onset buyer's remorse" after House and Senate leaders conceded problems with the 9/11 lawsuit bill Congress just enacted into law over President Obama's veto. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., suggested that the House might take up a bill to fix problems with the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, after it comes back from its election recess. USA TODAY http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017 ... /99421816/
Mazars and Deutsche Bank could have ended this nightmare before it started. They could still get him out of office. But instead, they want mass death. Don’t forget that.
It was weird how the Obama administration tried desperately to block the ability of Sept 11th victim families from suing Saudi Arabia, while then candidate Trump talked about Saudi Arabia and 9/11 in campaign stops and interviews in regards to complicity. However, given the distinct ties between Trump and the oil rich gulf states, its doubtful the clear Saudi complicity in 9/11 would want to be explored even with the Trump White House.
Strangely, it was Fox News of all networks who did the best darn documentary exposing Saudi Arabia's role in 9/11, as well as the mystery of Anwar al-Awlaki and his role with the hijackers
"Do you know who I am? I am the arm, and I sound like this..."-man from another place, twin peaks fire walk with me
US court rules families of 9/11 victims can sue Saudi Arabia
A US judge ruled that the plaintiffs had “narrowly articulate a reasonable basis” to proceed.
People walk through the Empty Sky 9/11 memorial in Liberty State Park.
A US FEDERAL judge has rejected Saudi Arabia’s bid to drop lawsuits alleging it helped orchestrate the 9/11 attacks.
Manhattan-based Judge George Daniels said in his ruling the plaintiffs “narrowly articulate a reasonable basis” to proceed.
Relatives of 9/11 victims say that Saudi Arabia provided support to militant group Al-Qaeda and its founder Osama bin Laden.
In late September 2016, fifteen years after the attack, the US Congress passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), allowing survivors and relatives of victims of “terrorism” to sue foreign governments.
Fifteen of the 19 perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks – which left nearly 3,000 people dead – were Saudis.
Justice Department to reveal name of individual accused of aiding 9/11 hijackers
Washington (CNN) — The Justice Department will reveal the name of an individual believed to be connected to the Saudi government and accused of aiding two of the 9/11 hijackers, prosecutors said in a court filing Thursday.
The person's identity will remain a closely guarded secret for now, though it will be shared with attorneys representing the families of victims of the attacks who have alleged the government of Saudi Arabia helped to coordinate the terrorists in a lawsuit. the attorneys can then petition the Justice Department to release the name wider.
The move to disclose the name came a day after the 18th anniversary of the attack, which left nearly 3,000 men and women dead, and followed intense deliberation at the top of the Justice Department.
That the disclosure came under President Donald Trump is especially striking given the administration's efforts to maintain close relations with the powerful Arab ally, including by downplaying the kingdom's involvement in the recent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Attorney General William Barr made the final decision, a Justice Department official said.
While the Saudis have continually denied any government involvement in the attacks, their role has been the subject of dispute in Washington.
Fifteen of the 19 al Qaeda terrorists who hijacked four planes on September 11, 2001, were Saudi nationals.
The 9/11 Commission established by Congress said in 2004 that it had found "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded" al Qaeda, although a number of commission members have since said, including in declarations that were submitted as part of the lawsuit, that the review did not include an exhaustive investigation of evidence of possible Saudi government involvement.
The name the Justice Department plans to release comes from a four-page summary from 2012 of an FBI investigation into three people who were said to help find living quarters and provide financial assistance, as well as assistance in obtaining flight lessons and driver's licenses, to two of the hijackers in Southern California in the period before the attack.
Two of the names are already known from a version of the document that is publicly available, though the third name has remained redacted. The two men, Fahad al-Thumairy and Omar Ahmed al-Bayoumi, have been connected to the Saudi government previously in government reports.
Attorneys for the families have argued that the unnamed individual is likely a more senior Saudi official and point to a portion of the document where the FBI said a person whose name is redacted "tasked" al-Thumairy and al-Bayoumi with "assisting the hijackers."
In a statement, the FBI said it decided to declassify and provide the attorneys with the name "in light of the extraordinary circumstances of this particular case."
An official added that the information in the report about the unnamed individual referred to an investigative theory pursued by the FBI at the time and not a statement of fact.
The decision to release the document to the plaintiffs in the suit was "coordinated at the highest levels of the Department of Justice," prosecutors wrote in a court filing last week.
If the Justice Department had claimed they could not release the document under the state secrets privilege, which allows the government to prevent the disclosure of sensitive information that might endanger national security, Barr himself would have had to submit an affidavit making the claim.
Families of the victims have been attempting to sue the country as far back as 2003, and in 2018, as part of their lawsuit, were allowed to proceed with discovery. That was only allowed after Congress passed a law in 2016 widening the ability for civil lawsuits to be filed against foreign countries accused of involvement in a terror attack.
The law was vetoed by President Barack Obama that year, who said it would expose US diplomats and servicemen to litigation in other countries, but Congress overrode the veto.
Attorneys representing family members of almost all of the 9/11 victims, as well as thousands of survivors, last year sent subpoenas to Saudi Arabia, as well as the FBI, CIA and State Department, and have been receiving hundreds of pages of documents on a rolling basis. https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/12/politics ... index.html
Judge Orders Release of Records That Might Tie Saudi Royals to 9/11 Reading Time: 6 minutes A federal judge’s ruling has raised hopes that we may better understand any possible ties between Saudi Arabia’s ruling family and the 9/11 hijackers — the vast majority of whom were Saudi citizens.
Just ahead of the 18th anniversary of the attack, US District Judge William J. Zloch ruled that the FBI unlawfully withheld from journalists important parts of its own highly sensitive investigative report on the subject.
Earlier, the FBI had declined to release to the Florida Bulldog — a nonprofit news organization which first broke the news about the ruling — key sections from records of the bureau’s probe of a South Florida-based Saudi family that apparently had ties to many of the 9/11 hijackers.
According to a 2011 Bulldog report (and to a Sarasota Herald-Tribune story published the same day), Mohamed Atta, the 9/11 plot leader, had visited the family of Abdulaziz al-Hijji several times, and phone records documenting communication over more than a year connected them to Atta and 11 other terror suspects. (See below for details.)
Two weeks before the 9/11 attack, the al-Hijjis suddenly left the area, abandoning cars, furniture, clothing, food, and medicine, and leaving the door of a safe ajar. Soon after, they all — including Esam Ghazzawi, the father of al-Hijji’s wife and owner of the home — flew to Saudi Arabia.
Connecting the Florida Family to the Saudi Royal Family
Through its own investigation, WhoWhatWhy discovered that there is a direct link between Ghazzawi and the ruling Saudi royal family.
Ghazzawi served as director of Eirad Management Company, the UK division of Eirad Trading and Contracting Co. Ltd., which among other things holds the Saudi franchise for many multinational brands, including UPS.
Esam’s brother Mamdouh, whose name shows up on public records associated with family properties in the US, was the executive managing director of the parent firm, Eirad Holding Co. Ltd. Eirad has connections to the US government via contracts. In 2008, records show, the State Department paid Eirad $11,733 for rental of facilities, presumably in Saudi Arabia.
And the chairman of Eirad Holding Co. Ltd. — i.e., the Ghazzawi brothers’ boss — was Prince Sultan bin Fahd bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud.
The prince is a prominent member of the ruling Saudi royal family. He is a great-grandson of King Abdul Aziz (commonly referred to as Ibn Saud), founder of modern Saudi Arabia, and grandson of the current king.
A 2009 article in the publication Arab News covering an Eirad awards ceremony for outstanding employees features quotes from Prince Sultan and Mamdouh Ghazzawi as, respectively, Chairman and Executive Managing Director.
A 2017 article in the UK’s Telegraph described Eirad as “the company which managed the [royal] family’s properties, fleet of cars and vast collection of artwork.”
The link between the Ghazzawis and high ranks of the Saudi establishment reopens questions about the Bush White House’s controversial approval of multiple charter flights allowing Saudi nationals — including princes — to depart the US, beginning about 48 hours after the attacks, without the passengers being interviewed by law enforcement. This was after the identification of the majority of the hijackers as Saudis.
In addition, these revelations draw further attention to a web of relationships that include the long and close business, personal, and political ties between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family.
September 11, World Trade Center Fires still burn amidst the rubble and debris of the World Trade Centers in New York City in the area known as Ground Zero two days after the 9/11 attacks. Photo credit: Mike Goad / Flickr A Mysterious Disappearance
The al-Hijji family left Florida on August 27, 2001, according to reports released in 2019 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. (The date had previously been given as August 30.) A counterterrorism agent and an administrator/security agent of the gated community got into the house and reported these findings:
There was mail on the table, dirty diapers in one of the bathrooms … all the toiletries still in place … all their clothes hanging in the closet … TVs … opulent furniture, equal or greater in value than the house … the pool running, with toys in it … The beds were made … fruit on the counter … the refrigerator full of food. … It was like they went grocery shopping. Like they went out to a movie … [But] the safe was open in the master bedroom, with nothing in it, not a paper clip. … A computer was still there. A computer plug in another room, and the line still there. Looked like they’d taken [another] computer and left the cord.
They abandoned three recently registered vehicles, including a brand-new Chrysler PT Cruiser, purchased in mid-August 2001.
The al-Hijji family left in a white van and traveled to another Ghazzawi property in Arlington, VA; then — with Esam Ghazzawi — they went, via Dulles airport and London’s Heathrow, to Riyadh.
Evidence Linking Family to 9/11
The Florida Bulldog reported the following discoveries:
Records subpoenaed from the phone company linked calls dating back for more than a year to and from the house to several of the 9/11 hijackers, and other terrorist suspects, including senior al-Qaeda member, Adnan Shukrijumah,
Mohamed Atta (who crashed a plane into the WTC), and Ziad Jarrah (who crashed a plane in Pennsylvania) were documented by gatekeepers to the Florida complex as visitors to the family. And their license plates were photographed as they went through the gate.
Three of the four men who piloted planes on 9/11 lived within 10 miles of the [al-Hijji/Ghazzawi] family and attended flight schools nearby.
Denial Upon Denial
The FBI failed to provide the information to congressional 9/11 investigators, or to the presidential 9/11 commission. They also did not turn over information connecting the hijackers to other Saudis living in California — which congressional investigators later discovered on their own.
When these investigators turned over to the 9/11 Commission a large body of information on the hijackers that they themselves had acquired, the panel seemed uninterested.
“They did very little with it,” said former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who served as co-chair of the congressional joint inquiry into 9/11, “and their reference to Saudi Arabia is almost cryptic sometimes. … I never got a good answer as to why they did not pursue that.”
The final 28-page section of the congressional report — which deals with “sources of foreign support for some of the Sept. 11 hijackers” — was entirely blanked out when it was released in July 2016. It was kept secret from the public on the orders of former President George W. Bush and is still withheld to this day, Graham said. (See additional revelations reported by WhoWhatWhy.)
Also kept from the public: Esam Ghazzawi and Abdulaziz al-Hijji had been on the FBI watch list — even before 9/11.
In response to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune article, the FBI issued a statement on September 15, 2011, claiming that the occupants of the house had been tracked down and interrogated, and that they were found to have no connections to the hijackers.
In March 2012, Lee Hamilton, former Indiana congressman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, said, “We looked quite carefully at [possible Saudi involvement] and even sent investigators over there, and we found no hard evidence of any linkage to the hijackers. At the end of the day, you have to have hard evidence. Having said that, I will also say that despite our thorough investigation, a lot of questions about 9/11 remain unanswered.”
In a story published August 30, 2019, in Britain’s Telegraph, the FBI is quoted as saying, “At no time did the FBI develop evidence that connected the family members to any of the 9/11 hijackers … and there was no connection found to the 9/11 plot.’’
In court filings seeking to stave off a media Freedom of Information request, the FBI stated that releasing documents relating to this issue will harm “national security.”
As proof of the sensitivity of the matter, the FBI gave the judge a document dated April 4, 2002, in which the FBI states provocatively that its own inquiries “revealed many connections” between a well-connected Saudi family with a house in South Florida and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”
Abdulaziz al-Hijji, who rented the Florida house from Ghazzawi and is married to Ghazzawi’s daughter, now lives in London, where he works for his country’s state oil company. In an email to the Telegraph, he made the following assertion:
I have neither relation nor association with any of those bad people/criminals and the awful crime they did. 9/11 is a crime against the USA and all humankind and I’m very saddened and oppressed by these false allegations.
He also denied that he left his home in haste:
No, no, no. Absolutely not true. We were trying to secure the [Aramco] job. It was a good opportunity.
He added the surprising claim that his wife and children followed him to Saudi Arabia a few weeks after he left. But that directly contradicts what the FBI found, including the disarray in the abandoned house, and the bureau’s assertion that the whole family left the country within days of abandoning the Sarasota house.
A former neighbor and close friend of al-Hijji, Tom Bello, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune his Saudi friend did not raise any suspicion because of his “easy manner.” But then he remembered something significant:
He felt Americans came to their country to steal their oil and take their money. He said he did not like Americans because of what we did to his country.
As trial date draws near, FBI releases more about secretive 9/11 Review Commission
By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
FBI Director James Comey, center, announces release of 9/11 Review Commission report on March 25, 2015. Flanking Comey from left to right are commissioners Bruce Hoffman, Edwin Meese and Timothy Roemer. At far right is Executive Director John Gannon In moves aimed at heading off an unusual Freedom of Information Act trial in Miami next month, the FBI has released new information about the secretive work of its 9/11 Review Commission.
In one disclosure, the FBI made public how much it paid Reagan-era Attorney General Edwin Meese and two other men who served on the Review Commission, and staff. In another, the FBI put a human face on its effort to discredit a dramatic April 16, 2002 FBI report that said agents had found “many connections” between Saudis living in Sarasota and the 9/11 hijackers.
The FBI withheld the 2002 report from both Congress and the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, more simply known as the 9/11 Commission.
Late last year, in response to FOIA litigation brought by Florida Bulldog, the FBI made public copies of its personal services contracts with Meese, former ambassador and congressman Timothy Roemer and Georgetown professor Bruce Hoffman, but blacked out their pay.
On Friday, however, after U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga told a trio of government lawyers she wasn’t satisfied with the FBI’s explanations for withholding such information, the bureau relented and restored those contract details in documents re-released to Florida Bulldog.
The contracts show that Meese, Roemer and Hoffman were paid $80,000 apiece plus $4,000 for travel expenses for 11 months of work.
Payments to staff
The FBI also provided new information about payments to more than a half-dozen staffers for the 9/11 Review Commission.
Executive Director John Gannon, a former CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence, was paid $134,000 plus $4,000 for travel. The FBI’s biggest payout, however, went to Barbara A. Grewe, whose contract shows she was detailed to the 9/11 Review Commission by The MITRE Corporation to serve as a senior director for eight months starting in April 2014. Grewe was paid $163,000 and given $20,000 more for travel. She was hired under an agreement involving the Intergovernmental Personnel Act.
MITRE, with principal locations in Bedford, MA and McLean, VA, is a not-for-profit company that operates federally funded research and development centers to address national security and homeland security and other matters. Grewe’s Linked In profile describes her as a “trusted advisor to senior government officials across a variety of MITRE programs.” She is a former federal prosecutor in Washington who also served as senior counsel for special projects on the 9/11 Commission in 2003-2004.
FBI Director James Comey The 9/11 Review Commission, also known as the Meese Commission, was authorized by Congress to conduct an “external review” of the FBI’s performance in implementing the original 9/11 Commission’s recommendations and to assess new evidence. FBI Director James Comey picked the Meese Commission’s members, who operated in virtual secrecy, holding no public hearings and releasing no records about its work beyond its March 2015 final report.
Florida Bulldog’s corporate parent, Broward Bulldog Inc., sued the FBI in June for access to Meese Commission records, including those regarding the April 2002 FBI report that says agents found “many connections” between Saudis living in Sarasota and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”
The 2002 report, released to Florida Bulldog in 2013 amid a separate and ongoing FOIA lawsuit in Fort Lauderdale, corroborated earlier reporting by the Bulldog in collaboration with Irish author Anthony Summers that disclosed the existence of the FBI’s Sarasota investigation. That reporting showed that the FBI began its probe after being summoned by neighbors who told them that Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji had moved abruptly out of their upscale home about two weeks before 9/11 – leaving behind cars, clothes, furniture and other personal belongings. The home was owned by Anoud’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, an advisor to the late Prince Fahd bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a nephew of former King Fahd, and eldest son of Saudi Arabia’s current monarch, King Salman. The prince died in July 2001 at age 46.
In September 2011, Bulldog reported that agents had found evidence that Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 terrorists had visited the al-Hijjis’ home. The bureau, however, did not alert Congress or the subsequent 9/11 Commission to its probe. After the story broke, the FBI acknowledged its investigation, but said it had found no connection to the 9/11 plot. It declined to explain.
The Sarasota Family
The Commission addressed the matter briefly in a section of its 2015 report titled “The Sarasota Family.” The commission’s inquiry consisted of obtaining copies of the case file and being briefed by an agent who discredited the 2002 report, calling it “wholly unsubstantiated” and “poorly written.” The commission took no other testimony about what happened in Sarasota, and its final report does not explain how the FBI came to its conclusion.
The FBI has not released the name of the agent who wrote the report citing privacy considerations. He is Special Agent Gregory Sheffield, who at the time worked in the FBI’s Fort Myers office.
The FBI recently filed a motion for summary judgment that asks the court to dismiss much of the lawsuit. This week, bureau attorneys are expected to file additional court papers seeking dismissal of the entire case. The matter is set for trial in early March.
Tuesday’s hour-long hearing before Judge Altonaga focused on whether the FBI had made an adequate search for records of any discipline given to the agent who wrote the allegedly bogus 2002 report, and whether it had properly redacted portions of records previously released to the Bulldog.
Representing the government at Tuesday’s hearing were Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Raurell and two FBI lawyers from Washington, Assistant General Counsel Jonathan Fleshner and Paul Marquette of the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section.
Miami attorney Thomas Julin represented the Florida Bulldog. He argued that a trial would be the proper forum to resolve questions about the FBI’s withholding of information. He told the judge that the news organization’s principal concern was that the FBI had found significant evidence of Saudi government support for the 9/11 attacks and then failed to disclose it to Congress or conduct an adequate investigation.
Joining Julin at the plaintiff’s table was former Florida governor and Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks. Graham has strongly criticized the FBI for, among other things, failing to notify Congress about its Sarasota investigation.
A heavily redacted Memorandum for the Record
This past November, the FBI released in heavily redacted form a four-page, April 30, 2014 Memorandum for the Record describing the FBI’s briefing about the Sarasota family for the Meese Commission. Among the information the FBI kept secret was the name of the briefer for privacy reasons.
But on Jan. 30, 2017 after Florida Bulldog attorney Julin argued that the Meese report itself had named certain FBI personnel who it said provided “invaluable access to key people and relevant data,” the FBI identified the briefer as Supervisory Special Agent Jacqueline Maguire. Among other things, Maguire told the Meese Commission that the April 2002 report “was a bad statement. It was overly speculative and there was no basis for the statement.”
FBI agent Jacqueline Maguire testifying before the 9/11 Commission June 16, 2004 (The FBI also identified Agent Elizabeth Callahan as the Technical Point of Contact for the Meese Commission members and staff. The FBI has asserted privacy exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act to shield the names of other agents, including the agent who wrote the April 2002 report.)
The memorandum, however, offers no explanation for Maguire’s assertions. On Thursday, attorney Julin asked Miami U.S. Magistrate John O’Sullivan for permission to depose Maguire, but the request was denied.
Maguire previously said in court that she was assigned to the FBI’s New York field office after graduating from the FBI Academy in June 2000. A month after 9/11 she was assigned to a team of agents in Washington working PENTTBOMB, the code-name for its Pentagon, Twin Towers investigation.
“Specifically, I was assigned responsibilities in the investigation into the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon,” she said in a declaration in another FOIA action in 2005.
In November 2011, Maguire accompanied FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce to a Washington, D.C. meeting with former Sen. Graham. The White House arranged the meeting after Graham expressed concern about FBI documents he’d seen that contradicted the bureau’s public assertions that it had found no ties to terrorism during its Sarasota investigation. One of those documents was the April 2002 “many connections” report that the FBI provided the Senate Intelligence Committee in the wake of Bulldog’s reporting.
In a sworn declaration, Graham said Joyce sought to allay his concerns by saying that while the documents he’d reviewed did appear to contradict the FBI’s public statements about Sarasota, other FBI files he could review would provide context to show that the FBI’s public statements were correct.
Maguire was to provide Graham with those documents at a follow-up meeting. Joyce, however, soon changed his mind and declined to let Graham see anything else. Graham said Joyce also told him, in so many words, to “get a life.” http://www.floridabulldog.org/2017/02/t ... ommission/
Graham: Classified documents contradict FBI post-9/11 probe Postby 2012 Countdown » Tue Mar 13, 2012 9:16 am Classified documents contradict FBI on post-9/11 probe of Saudis, ex-senator says 4 hours ago
By Anthony Summers and Dan Christensen Special to msnbc.com
Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’ Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has seen two classified FBI documents that he says are at odds with the bureau’s public statements that there was no connection between the hijackers and Saudis then living in Sarasota, Fla.
“There are significant inconsistencies between the public statements of the FBI in September and what I read in the classified documents,” Graham said
“One document adds to the evidence that the investigation was not the robust inquiry claimed by the FBI,” Graham said. “An important investigative lead was not pursued and unsubstantiated statements were accepted as truth.”
Whether the 9/11 hijackers acted alone, or whether they had support within the U.S., remains an unanswered question -- one that began to be asked as soon as it became known that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. It was underlined when Congress’s bipartisan inquiry released its public report in July 2003. The final 28 pages, regarding possible foreign support for the terrorists, were censored in their entirety -- on President George W. Bush’s instructions.
Graham said the two classified FBI documents that he saw, dated 2002 and 2003, were prepared by an agent who participated in the Sarasota investigation. He said the agent suggested that another federal agency be asked to join the investigation, but that the idea was “rejected.”
Graham attempted in recent weeks to contact the agent, he said, only to find the man had been instructed by FBI headquarters not to talk.
FBI: 'No credible evidence' The FBI-led investigation a decade ago focused on Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, who moved out of their home in the upscale, gated community of Prestancia, near Sarasota, and left the country in the weeks before 9/11. The couple left behind three cars and numerous personal belongings, such as furnishings, clothes, medicine and food, according to law enforcement records. After the 9/11 attacks, a concerned neighbor contacted the FBI.
Analysis of Prestancia gatehouse visitor logs and photographs of license tags showed that vehicles driven by several of the future hijackers had visited the al-Hijji home at 4224 Escondito Circle, according to a counterterrorism officer and former Prestancia administrator Larry Berberich.
Al-Hijji, who now lives and works in London, recently called 9/11 “a crime against the USA and all humankind” and said he was “saddened and oppressed by these false allegations.” He also said it was “not true” that Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers visited him at his Sarasota home.
The FBI has backed up al-Hijji. After initially declining to comment, the bureau confirmed that it did investigate but said it found nothing sinister. Agents, however, have refused to answer reporters’ specific questions about its investigation or its findings about the Prestancia gate records.
The FBI reiterated its position in a Feb. 7 letter that denied a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records from its Sarasota probe. The denial said their release “could constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
“At no time during the course of its investigation of the attacks, known as the PENTTBOM investigation, did the FBI develop credible evidence that connected the address at 4224 Escondito Circle, Sarasota, Florida, to any of the 9/11 hijackers,” wrote records section chief David M. Hardy.
Newly released Florida Department of Law Enforcement documents, however, state that an informant told the FBI in 2004 that al-Hijji had considered Osama bin Laden a “hero” and may have known some of the hijackers. The informant, Wissam Hammoud, also said al-Hijji once introduced him to Adnan El Shukrijumah, the ex-Broward County resident and suspected al-Qaida operative on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last September, FBI spokesmen also disputed Graham’s assertion that Congress was never told about the Sarasota investigation.
That prompted Graham to ask the FBI for assistance in locating in the National Archives the Sarasota-related files that were allegedly turned over to Congress. Instead, after what Graham said were two months in which the FBI was “either unwilling or unable” to help find the records, the bureau suddenly turned over two documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Graham once headed and where he still has access. It is those documents that Graham has said are inconsistent with the FBI denials.
Meeting abruptly canceled Graham shared this development with the Obama White House, which responded by setting up a meeting between Graham and FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce. According to the former senator, Joyce told Graham he “didn’t want to talk” about the Sarasota episode. Graham said he was assured, however, that he would shortly be shown material that supported the FBI’s denials, and a further meeting was arranged with an FBI aide.
In December, Graham said, the scheduled meeting was abruptly canceled and he was told he would be allowed no further access to FBI information about Sarasota.
Graham believes the joint congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks was not the only national investigative body kept in the dark about Sarasota. He said the co-chairs of the later 9/11 Commission, Republican Thomas Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton, have told him they also were unaware of it.
Kean, a former New Jersey governor, told Graham the commission would have “worked it hard,” because the hypothesis that the hijackers completed the planning alone was “implausible,” the former senator said.
Kean did not return several phone messages seeking comment. But Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman, confirmed this month that he learned nothing about the Sarasota matter while serving as vice-chair of the 9/11 commission.
Graham sees the information now emerging about Sarasota as ominously similar to discoveries his inquiry made in California. Leads there indicated that the first two hijackers to reach the U.S., Saudis Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, received help first from a diplomat at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles and then from two other Saudis, one of whom helped al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi find a place to live. Multiple sources told investigators they believed both the latter Saudis had been Saudi government agents.
Later, when 9/11 Commission staff gained limited access to these individuals in Saudi Arabia, the aides’ reaction was caustic. One memo described the testimony of one of them as “deceptive ... inconsistent ... implausible.” The testimony of another displayed an “utter lack of credibility,” it said.
Graham is troubled by what he sees as FBI headquarters’ apparent effort to conceal information, including the fact that al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi lived for months in California in the home of a paid FBI informant. Even when that emerged, the FBI denied his inquiry access to the informant. Graham wonders if that was merely because of the bureau’s embarrassment, or because the informant knew something that “would be even more damaging were it revealed.”
The newly surfaced FDLE documents containing informant Hammoud’s troubling 2004 information about al-Hijji have reinforced Graham’s concerns because they conflict with the FBI’s public statements.
Hammoud’s statement that al-Hijji introduced him to Saudi terror suspect Shukrijumah is consistent with the report that Prestancia gate logs showed Shukrijumah had visited the al-Hijji house – and buttresses longstanding official suspicion that he was linked to the hijackers. When Mohamed Atta visited a federal immigration office in Miami to discuss a visa problem in May 2001, a 9/11 Commission footnote reports, a man who closely resembled Shukrijumah accompanied him.
Graham sees what he believes to be the suppression of evidence pointing to Saudi support for the 9/11 hijackers as arising from the perceived advantages to the West, at the time and now, of keeping Saudi Arabia happy.
In late December, the U.S. announced a new $30 billion defense deal with the Saudis.
“This agreement serves to reinforce the strong enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro. “It demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security.”
Graham said he was taken aback by that announcement.
“I think that in the period immediately after 9/11 the FBI was under instructions from the Bush White House not to discuss anything that could be embarrassing to the Saudis,” he said. “It is more inexplicable why the Obama administration has been reticent to pursue the question of Saudi involvement. For both administrations, there was and continues to be an obligation to inform the American people through truthful information.”
- Anthony Summers is co-author, with Robbyn Swan, of “The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 & Osama bin Laden.” Dan Christensen edits the Miami-area investigative Website Broward Bulldog, in which this article first appeared.