In a court filing in long-running litigation brought by the victims’ families against Saudi Arabia, the Justice Department said that the F.B.I. “recently” closed a portion of its investigation into the terrorist attacks and was beginning a review of documents that it had previously said must remain secret with an eye toward disclosing more of them, The New York Times reported.
“The F.B.I. has decided to review its prior privilege assertions to identify additional information appropriate for disclosure,” the department said in a letter to two federal judges in Manhattan overseeing the case.
Family members of 9/11 victims have long sought US government documents related to whether Saudi Arabia aided or financed any of the 19 people associated with Al-Qaeda who crashed hijacked passenger jets into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside Washington and a Pennsylvania field. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks, the Guardian wrote.
Probe into Saudi officials' role
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. A US government commission found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” Al-Qaeda terrorist group. But the commission’s phrasing left some to speculate that there might be evidence of involvement by other, lower-ranking officials.
An investigation last year by The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica found that F.B.I. agents, who secretly investigated Saudi connections to the attacks for more than a decade, had discovered circumstantial evidence of such support.
Meanwhile, former Saudi officials were questioned about their alleged links to 9/11 in court depositions in June by lawyers acting for families of the victims, who viewed the move as a breakthrough in efforts to prove a link between Riyadh and the hijackers.
The families want to prove that Saudi nationals helped support two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, in southern California in the months leading up to the attacks – and that support was coordinated by a diplomat in the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
A group representing more than 1,600 people directly affected by the attacks in a statement last week called for President Joe Biden to not participate in any memorial events for the 20th anniversary of the attacks next month unless he fulfilled a campaign promise to review the documents for possible declassification and release, The New York Times wrote.
“Since the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission in 2004 much investigative evidence has been uncovered implicating Saudi government officials in supporting the attacks,” the statement said.
“Through multiple administrations, the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. have actively sought to keep this information secret and prevent the American people from learning the full truth about the 9/11 attacks,” according to NBC News.
The families have pushed four American presidents, with little success, to release more information about Saudi involvement in financing the attacks.
“It’s 20 years; this has gone on for too long,” Brett Eagleson, who was a 15-year-old sophomore in high school when his father, Bruce, died at the World Trade Center, said in an interview last week. “If you’re not going to release the documents and you’re going to continue with the process of covering up the Saudi role in 9/11, we’ll have to object to you coming.”
Eagleson is among the thousands of victims’ relatives who accused Saudi Arabia in a 2017 lawsuit of complicity in the attacks. They had successfully fought for years for the right to sue, gaining it in 2016 when Congress overrode a veto by President Barack Obama to pass into law a bill allowing such a lawsuit.