The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been remarkably prompt in its follow-through of an executive order of President Joe Biden, specifically to release a newly declassified document related to its investigation of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States of America and allegations of Saudi government support for the hijackers. The partially redacted 16-page document, that was released by the FBI on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, detailed contacts between the hijackers and several Saudi officials, but did not draw a definitive conclusion whether the government in Riyadh was complicit in the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people. Earlier this month, President Biden had ordered the Department of Justice to review documents from the FBI’s probe into the attacks for declassification and release. Relatives of the victims had been demanding for years more information about what the FBI discovered in its probe and have contended that the documents would show Saudi Arabian authorities had supported the plot. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. And arguably, thereby hangs a tale. The chief regret of the world must be that the FBI has advanced its findings 20 years after the disaster. The desert kingdom has consistently maintained that it had no role in the attacks. The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on the FBI report. In 2004, a US government commission found no evidence that Saudi Arabia directly funded Al Qaida, the group given safe haven by the Taliban in Afghanistan at the time. It also evaded the crucial question as to whether individual Saudi officials might have information. The families of those killed in the attacks, and more than 20,000 people who suffered injuries, businesses and various insurers, have sued Saudi Arabia seeking billions of dollars.
Yet the kingdom has been left unscathed by the FBI. In a statement issued on September 8, the embassy said Saudi Arabia has always advocated transparency around the events of 11 September 2001, and welcomes the release by the United States of classified documents relating to the attacks. “As past investigations have revealed, including the 9/11 Commission and the release of the so-called ‘28 Pages,’ no evidence has ever emerged to indicate that the Saudi government or its officials had previous knowledge of the terrorist attack or were in any way involved,” the embassy’s statement said. The FBI report would suggest that the US administration has generally concurred with the Saudi assessment. That said, it must be conceded that President Biden has taken a tougher stance with Saudi Arabia than his predecessor Donald Trump, criticising the Kingdom over its human rights record while releasing a US intelligence report implicating the kingdom’s de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the 2018 killing of Saudi dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. The prince denies any involvement. The plot thickens from New York and Washington to Istanbul, where Khashoggi was done to death.