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FBI accidentally reveals name of Saudi envoy suspected of backing al-Qaeda terrorists in 9/11 attacks: Report

The error took place during a recent filing in a federal court by a senior FBI official. It could now open a new chapter in the controversial episode
September 11 terror attacks at the World Trade Center (Getty Images)
September 11 terror attacks at the World Trade Center (Getty Images)

In a turn of events that could spur a crisis between two old allies in the US and Saudi Arabia, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has accidentally revealed the name of a former Saudi Embassy official who is suspected of backing two Al-Qaeda plane hijackers in the September 11 attacks, 2001. Nearly 3,000 people perished in the horrendous air-borne terror attacks on that fateful day that saw the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. 

In an exclusive report filed by Yahoo News, the error happened during a recent filing in a federal court by a senior FBI official in response to a lawsuit from the families of 9/11 victims who accused Saudi Arabia of being complicit in the attacks. A number of American passenger jets were hijacked and turned into missiles to target some of the top symbols of America. Not all the attacks were successful though.

The document was filed in April but unsealed last week. In it, the lawyers did not redact the name of Muassed Ahmed al-Jarrah who was assigned to the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC in 1999-2000. Authorities suspected that al-Jarrah, whose current whereabouts are not known, asked two persons to help Nawab al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar settle in America ahead of the 9/11 attacks. Both al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were involved in hijacking the American Airlines Flight 77 that targeted the Pentagon, resulting in the death of 189 (64 on board the flight, 125 in the building). 

George W Bush, who was the president during the 9/11 terror attacks, hugs Stephanie Dunn DeSimone widow of Lt. Col. Patrick Dunn, who was killed at the Pentagon attacks the same day. (Getty Images)

The filing was meant to support the justice department’s wish to keep the embassy official’s identity secret. In the document that was filed by Jill Sanborn, the assistant director of the FBI’s counter-terrorism division, a 2012 report was referred to. It was heavily redacted but still showed two persons who are suspected to be linked to Riyadh. While Fahad al-Thumairy and Omar al-Bayoumi were probed for assisting the two hijackers, a third name also surfaced and US authorities suspect it to be al-Jarrah. 

At the time of the attacks, al-Thumairy, a Saudi Islamic Affairs official and radical cleric, served as the Imam at the King Fahd Mosque in Los Angeles while al-Bayoumi was a suspected agent of the Saudi regime. 

The 2012 report revealed that the FBI agents dug out ‘evidence’ that al-Thumairy and al-Bayoumi were asked to aid the hijackers by another person. Investigators found that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar reached Los Angeles in January 2000 and al-Bayoumi helped them find accommodation, gave them money and set up bank accounts for them, according to the Yahoo report.

'Third man' a Saudi envoy, Sanborn's declaration makes public confirmation

Sanborn’s 40-page declaration is the first public confirmation that the ‘third man’ was a Saudi envoy. According to the Yahoo report, the declaration confirms that the FBI agents believed to have discovered a link between the hijackers and the Saudi Embassy in Washington. While the FBI has confirmed that the revelation of the official’s name was an error, the declaration is still likely to raise questions over possible Saudi links to the terror attacks.

When Yahoo News contacted the justice department on Monday, May 11, its officials notified the court and took back the FBI’s declaration from the public docket. “The document was incorrectly filed in this case,” the docket now says. Yahoo couldn't get a reaction from the Saudi government despite several quests.

Riyadh has repeatedly denied any involvement in the 9/11 attacks. In January, the Saudi government told The New York Times and ProPublica: “Saudi Arabia is and has always been a close and critical ally of the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.” 
The 9/11 Commission report also found ‘no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution of senior Saudi officials individually funded’ the strikes that were masterminded by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. It, however, noted ‘the likelihood’ of charities sponsored by the Saudi government doing it. 

Brett Eagleson, a spokesman for the families of 9/11 victims, told Yahoo: “This shows there is a complete government cover-up of the Saudi involvement.” As a part of a long-running lawsuit that accuses Saudi for backing the attacks, Eagleson called it a ‘giant screwup’.

Last year, 25 survivors or relatives of survivors of the 9/11 attacks met President Donald Trump on the event's anniversary. Next day, Attorney General William Barr disclosed the name of the third man to the survivors' attorneys under a protective order which kept it hidden from public view.