As defense attorneys tried again last week to get Saudi Arabia dropped from a massive federal lawsuit accusing it of complicity in the 9/11 attacks, lawyers for those who survived, and relatives of the dead, filed a sweeping new statement of the evidence they are marshaling for trial.
The 156-page pleading offers the court a fresh account of what’s become known about Saudi Arabia’s alleged ties to al-Qaida since it was initially dismissed from the lawsuit in 2005. An appeals court reinstated Saudi Arabia and its agency, the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SHC), as defendants late last year.
Likewise, the document seeks to counter retooled Saudi claims of sovereign immunity.
The 9/11 victims don’t argue that Saudi Arabia had foreknowledge of the attacks. Rather, they contend the attacks were made possible by the Saudis’ “lavish sponsorship” of al-Qaida for “more than a decade leading up to September 11, 2001.”
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The Saudis allegedly supplied that funding — as much as $35million a year — even though they knew “of al-Qaida’s intent to conduct terrorist attacks against the United States,” according to the pleading filed in federal court in Manhattan on Sept. 15.
In contrast, Saudi Arabia’s memorandum of law in support of its motion to dismiss the multi-billion dollar lawsuit opens with a blanket denial of wrongdoing.
‘KINGDOM HAD NO ROLE’
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had no role in the attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States has said often and vigorously that Saudi Arabia is an important ally in the fight against terrorism,” says the memo. It also says the 9/11 Commission found “no evidence” that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials funded terrorists.
Saudi Arabia’s claim to exoneration met stiff resistance. Lawyers for the victims cited affidavits made by 9/11 Commission member Bob Kerrey, an ex-Nebraska senator, and former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the attacks, rebutting the Saudi’s assertions.
“Further undermining the Kingdom’s efforts to characterize the 9/11 Commission investigation as ‘exhaustive,’ recent disclosures make clear that both the 9/11 Commission and the 9/11 Joint Inquiry were deprived of critical information by the FBI,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote.
“For example, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought against the FBI by BrowardBulldog.org has revealed that the FBI never disclosed to the 9/11 Commission or the 9/11 Joint Inquiry the existence of a massive investigation into an apparent Saudi support network for the 9/11 hijackers in Florida.”
That once-secret FBI investigation concerned links between 9/11 hijack pilots Mohamed Atta, Marwan alShehhi and Ziad Jarrah and a Saudi family with ties to the royal family who lived in a gated community near Sarasota. Abdulaziz alHijji and his wife, Anoud, came to the FBI’s attention after they moved out of their home two weeks before 9/11, leaving behind cars, clothes, furniture and other personal belongings.
BrowardBulldog.org, working with Irish journalist and author Anthony Summers, broke the story in September 2011. At the time, the FBI confirmed that it had investigated, but said no connection was found to the 9/11 plot.
Yet last year, seven months after the FOIA lawsuit was filed, the FBI made public records that say flatly the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” The records tie three of those individuals to Huffman Aviation — the Venice flight school where hijackers Atta and Shehhi trained — but the FBI blacked out their names and other details citing national security.
U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch in Fort Lauderdale is currently reviewing more than 80,000 pages of records turned over by the FBI in response to his order to decide what additional records can be made public.
The 9/11 victims, whose ranks include companies that suffered enormous property losses, are suing hundreds of other defendants — from Middle East banks and “purported” Islamic charities like the Muslim World League to the estates of the dead hijackers.
“Although representing themselves to the West as traditional charities or “humanitarian organizations,” these organizations are more accurately described as Islamic da’awa organizations, created by the government of the kingdom to propagate a radical strain of Islam throughout the world, commonly referred to as Wahhabism,” the 9/11 victims’ pleading says.
On Monday, a federal jury in New York City found Jordan-based Arab Bank liable for knowingly helping terrorists carry out two-dozen suicide bombings in Israel in the early 2000s. The verdict marked the first time a bank was found liable for violations of the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.
“It makes it pretty clear how jurors view this kind of conduct when courts allow cases to reach them,” said Sean P. Carter, an attorney for the 9/11 victims.
The 9/11 case consolidates several lawsuits filed between 2002 and 2004. It proceeds today under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
FISA generally bars plaintiffs’ claims against other nations. One exception, however, is when a foreign state commits a tort — a wrongful act that causes harm — in the United States.
The current legal fight focuses on complex legal issues regarding FISA’s applicability.
Michael Kellogg, a Washington attorney who represents the kingdom, argues the case should be dismissed because FISA’s “tort exception” does not apply. Among his reasons: the law says wrongful acts, like funding al-Qaida, must be committed in the U.S., but that no such acts took place here.
“It is irrelevant that the September 11 attacks themselves occurred in the United States. Those attacks were ‘distinct and separate’ torts from those that involve giving money and aid to purported charities that supported al-Qaida, and those attacks therefore cannot serve as a basis for avoiding the entire-tort rule,” Kellogg wrote.
But attorneys for the other side say their clients’ claims are based on wrongdoing within the U.S. — both by Saudi “agents” who “provided direct assistance and support” to the 9/11 hijackers and Saudi charity “collaborators” like the Saudi High Commission that supported al-Qaida “through offices located in the United States.”
“Literally troves of governmental investigative reports have been declassified,” since the lawsuit was dismissed in 2005 that supports those claims, says the pleading filed on behalf of more than a half-dozen law firms by Carter’s Philadelphia law firm, Cozen O’Connor. More “evidence” was obtained from the charities and other defendants as the lawsuit has proceeded.
Some of that developed evidence involves a terrorist support network in southern California whose members allegedly included suspected al-Qaida advance man Omar alBayoumi and two other Saudis, Fahad alThumairy and Osama Basnan.
The three are accused of aiding 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi when they entered the U.S. in January 2000 after attending an al-Qaida conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The support network “assisted them in settling in the United States and beginning preparations for the September 11th Attacks,” the pleading says.
Mihdhar and Hazmi were among the terrorists who flew a hijacked American Airlines jet into the Pentagon.
Bayoumi is described in the pleading as a Saudi intelligence agent. Bayoumi moved out of his San Diego apartment on June 23, 2001, telling his landlord he was leaving the country.
According to the pleading, Thumairy was a diplomat with the Saudi consulate’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs from 1996 to 2003. He was also a religious leader at the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, California, with a reputation as an Islamic fundamentalist.
Basnan was an associate of Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind sheikh who is serving a life sentence for his role in supporting the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the pleading says.