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Biden Declassifies Secret FBI Report Detailing Saudi Nationals' Connections To 9/11

In this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, the twin towers of the World Trade Center burn after hijacked planes crashed into them in New York.
Diane Bondareff
In this Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, the twin towers of the World Trade Center burn after hijacked planes crashed into them in New York.

The Biden administration has declassified a 16-page FBI report tying 9/11 hijackers to Saudi nationals living in the United States. The document, written in 2016, summarized an FBI investigation into those ties called Operation ENCORE.

The partially redacted report shows a closer relationship than had been previously known between two Saudis in particular — including one with diplomatic status — and some of the hijackers. Families of the 9/11 victims have long sought after the report, which painted a starkly different portrait than the one described by the 9/11 Commission Report in 2004.

While the commission was largely unable to tie the Saudi men to the hijackers, the FBI document describes multiple connections and phone calls.

Years ago, the commission wrote that when it came to the Saudi diplomat Fahad al-Thumairy, "We have not found evidence that Thumairy provided assistance to the two hijackers." A decade later, it appears FBI agents came to a different conclusion. The report says Thumairy "tasked" an associate to help the hijackers when they arrived in Los Angeles and told the associate the hijackers were "two very significant people" more than a year before the attacks.

The report also casts new light on the meeting of a Saudi government employee with the hijackers in a restaurant. What was once portrayed as a chance meeting is now painted as a preplanned, well-orchestrated event. The 2004 9/11 Commission had described the Saudi employee, Omar al-Bayoumi, as "gregarious." Investigators wrote that they found him "to be an unlikely candidate for clandestine involvement with Islamic extremists."

The ENCORE report, however, says a witness to the meeting saw Bayoumi waiting by the window for the hijackers to arrive rather than running into them by chance and engaged in a lengthy conversation with them. The report says a woman told investigators Bayoumi was often saying that the Islamic community "needs to take action" and that the community was "at jihad."

In an interview, victims' families said they found other items in the report revealing. For example, both Thumairy and Bayoumi were each just a degree or two of separation away from others on a phone tree of known international terrorists. Bayoumi was in "almost daily contact" with a man with ties to the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack and spent the night in a hotel with another man connected to one of Osama bin Laden's senior lieutenants.

Thumairy's phone, meanwhile, was linked to people associated with the "Millennium Plot Bomber," who was convicted in a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999.

Bayoumi and Thumairy told 9/11 investigators they had nothing to do with the attacks.

While the report does not draw any direct links between hijackers and the Saudi Arabian government as a whole, Jim Kreindler, who represents many of the families suing Saudi Arabia, said the report validates the arguments they have made in the case.

"This document, together with the public evidence gathered to date, provides a blueprint for how al-Qaida operated inside the U.S.," he said, "with the active, knowing support of the Saudi government."

The Saudi government has long maintained that any connections between Saudi nationals and the hijackers were coincidental and have pointed to years of fighting al-Qaida in partnership with the United States.

"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 in its planning or execution," officials said in a statement released by the Saudi Embassy. "Any allegation that Saudi Arabia is complicit in the September 11 attacks is categorically false."

Family members of those who have died said regardless, they have waited years for information to be released. The ENCORE document is the first of many documents that the Biden administration has promised to release in coming months.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.