(Trends Wide Español) — Two decades after the al Qaeda terrorist attacks against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in the United States, which left almost 3,000 dead, do we know everything there is to know about these episodes?
The answer is not for more than 1,600 people, among the families of the victims and injured by the attacks, who are demanding that the US Department of Justice declassify all the documents and information on September 11, 2001.
In early August the group sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking him not to participate in the events commemorating the 20 years of the attacks, which will take place this September 11, unless he approves the release of this information.
During the 2020 campaign, Biden had promised in a letter to the victims’ families that he would work to get the Justice Department to release those documents.
The Justice Department announced on August 12, a week after the letter from family members, that it will review classified information in order to determine what part of it can be released. Except for a score of pages, the secret still surrounds what the US government has found about the participation -or not- of other countries in the events.
Then, in early September, Biden signed a decree ordering the Justice Department and other federal agencies to review the declassification of documents related to the FBI’s 9/11 investigation.
“The decree requires the attorney general to make the declassified documents public within the next six months,” Biden wrote in a statement regarding the signing of the decree.
Days later, on Wednesday 7, the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington issued a statement in which it welcomes the complete declassification of documents, and ratified that “no evidence has emerged that indicates that the Saudi government or its officials had prior knowledge of the terrorist attacks or were involved in any way in their planning or execution ”.
The statement says that “as the administrations of the past four presidents have verified, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has unswervingly condemned and denounced the deplorable crimes that took place against the United States, its closest ally and partner.”
What, then, is it that we still don’t know about the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil?
The role of Saudi Arabia
Of the total of 19 terrorists who participated in the hijacking of the four planes used for the terrorist attacks, 15 came from Saudi Arabia, and the rest from Egypt, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.
Osama bin Laden, leader of the al Qaeda terrorist group that carried out the attacks, was also a Saudi citizen and a member of an influential business family in the country.
These events led to questions from day one about the alleged role of members of the royal family or the government of Saudi Arabia in 9/11, and there is still no clear answer.
The government of Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement in the attacks, and considers this to be totally unfounded; at the moment there are no accusations or legal charges against any member of the government or the royal family.
In 2017, a group made up of relatives of 850 victims of 9/11 and 1,500 injured on that day sued Saudi Arabia before the US courts for allegedly providing material, practical and financial assistance to al Qaeda. That was the third lawsuit against the kingdom by relatives of the victims and injured.
According to the plaintiffs, this would have been carried out through different ministries, officials and charity networks linked to the Saudi government.
“9/11 could not have happened without Saudi Arabia’s support for al Qaeda,” Jim Kreindler, a lawyer and co-chair of the plaintiffs committee, told Trends Wide.
The lawsuit is based on 28 pages of documents partially declassified in 2016 that argue that some of the terrorists who participated in 9/11 may have had ties to the Saudi government.
“During their stay in the US, some of the 9/11 hijackers were in contact with people who could be related to the Saudi government and received their support or assistance,” the document says, later adding that the information was speculative. and that has not been verified.
According to information from the FBI, two of these individuals would have been Saudi intelligence agents.
The Saudi Arabian ambassador at the time, Abdullah Al-Saud, reacted to the publication of these documents, noting that several agencies of the United States government, including the CIA and the FBI, have investigated the content of those 28 pages and “have confirmed that neither the Saudi government, senior Saudi officials, nor anyone acting on behalf of the Saudi government provided any support or encouragement to these attacks. “
“We hope that the publication of these pages will clarify, once and for all, any lingering questions or suspicions about Saudi Arabia’s actions, intentions or long-term friendship with the United States,” said the then-Saudi ambassador.
The relatives’ lawsuit, like two previous cases, was dismissed by a federal judge who found that the Saudi kingdom had sovereign immunity in the case.
Those three rulings came before Congress finally passed the so-called Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (Jasta) in September 2016, which restricted sovereign immunity by excluding acts of terrorism from that protection. or damages caused to Americans by agents of foreign governments when they act in that capacity.
Congress, with bipartisan support in both houses, defeated the veto of then-President Barack Obama, who, like his Secretary of State, John Kerry, feared that the law would have potential consequences for the sovereign immunity of the United States in the Exterior.
As reported by Trends Wide at the time, Saudi diplomacy would have quietly warned that, if the law were passed, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth funds would probably begin to dump their US assets, including a portfolio of Treasury bonds valued at US $ 750,000 million, with the consequences that this would have for financial markets. But this did not happen.
The Saudi Arabian embassy in the United States said in a press release published in 2017 regarding the 2016 declassification that “in an attempt to make sense of the tragedy, people often cling to implausible theories rather than accepting simple truths.” .
“We understand that the involvement of Saudi citizens in the 9/11 attacks makes these conspiracy theories attractive to some. But it is important to also remember that Saudi Arabia has been the victim of dozens of terrorist attacks in the last 20 years. Al-Qaeda , in effect, declared war on the kingdom a long time ago, “the note reads.
Why were the warnings not acted upon?
Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, US intelligence agencies had warned on several occasions of a possible attack by al Qaeda, but the authorities did not act accordingly.
Al Qaeda had already attacked two US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, leaving 224 dead.
That same year, different intelligence agencies had warned in a report about Bin Laden’s plans to coordinate an attack on US soil.
In September 1999, a year before the attacks, a report on terrorism warned that al Qaeda “could crash a plane loaded with high explosives (C-4 and Semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA or the White House. “.
In July 2001 the FBI alerted people in the Middle East possibly connected to al Qaeda who were receiving classes on how to fly an airplane, and in August, less than a month before the attacks, the CIA sent an urgent communication to the FBI, at Department of State and other agencies alerting on individuals connected to al Qaeda.
A day before the attacks, on September 10, US intelligence agencies intercepted messages in Arabic sent from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan, where Bin Laden had taken refuge, that spoke of an alleged attack. They were translated on September 12, the day after 9/11.
Sources told Trends Wide at the time that the interceptions were of sufficient interest to be studied within 48 hours, regardless of the attacks.
Some US officials have argued that the messages in question lacked specific information to allow for action, and that intelligence agencies collect huge amounts of information on a daily basis and that it is impossible to translate and process it so quickly.
In 2015, the CIA declassified an internal report that highlights the “systematic problems” around the handling of the information recorded by the agency during the period, although it reiterates that no employee violated the laws and that the errors in intelligence gathering were not the product of of malpractice.
Where was Flight 93 headed?
On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes.
American Airlines flights 11 and United Airlines 175 intentionally crashed into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York, killing 2,753 people. American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon building in Virginia, killing 184 people.
The fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all 40 passengers and crew. It is believed that the plane had another objective, but that the passengers on board tried to regain control and the terrorists decided to crash.
It is not yet entirely clear what happened aboard Flight 93 or what the terrorists’ objective was, although investigators have said they were possibly looking to crash the plane into the Capitol, the building that houses the United States Congress, or the White House, among other iconic sites in Washington.
The plane on that flight, a Boeing 757, had taken off in Newark, New Jersey, and was heading to San Francisco, California, when the four al Qaeda hijackers took control and turned to head for Washington.
But the passengers on the plane received news of the attacks in New York and assaulted the hijackers. Two of them locked themselves in the cabin and tried to dissuade the passengers by shaking the plane.
When this did not work, and still far from Washington, the terrorist who was piloting lowered the nose of the 757 and made it fall in a field, shouting “Allah is the greatest!”, According to the black box recordings. of the plane revealed by a Congressional investigation.