WASHINGTON D.C.: As the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks approaches, victims’ relatives are pressing the courts to answer what they see as lingering questions about the Saudi government’s role in the attacks.
A lawsuit that accuses Saudi Arabia of being complicit took a major step forward this year with the questioning under oath of former Saudi officials, but those depositions remain under seal and the U.S. has withheld a trove of other documents, saying they are too sensitive for disclosure.
This information vacuum has exasperated families, who for years have tried to make the case that the Saudi government assisted in the attacks. Past investigations have outlined ties between Saudi nationals and some of the airplane hijackers, but have not established that the government was involved.
“The legal team and the FBI, investigative agencies, can know about the details of my dad’s death and thousands of other family members’ deaths, but the people who it’s most relevant to can’t know,” said Brett Eagleson, whose father, Bruce, was among the World Trade Center victims. “It’s adding salt to an open wound for all the 9/11 family members.”
A lawsuit brought by relatives of Americans killed in the September 11 terrorist attack took a step forward, as lawyers for the victims will ask a judge to allow access to secret government documents and testimony from key subjects interviewed over the last year.
In the lawsuit, the relatives are seeking to determine the role Saudi Arabia played in the attacks.
“We’re in a situation where only now, through the documents we have gotten and what our investigators have discovered and the testimony we’ve taken, only now is this iceberg that’s been underwater” floating to the surface, attorney James Kreindler said, as quoted by Associated Press.
The Saudi government has denied being involved in the attacks.
The issue of Saudi involvement has been at the center of the attack for many, since 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi and they might have received assistance once in the United States prior to the attacks.
However, documents released in the last two decades have not proven Saudi government complicity.
Earlier, a U.S. government commission announced that it had not found evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials had funded the terrorists, though it did say that Saudi-linked charities could have funded terrorism.
In 2016, part of a congressional report on the 9/11 attacks was declassified. The document identified people who associated with the hijackers after they arrived in the U.S. The report also said some hijackers had connections and support from people who may have been connected to the Saudi government, and FBI sources suggested at least two of these people may have been Saudi intelligence officers.
However, the report did not reach a conclusion on Saudi complicity.
One former FBI agent, Stephen Moore, stated in 2017 that “diplomatic and intelligence personnel of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia knowingly provided material support to the two 9/11 hijackers.”
Families of the 9/11 victims filed suit because they believe the Saudi involvement has not been revealed because of the U.S. government’s reluctance for a full accounting.
In 2018, a court ruling permitted plaintiffs’ lawyers to question Saudis who had come under suspicion for their possible involvement with the terrorists.
The Justice Department has also turned over once-secret documents, though the information remains under a protective order.
Some information, however, is not being released, having been classified as “state secrets” and potentially jeopardizing national security.
“Sooner or later, this trial is going to become mainstream, and there’s going to be a tremendous amount of public pressure, and they can’t keep things secret forever,” Eagleson said.