By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers, BrowardBulldog.org
Former U.S. Senator Bob Graham has called on President Obama to use his authority to get answers to long-lingering questions about possible Saudi involvement in 9/11.
“If we are truly going to be respectful of the victims of 9/11 one of the things the president and this administration must do is get to the bottom of these questions,” said Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s bi-partisan Joint Inquiry into the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Graham’s remarks followed a Thursday story in Broward Bulldog about a 2001 investigation by the FBI that reportedly found direct ties between the hijackers and a Saudi family who abruptly abandoned their luxury home near Sarasota two weeks before the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Sources on and off the record said agents found the home was visited by vehicles used by the hijackers, including leader Mohamed Atta.
Phone calls were also linked between the home and the hijackers, the sources said.
That “significant” information was not reported to Congress as it should have been, Graham said.
Friday night, the FBI in Miami issued its first public statement on the matter. It confirmed the existence of the investigation, but said it was “resolved and determined not to be related to any threat nor connected to the 9/11 plot.” No details were provided.
The statement released by Special Agent Michael D. Leverock added, “All of the documentation pertaining to the 9/11 investigation was made available to the 9/11 commission and the (Joint Inquiry).”
Reached Saturday afternoon, Graham said the FBI’s assertion that it had made all of its 9/11 information available to Congress was not credible.
“Nobody I’ve spoken to with the Joint Inquiry says we got any information on this,” Graham said. “It’s total B.S. It’s the same thing we’ve been getting from the FBI for the past 10 years.”
SIMILARITIES IN SAN DIEGO
The former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said what is now known to have happened in Sarasota “shares a common outline” with contemporaneous events involving a pair of 9/11 Saudi-born hijackers – Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi – across the country in San Diego, Ca.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. Atta was born in Egypt. The remaining hijackers were from Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. They were all affiliated with al-Qaeda and died along with the passengers and crew of the four hijacked commercial airliners.
The Joint Inquiry report and the 9/11 Commission report describe how another Saudi living in San Diego, Omar al-Bayoumi, provided extensive assistance to the hijackers, including housing. The report says al-Bayoumi had access to “seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia” and that “one of the FBI’s best sources in San Diego” reported that he thought al-Bayoumi was an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power. The report said the FBI also learned that al-Bayoumi “has connections to terrorist elements.”
“There is no evidence that Bayoumi knew what was going on; just that he’d been told to take care of these men,” Graham said in an interview.
The home at 4224 Escondito Drive in a gated community near Sarasota now linked to the hijackers was owned by a Saudi couple, Esam Ghazzawi and his American born wife, Deborah. The residents were their daughter, Anoud, and her husband Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii.
NAMES ON A WATCH LIST
A counterterrorism agent said Ghazzawi, a middle-aged financier and interior designer, and al-Hiijii were both on a watch list at the FBI and that a U.S. agency involved in tracking terrorist funds was interested in both men prior to 9/11.
Graham said there is also a lack of evidence “as to whether Saudi leadership knew why these people were here. What we do know, however, is that without being very curious or inquisitive the Saudi monarchy made these services available to persons who ultimately exposed themselves in death as being hijackers.”
The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to telephone messages and emailed questions seeking comment.
Bayoumi left the U.S. two months before the Sept. 11 attacks. In June 2010, Graham sought to meet with Bayoumi while traveling in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. “I asked and I was told he’d moved to Jeddah,” Graham said.
Graham has long believed that Bayoumi was not the only Saudi in the U.S. to provide support for the hijackers.
“What Sarasota adds to me is that, yes, there was a network…that it may have involved other people who were known to be very loyal to the crown and were willing to undertake this responsibility for protecting and facilitating the hijackers in different areas.”
Graham has long contended the U.S. has engaged in a cover up of information about possible Saudi involvement in 9/11 to protect America’s relationship with the oil-rich kingdom. That includes a decision by President George W. Bush to redact the final 28-page section of the Joint Inquiry’s report dealing with “sources of foreign support for some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.”
This week’s news of what happened in Sarasota is further evidence of a cover up, he said.
“It’s fairly easy to get why George Bush kept this information from the public. It’s much harder to understand why the Obama Administration keeps this information from the public. I think they need to be pushed,” Graham said.
WHITE HOUSE IS MUM
The White House did not respond to phone calls or detailed requests for comment emailed over two days.
What’s needed now, Graham said, is an effort by federal investigators to determine whether the hijackers had Saudi “overseers” in other locations that they are known to have frequented during the run up to the attacks, including New Jersey and South Florida.
“We need to be looking in the places in Southeast Florida where they actually lived and used as a base of operations – Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties. For instance, one or more of the hijackers used that big Air Bus simulator on Northwest 36th Street across the street from Miami International Airport,” he said.
Graham, a former Florida governor, said “there needs to be a sense of urgency” in any renewed investigation into possible Saudi complicity.
“If they provided this kind of support for an operation in 2001, do they have the same capability to do it in 2011?” he said.
Anthony Summers is co-author of The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, published last month by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House. Dan Christensen is the editor of the Broward Bulldog.