By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
UPDATE – Sept. 18 – Agreeing with arguments made by lawyers for the 9/11 Families, a federal magistrate has extended until April 1 the deadline for filing expert reports. The delay will allow time for experts for both sides to digest a mountain of potential evidence about possible Saudi Arabian complicity in the 2001 terrorist attacks that the FBI and other government agencies are expected to declassify and make public through March under the terms of President Biden’s recent executive order.
“The court does not expect to modify this schedule barring extraordinary circumstances,” wrote Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in her Friday order, adding that FBI foot dragging in complying the president’s declassification deadlines won’t be an excuse for further extensions. “Such circumstances will not include delays in the government’s compliance with the President’s Sept. 3, 2021 executive order.”
Sept. 15 – Lawyers for Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 Families clashed in New York federal court Tuesday over whether to delay deadlines for expert testimony in light of President Biden’s Sept. 3 Executive Order mandating the public release of long-hidden FBI information over the next six months.
The hearing, however, was most notable for the 9/11 Families’ lawyers fresh assessments of the April 4, 2016 FBI report about Operation Encore, the bureau’s once secret probe of Saudi complicity in the terrorist attacks, which was released by the FBI Saturday night.
“There is a cancer within the [Saudi] Ministry of Islamic Affairs that we are addressing here. We are not the FBI. We aren’t the CIA. We don’t have the power to go in and ferret this out. We need these documents,” New York attorney Steve Pounian told U.S. Magistrate Sarah Netburn.
Earlier, while urging Netburn to OK delays to give plaintiffs and their experts time to view all of the U.S. government’s evidence before the case moves to trial, Pounian said that after reading the 16-page report – kept hidden last year by then-Attorney General William Barr who invoked the rarely used state secrets privilege – “We were just stopped dead in our tracks reading this and the idea we would then be rushed through this time without hearing all the evidence available in the FBI file would seem inappropriate…The families have waited 20 years for this. They are willing to wait another six months to have this case determined on a full” record.
Saudi Arabia’s Washington, D.C. attorney, Gregory Rapawy, argued in response that after more than three years of discovery in the case by plaintiffs, in which “no evidence” has been produced that any Saudi officials assisted, directly or indirectly, the 9/11 hijackers, the court should stick with its own deadlines.
“If the history of this case has shown anything, it is there will always be one or more things that the plaintiffs want in order to prove their claims,” said Rapawy. “At a certain point, the court will have to draw the line. We submit we are at that point.”
NETBURN DEFERS RULING
Judge Netburn deferred a ruling until later this week, but noted she would move the deadline from today, Sept. 15, until at least Nov. 2 “out of respect for the president’s order. She indicated a reluctance, however, to move it any further.
Nov. 2 is the date Biden set for the FBI and other agencies to declassify and produce remaining documents the FBI has previously withheld from the plaintiffs, as well as a document that New York Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Normand said closed out the “subfile investigation,” also known as Operation Encore, earlier this year.
Biden’s order also imposes a Jan. 2 deadline for declassifying and producing records of the FBI’s broader PENTTBOM investigation that references the individual subjects mentioned in Operation Encore. By early March, declassification reviews should be completed “of all records from any separate FBI investigation other than the PENTTBOM probe or the subfile investigation that are relevant to the 9/11 terrorist attacks or to any of the individual subjects’ connection to an agency relationship with a foreign government.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Normand told Netburn that FBI Director Christopher Wray “and the intelligence community are actively engaged” in complying with Biden’s order. She said the FBI “anticipates releasing substantial information” and that “we expect to make rolling releases” publicly as declassification decisions become final and they are “ready to be posted. We don’t anticipate waiting for the 60 days and releasing everything in one tranche.”
“The government believes it is in the best interests of justice to extend the expert deadline,” she said.
Lawyers for the 9/11 Families told Netburn that the new Encore report – the first report from October 2012 was obtained in 2016 by Florida Bulldog amid Freedom of Information litigation – “mentions seven Saudi officials and focuses on five with regards to evidence.” All, said Pounian, were in separate locations and all were “actively plotting together to provide a support network for the hijackers.”
PHONE CALL ANALYSIS
An analysis of phone calls, Pounian said, “showed very importantly the connection of these Saudi officials directly to al Qaeda and to [Fahad al] Thumairy who was not only given a consular position [in Los Angeles], but he never worked at the consulate. He was working as an imam at the mosque in LA where he was working for the Saudi government and was a nexus to al Qaeda terrorists who were actually plotting the bombing of LA airport in January 2000. The communications these officials were having are…at key times related to support for the hijackers. There are numerous other facts that are showing the network, the web between these Saudi officials and terrorism.”
Also discussed was new information in the report about Thumairy’s Southern California associate, suspected Saudi spy Omar al Bayoumi, who provided significant “logistic support” to hijackers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar who spoke no English. Those services, the report says, included “translation, travel assistance, lodging and financing.”
Bayoumi and Thumairy are the current focus of the plaintiffs’ efforts to show that Saudi government officials were behind efforts to help the hijackers inside the U.S.
Bayoumi told authorities he had no idea that Hazmi and Mihdhar were al Qaeda agents bent on a suicidal mission. But, as Pounian noted in court, the report said that shortly after 9/11, 2001, FBI agents interviewed a divorced couple whose names were redacted. The ex-wife “stated she met Bayoumi multiple times and Bayoumi was always talking about how the Islamic community needs to take action. He told her and her husband…on several occasions that they were ‘at Jihad.’
Pounian noted that this “specific evidence” would be in the PENTTBOM file to be released in early January, and used it to argue for a delay.
THE DIPLOMAT AND AL QAEDA OFFICER
Pounian also discussed the new report’s information about Mutaib al Sudairy, a Saudi embassy official who Pounian called “a first-time diplomat in Washington who had full immunity and was brought in and given that protection…and sent into the middle of the U.S., to Missouri, to meet with an al Qaeda procurement officer for four months.”
The 2016 Encore report identifies that al Qaeda figure as Ziyad Khaleel, “a UBL [Usama bin Laden] logistics facilitator who procured equipment for UBL and managed wire transfers from IARA [Islamic American Relief Agency] to bank accounts controlled by UBL. Khaleel’s roommate for four months in 2000 was Mutaib al Sudairy…whose phone number was recovered in Bayoumi’s address book by New Scotland Yard in 2001” after 9/11.
The report says Bayoumi called Sudairy “five times while the hijackers were in San Diego with Bayoumi. These calls coincide with significant logistic support of the hijackers,” the report says.
Pounian added two other facts for Judge Netburn: First, that Sudairy went to San Diego the year before he met Bayoumi at the mosque and “stayed in the same house that the hijackers stayed at later.” Second, Sudairy’s “brother, who assigned him to go to the U.S. the first time when he met with Bayoumi, is Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs and a director of Al Haramain, a terrorist organization,” Pounian said.
The 9/11 Commission described Al Haramain as “a Saudi Arabia–based nonprofit organization established in the early 1990s [that] has been described by several former U.S. government officials as the ‘United Way’ of Saudi Arabia. It exists to promote Wahhabi Islam by funding religious education, mosques, and humanitarian projects around the world…After the 9/11 attacks, a more focused U.S. government sought to work with the Saudis to stem the flow of funds from al Haramain to al Qaeda and related terrorist groups.”