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It’s make or break time for 9/11 families’ lawsuit; Saudis seek dismissal despite ‘overwhelming evidence’

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Ground Zero in New York City shortly after the 9/11 attacks

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

The arguments are in and now it’s up to a federal judge in New York City to decide whether the momentous civil lawsuit pitting Saudi Arabia against the 9/11 wounded and families of the 2,977 dead lives or dies.

The kingdom’s essential arguments in its public statements and motion to dismiss are simple: We had nothing to do with al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001 jetliner attacks on New York and Washington, and even if we did every legal claim against us should be dismissed because we are a sovereign nation and America’s courts have no jurisdiction over us.

The plaintiffs say they have assembled “overwhelming evidence” that, in fact, “Saudi government officials and agents” comprised an “essential support network for pro-jihadist extremists, including the first-arriving 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar.” That evidence is sufficient under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) – the 2016 federal law that allowed Americans to sue foreign countries that provide direct or indirect support for terrorists – to overcome Saudi Arabia’s claim of sovereign immunity, they say.

Hazmi and Mihdhar, who entered the U.S. through Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 15, 2000, were two of the “muscle” hijackers who were later aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon.

The record about them was developed, court papers say, through the court process of legal discovery and documents obtained about the FBI’s once-secret investigation of possible Saudi involvement in 9/11, code-named Operation Encore. The existence of Encore was first discovered by Florida Bulldog during Freedom of Information (FOI) litigation against the Department of Justice in 2016. Several thousand pages of Encore documents were later declassified and released pursuant to an executive order by President Biden in 2021.

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9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar, right, and Nawaf al-Hazmi.

The Saudi’s two-page motion to dismiss was filed last October by its lawyers at the Washington, D.C. law firm Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick. Its separate supporting memorandum of law of 75 pages was filed under seal, but a redacted version was made public last Friday, May 10.

THE FIRST TWO WEEKS

The plaintiffs’ 71-page motion in opposition, filed Tuesday, May 7 by a trio of law firms representing many thousands of individuals, is in some ways a truncated update to The 9/11 Commission Report published in 2004.

For example, the 9/11 Commission was unable to determine what Hazmi and Mihdhar did or where they stayed during the first two weeks after their arrival at Los Angeles International Airport on Jan. 15, 2000. Years later, the FBI determined, and witness testimony confirmed, that the pair went immediately to the King Fahd Mosque in nearby Culver City, “where [Fahad] Thumairy was the Imam by appointment of the Saudi government,” the motion says.

For the next two weeks, Hazmi and Mihdhar were put under the care of Mohamed Johar, whose family was close to Thumairy. “Johar looked after the hijackers’ every need, including housing, transportation, and day-today living requirements,’’ the motion stated. Johar “admitted in his deposition to being ‘relieved’ when they moved to San Diego, given how demanding they were of him. Johar testified that he did not see the hijackers interact with anyone other than himself and Thumairy during this period.”

Another example is evidence plaintiffs received from London’s Metropolitan Police Service, including the “complete” version of a videotape of a party for the future hijackers Hazmi and Mihdhar at their San Diego apartment in early 2000. The tape was found among the belongings of Saudi spy Omar al Bayoumi when the MPS raided his residence shortly after 9/11.

That complete party video is different from a version the FBI produced to the plaintiffs “and the duration and content of the complete video show that it is also different and more complete than the one the FBI provided to the 9/11 Commission,” the motion says.

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Saudi spy Omar al-Bayoumi, right, and ex-Saudi diplomat and Los Angeles Imam Fahad al-Thumairy

An analysis “confirms” the party was organized by Bayoumi and his “collaborators to introduce the hijackers to a carefully curated group of like-minded community members and religious leaders who could be trusted to look after the hijackers and cocoon them in a protective support network. Contrary to the 9/11 Commission’s understanding based on the incomplete video if reviewed, the complete video confirms that the hijackers attended and participated in the party throughout, and they held special status at the event,” the motion says.

THE ‘CASING’ VIDEO

Further, there are also intriguing new details in the motion about the “casing” video Bayoumi is alleged to have made of the U.S. Capitol. That video, whose existence only became public last winter, was seized by the London police.

According to the motion, Bayoumi narrated the video for an audience he addressed as his “esteemed brothers.” In the video, Bayoumi “surveys the U.S. Capitol at length” and “repeatedly orients the Capitol to other surrounding landmarks (and especially the Washington Monument, the highest landmark in Washington) and carefully films and notes the Capitol’s structural features, entrances, and security posts. Bayoumi makes remarks throughout reflecting hostility to the West and Congress, including the Senators who ‘make all the decisions.’”

The plaintiffs’ motion also describes a web of alleged terrorist connections among various Saudi officials from the country’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MOIA) working inside the U.S. and their cohorts, Bayoumi and Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi consular affairs officer and religious leader in Los Angeles. Bayoumi and Thumairy are described in a 2012 Encore document released to Florida Bulldog in 2016 as having been “tasked” with helping the two future hijackers by Musaed al Jarrah, deputy head of Islamic Affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

Musaed al Jarrah

In the Saudi’s memorandum of law, their lawyers write that “neither Bayoumi nor Thumairy knowingly assisted the hijackers” and that their work for Saudi Arabia “had nothing to do with helping terrorists.” They also assert that “there is no evidence that Saudi Arabia operated an ‘extremist MOIA enterprise.’”

One other Saudi official receives special attention in the 9/11 plaintiffs’ motion. Ismail Mana, a Consular Officer for Islamic Affairs in Los Angeles, is alleged to have been part of the “essential support network for pro-jihadist extremists” that included the future 9/11 hijackers.

“Like other of the MOIA operatives, Mana was a virulent extremist” who was close to Thumairy, the motion says.

The Saudis dispute that, too, saying Mana was a contract employee at the consulate whose primary duty was as a translator. “Mana has never been involved with terrorists and condemned the 9/11 attacks,” says Saudi Arabia’s memorandum of law. “He had never heard the hijackers’ names before the attacks and did nothing to assist them.”

‘A THEORY OF REMARKABLE COINCIDENCES’

That kind of back and forth is frequent. But it is in a section dubbed “Saudi Arabia’s Narrative is Unbelievable” that the plaintiffs’ case is most strikingly understood.

It contends the kingdom’s arguments “are anchored in an utterly implausible theory predicated on a series of unbelievable coincidences. Saudi Arabia posits that al Qaeda deployed Hazmi and Mihdhar to the United States with no advance plans for assistance, and then by pure happenstance they went immediately to the precise mosque that was the Saudi government’s established receiving point in California for MOIA extremists linked to al Qaeda. At that mosque, which just happened to be headed by an extremist MOIA propagator with deep ties to terrorism (Thumairy), Hazmi and Mihdhar had the good fortune to secure immediate assistance and housing from a congregation member whose family was close to both Thumairy and Consular official Mana, Mohamed Johar, whom Saudi Arabia theorizes they met by pure chance. Fortunately for the hijackers, Johar was willing to fully dedicate himself and go to extraordinary lengths to accommodate and support them during their two weeks in Los Angeles.

King Fahd Mosque in Los Angeles

“Johar is relieved from this burden, in Saudi Arabia’s telling, when the lightning bolt of coincidence strikes again, and the hijackers go to a restaurant in Los Angeles and meet Bayoumi, who lives in San Diego but happens to be in Los Angeles that day. This chance encounter occurs immediately after Bayoumi happens to have a private meeting with Mana at the Consulate and then stopped at the King Fahd Mosque. The terrorists remarkable good fortune continues when Bayoumi strikes up a conversation with the hijackers and happens to mention that he lives in San Diego, the precise city al Qaeda leadership had designated as the best location for them to settle and begin their attack preparations. Without hesitation the hijackers pack up and embark for San Diego two days later, where they again by pure coincidence run into Bayoumi, who according to Saudi Arabia never encouraged them to relocate to San Diego and never offered to help them in any way. This is especially fortunate for the terrorists, as Bayoumi is immediately available and amenable to go to extraordinary lengths to get them settled in San Diego, including by securing housing in his apartment complex, assuming legal and financial responsibilities by co-signing their lease, and providing funds just below the suspicious activity reporting threshold [$9,900] to help them open a bank account.”

The plaintiffs argue the hijackers’ luck was “amplified” when Bayoumi hosted the party at their apartment “which happens to be attended by a radical cleric who was the European leader of an al Qaeda affiliate…All of this sheer luck leads to the hijackers’ seamless settlement in San Diego and the provision of the support they precisely required to commence their attack preparations.

“By another remarkable coincidence, as a raid of Bayoumi’s apartment immediately after the attacks revealed, Bayoumi had prepared and was in possession of a drawing of a plane, alongside the calculation used to discern the distance at which a target on the ground would be visible from a certain altitude. The raid also uncovers a videotape, shot and narrated by Bayoumi…in which he surveys the U.S. Capitol…Again, the Kingdom assures that there is an innocent explanation for why these items are in the possession of its agent, who provided early and essential assistance to al Qaeda members who were tasked to use a plane as a weapon and navigate to its targets on the ground, including the U.S. Capitol specifically.

“Not surprisingly, given the facial unbelievability of Saudi Arabia’s narrative, the evidence shows that its theory of remarkable coincidences is demonstrably untrue,” the motion says.

WHAT’S TO COME

Now we’ll see what New York City U.S. District Judge George Daniels thinks. To date, he’s shown skepticism about the plaintiffs’ case – even dismissing Saudi Arabia in 2015. That action prompted Congress to pass JASTA and override President Obama’s veto in 2016, putting the kingdom back on the spot. In 2018, Daniels ruled the lawsuit could continue, but limited discovery to factual allegations about “alleged Saudi agents” Bayoumi and Thumairy.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels

It’s important then to keep in mind that every scrap of information the 9/11 plaintiffs’ lawyers have developed to date is about what happened in Southern California before the attacks. That’s the only place that Daniels allowed them to conduct discovery.

Thus, their lawyers have yet to examine what happened in other locations where the hijackers are known to have lived or visited, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Sarasota counties in Florida; Phoenix, AZ; suburban Washington, D.C.; northern New Jersey; Boston, MA and Portland, ME.

If the 9/11 plaintiffs avoid dismissal, the limits on their discovery will drop away, and they’ll be entitled to subpoena records from the FBI and other agencies about what went on in those other locations. During Florida Bulldog’s FOI litigation, the Department of Justice disclosed that the FBI’s Tampa field office alone had in excess of 80,000 pages of classified records about 9/11.

It will also turn up the heat on King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to settle the case to stop the steady drip of new facts dropping from the court’s docket.

The cost to do that would be in the billions.

Whoever wins, an appeal of Judge Daniels’s ruling is likely.

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Latest comments

  • Fingers crossed that the truth prevails, but this judge isn’t blind to the potential diplomatic impact of ruling for the plaintiffs, jeopardizing the Saudi defense pact that the Biden administration is trying to secure.

  • I remember that some people said they heard a explosion before the plane hit.

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