US to reveal Saudi official linked to 9/11 attackers

Mohammed bin Salman and Donald Trump in the White House

Mohammed bin Salman and Donald Trump in the White House

The US Justice Department will reveal the name of an individual believed to be connected to the Saudi government and accused of aiding two of the 9/11 hijackers, prosecutors said in a court filing on Thursday.

'The September 11 terrorist attacks were the most lethal in our nation's history, and the FBI has always been committed to providing the families of the victims with transparency regarding its investigation of the events of that tragic day, consistent with maintaining the national security and the FBI's overriding goal of preventing future terrorist attacks, ' the court filing states.

Attorney General William Barr made the final decision, a Justice Department official said.

The victims' family members have been pressuring the Trump administration to release the information.

The name will be disclosed to lawyers for the plaintiffs but they will be prevented from releasing the name to the public.

The case has long threatened to embarrass the Saudi government, which has repeatedly denied links to al-Qaeda, and would leave it exposed to claims of damages that could reach billions of dollars.

Attorneys for the families have argued that the unnamed individual is likely a more senior Saudi official and point to a portion of the document where the Federal Bureau of Investigation said a person whose name is redacted "tasked" al-Thumairy and al-Bayoumi with "assisting the hijackers". They were two of the 19 men who took over four commercial airliners on September 11, 2001, crashing them into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa.

Fifteen of the 19 al Qaeda terrorists who hijacked four planes on September 11, 2001, were Saudi nationals.

The Trump administration is planning to provide the identity of a Saudi official who allegedly helped the 9/11 hijackers to family members of victims of the terror attacks that occurred 18 years ago.

Subsequent investigations rejected the claim that they were involved with the hijackers.

The report, which was released in a redacted form, also referred to the third person.

Attorneys representing family members of nearly all of the 9/11 victims, as well as thousands of survivors, past year sent subpoenas to Saudi Arabia, as well as the FBI, CIA and State Department, and have been receiving hundreds of pages of documents on a rolling basis. But his identity has remained classified as Washington and Riyadh worked closely after the attacks to root out al-Qaeda's network across the Middle East and South Asia.

"The FBI recognises the need and desire of victims' families to understand what happened to their loved ones and to hold those responsible accountable", the Justice Department said.

That the disclosure came under President Donald Trump is especially striking given the administration's efforts to maintain close relations with the powerful Arab ally, including by downplaying the kingdom's involvement in the recent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But the significant implications for the US relationship with close partner Saudi Arabia, combined with Trump's past record of seeking to influence Justice Department decisions, has raised speculation that he might get more personally involved.

The decision could help victims of the September 11 attacks and their family members, who charge in a long-running lawsuit that the Saudi government supported the hijackers who crashed jet liners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing almost 3,000 people. And a judge previous year rejected a Saudi request to dismiss the case and instead ordered discovery into whether the government had a role in the attacks.

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