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Twenty years after 9/11, key moment: Suit against Saudis

As the 20th anniversary approaches of the September 11 terrorist attacks, relatives of victims are pressing the courts for answers to what they perceive as unanswered questions about the Saudi government's involvement in the attacks.

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Twenty years after 9/11, key moment: Suit against Saudis

The lawsuit accusing Saudi Arabia of complicit made a significant step forward with the depositions of former Saudi officials. However, those depositions are still under seal and the U.S. has withheld many other documents that could be too sensitive to disclose.

Families have been trying for years to prove that the Saudi government was behind the attacks, but the information gap has made it more difficult. Although past investigations have revealed ties between Saudi nationals, some of the hijackers and the government, they have not proven that the government was directly involved.

"The FBI and the legal team, as well as the FBI, are able to know the details of my father's death, and many other family members' deaths. But the people most affected by it can't," stated Brett Eagleson, whose father Bruce was one of the World Trade Center's victims. It's adding salt and pepper to the wound for all of the 9/11 family members.

Lawyers representing the victims will ask the judge to lift the protective order to allow their clients access to secret documents and testimony from key witnesses. Although the plaintiffs' lawyers can't discuss the depositions they have taken, they insist that the information they've gathered supports their claim of Saudi complicity.

Attorney James Kreindler stated that "We are in a position where only now, through all the documents we have gotten, what our investigators discovered, and the testimony, we've taken," this iceberg is now floating to the surface.

Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement in the attacks. The question remains a mystery to investigators. It is the subject of a lengthy lawsuit in Manhattan for thousands of victims. This issue was a hot topic not only because 15 of 19 hijackers were Saudi, Osama Bin Laden being the mastermind but also because there are suspicions that they may have been trained to navigate Western society due to their limited experience in the U.S.

Public documents that were released over the past two decades by the 9/11 Commission have described numerous Saudi entanglements, but they have not proved government complicity.

These photos show how Nawaf al-Hazmi (the first hijacker to enter the U.S.) and Khalid al-Mihdhar (the second), were assisted and met by a Saudi national in 2000. Investigators claim that Omar al-Bayoumi was a Saudi national who assisted them in renting an apartment in San Diego. Bayoumi was able to meet with Fahad al–Thumairy shortly before he met the hijackers. He was an accredited diplomat at Saudi consulate Los Angeles at the time and investigators believe he led an extremist group at his mosque. Bayoumi, Thumairy and others left the U.S. several weeks before the attacks.

The 9/11 Commission, which compiled the most authoritative accounting of the events leading up to them, identified those connectionsbut considered Bayoumi to not be a candidate for clandestine participation with Islamic extremists. The 9/11 Commission stated that it was reasonable to consider Thumairy as a possible source of information for hijackers. However, investigators failed to find any evidence that he assisted them. He denied the claim.

The commission stated that it had not found any evidence that the Saudi government or high ranking Saudi officials funded al-Qaida in 2004, but it did note that Saudi-linked charities may have diverted funds to the group.

In 2016, The final chapter of a congressional investigation about the attacks was released. It listed people who helped the hijackers get apartments, bank accounts opened and connect to mosques. According to the document, some hijackers were connected to and had received support from people who might be connected to Saudi Arabia's government. FBI sources suggest that at least two of these hijackers may have been intelligence officers.

It didn't come to a conclusion about complicity. While it was possible that the interactions could be evidence of Saudi government support for terrorist acts, it also suggested other plausible explanations.

Operation Encore was an FBI investigation. Some agents were able to draw a stronger link.

Stephen Moore, a former agent, stated in 2017 that al-Qaida would not have sent Hazmi or Mihdhar to America "without a support system in place." He also said that the FBI believed Bayoumi to be a "clandestine agents" and that Thumairy knew that the hijackers were on a complicated pre-planned mission.

Families of 9/11 victims want to make similar claims. Because the U.S. government has resisted an accounting, they believe that the whole story is not being told. Given Saudi Arabia's role in the Middle East, any new evidence they may uncover could prove to be highly explosive.

A spokesperson for Saudi Embassy Washington didn't return a message seeking comment. The Saudi government's lawyers declined to comment.

Andrew Maloney, another plaintiffs' lawyer, stated that in addition to getting compensation for their families, they also hope Saudi Arabia will take responsibility and resolve to eradicate terrorism.

He said, "If they did all of those things it would be a huge win."

A 2018 judge's ruling allowed plaintiffs' lawyers to conduct a limited fact-finding investigation. This gave the suit momentum.

In recent weeks Bayoumi, Thumairy and Musaed al Jarrah were both questioned. Yahoo News also reported that Musaed al Jarrah was a former Saudi Embassy official, whose name was accidentally revealed in an FBI file last year. This filing suggested that he may have directed support for the hijackers.

The Justice Department has, however, given documents to lawyers that were once classified, but with a protective order. Some information is still hidden entirely because the Justice Department invoked a "state secret" privilege to prevent certain material that could jeopardize national security.

Eagleson stated, "Sooner than later, this trial will become mainstream. There's going to be tremendous public pressure and they can't keep it secret forever."

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