WASHINGTON — A declassified FBI document related to logistical support given to two of the Saudi hijackers in the run-up to the Sept. 11 attacks details contacts the men had with Saudi associates in the United States but does not provide proof that senior kingdom officials were complicit in the plot.
The document released Saturday, on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, is the first investigative record to be disclosed since President Joe Biden ordered a declassification review of materials that for years have remained out of public view. The 16-page document is a summary of an FBI interview done in 2015 with a man who had frequent contact with Saudi nationals in the U.S. who supported the first hijackers to arrive in the country before the attacks.
Biden ordered the Justice Department and other agencies to conduct a declassification review and release what documents they can over the next six months. He was under pressure from victims’ families, who have long sought the records as they pursue a lawsuit in New York alleging that Saudi government officials supported the hijackers.
The heavily blacked-out document was released hours after Biden attended Sept. 11 memorial events in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. Victims’ relatives had said they would object to Biden’s presence at those remembrances as long as the documents remained classified.
The Saudi government has long denied any involvement in the attacks. The Saudi Embassy in Washington has it supported the full declassification of all records as a way to “end the baseless allegations against the Kingdom once and for all.” The embassy said that any allegation that Saudi Arabia was complicit was “categorically false.”
The documents have come out at a politically delicate time for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which have forged a strategic, if difficult, alliance, particularly on counterterrorism matters. The Biden administration in February released an intelligence assessment implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but drew criticism from Democrats for avoiding a direct punishment of the royal himself.
Victims’ relatives said the document’s release was a significant step in their effort to connect the attacks to Saudi Arabia. Brett Eagleson, whose father, Bruce, was killed in the World Trade Center attack, said the release of the FBI material “accelerates our pursuit of truth and justice.”
Jim Kreindler, a lawyer for the victims’ relatives, said in a statement that “the findings and conclusions in this FBI investigation validate the arguments we have made in the litigation regarding the Saudi government’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.
“This document, together with the public evidence gathered to date, provides a blueprint for how (al-Qaida) operated inside the US with the active, knowing support of the Saudi government,” he said.
That includes, he said, Saudi officials exchanging phone calls among themselves and al-Qaida operatives and then having “accidental meetings” with the hijackers while providing them with assistance to get settled and find flight schools.
Regarding Sept. 11, there has been speculation of official involvement since shortly after the attacks, when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudis. Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida at the time, was from a prominent family in the kingdom.
The U.S. investigated some Saudi diplomats and others with Saudi government ties who knew hijackers after they arrived in the U.S., according to previously declassified documents.
Still, the 9/11 Commission report in 2004 found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the attacks that al-Qaida masterminded, though it noted Saudi-linked charities could have diverted money to the group.
Particular scrutiny has centered on the first two hijackers to arrive in the U.S., Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, and support they received.
In February 2000, shortly after their arrival in Southern California, they encountered at a halal restaurant a Saudi national named Omar al-Bayoumi who helped them find and lease an apartment in San Diego. He had ties to the Saudi government and had earlier attracted FBI scrutiny.
Bayoumi has described his restaurant meeting with Hazmi and Mihdhar as a “chance encounter,” and the FBI during its interview made multiple attempts to ascertain if that characterization was accurate or if the meeting had actually been arranged in advance, according to the document.
The 2015 interview that forms the basis of the FBI document was of a man who was applying for U.S. citizenship and who years earlier had repeated contacts with Saudi nationals, who investigators said, provided “significant logistical support” to several of the hijackers. Among the man’s contacts was Bayoumi, according to the document.
The man’s identity is blacked out throughout the document, but he is described as having worked at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles.
Also referenced in the document is Fahad al-Thumairy, at the time an accredited diplomat at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles who investigators say led an extremist faction at his mosque. The document says communications analysis identified a seven-minute phone call in 1999 from Thumairy’s phone to the Saudi Arabian family home phone of two brothers who later were detained at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison.
On Friday nights, East Texas student athletes take the football field. On Saturday mornings, some of them line up at the Christus Good Shepherd Free Saturday Morning Sports Injury Clinic in Longview.
The clinic has been serving student athletes for 25 years.
Christus Sports Medicine Coordinator Casey Reed said the department conducts 2,000 to 3,000 sports physicals per year.
“This is kind of one of our tangible ways that the Sports Medicine Department lives our mission to extend the healing ministry of Jesus out into the community,’ Reed said. “For some kids that maybe wouldn’t have the access, this allows them to have that access. To have a free evaluation by a doc and a free X-ray on Saturday morning.”
The weekly clinic is conducted by board-certified sports medicine and orthopedic surgeons. It offers free X-rays, free office consultations and same-day MRIs to athletes of all ages from middle school to college.
The clinic allows the student-athlete, family members, coaches and athletic trainers to make a treatment plan the day after a game to prepare for the following week. Athletes then can schedule an individual appointment with a specialized sports medicine physician.
According to Christus, it is the only clinic of its kind in the area.
Not all are patients are high school football players as middle school sports, volleyball season, local colleges, cheerleaders and more are active through the fall. A spring Saturday clinic also is offered.
“We have that legacy of caring for kids, whether they can pay or not, they can still come on Saturday and be seen,” Reed said. “Really kind of equalizing health care for kids that maybe couldn’t have otherwise.”
The goal is to provide athletes with the care they need to avoid delays in care.
“This kind of helps our schools and our athletic trainers really make a game plan on Saturday, and that’s why we’re so excited to offer not only the clinic but also the MRI portion of it so that on Saturday they can have a game plan going forward and not have to wait to see the doctor on Monday,” Reed said. “This allows the athletic trainers to work on rehab or really get a game plan on how to get the kids back on the field as safely and as quickly as possible.”
If a football player sees a doctor on Monday without taking part in the Saturday clinic, an MRI could be scheduled with insurance further out in the week, which does not leave much time for athletic trainers to work on rehab before the next game.
She said there are about 20 staff members working on Saturdays, including X-ray techs, trainers, medical assistants, doctors and more.
Dr. Marc Matarazzo joined Christus in 2020 as an orthopedic surgeon. He said he has never been with a program like the Saturday clinic that was as well organized as Christus’.
If he had to describe Saturdays in one word, it would be “chaos.”
“There’s a lot of young kids limping around, you know, hoping that their injuries are minor,” he said. “We can diagnose them much quicker and then we can institute treatment right away. We see a lot of patients that will go somewhere and they really won’t get a good diagnosis. They’ll just get a generic diagnosis and then they have to wait to get seen. Then, if they need additional imaging or additional studies, then they have to wait for that. We provide a lot of opportunity to reduce all that waiting.”
The clinic is scheduled 9 to 11 a.m. each Saturday through Nov. 13 in Suite 5000 at 703 E Marshall Ave. in Longview.
Masks are required for all staff, patients and visitors to the clinic.
Cities and urban counties across the U.S. are raising concerns that a recent rule from President Joe Biden’s administration could preclude them from tapping into $350 billion of coronavirus relief aid to expand high-speed internet connections.
Biden has set a goal of delivering fast, affordable internet to every American household. The massive American Rescue Plan took a step toward that by including broadband infrastructure among the primary uses for pandemic aid flowing to each city, county and state.
But an interim rule published by the U.S. Treasury Department has narrowed the broadband eligibility. It focuses on areas that lack reliable broadband, which connects devices to the internet through a cable or data line, at download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps.
That threshold ensures funding for remote, rural areas that have slow or no internet service, and it matches the definition of broadband set by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015. But cities contend the eligibility mark overlooks the realities of today’s internet needs.
Though most cities already have broadband available, the speed still might not be fast enough to handle multiple people in a home trying to work, study and stream entertainment simultaneously — a common scenario during the coronavirus pandemic. The price also can be more than lower-income residents can afford.
“They’re basically prioritizing those rural areas over the underserved urban areas where there is more population,” said Detta Kissel, a retired Treasury Department attorney who helped write agency rules and now advocates for better internet service in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Arlington, Virginia.
Several cities, including Washington, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and San Antonio, have submitted public comments to the Treasury Department urging it to loosen the eligibility standard for spending pandemic relief money on broadband. Some want the Treasury to define underserved areas as anything less than download and upload speeds of 100 Mbps.
That would increase the number of locations eligible for funding from about 11 million to 82 million households and businesses nationwide, according to a study conducted for America’s Communications Association, which represents small and medium-sized internet providers.
Cities argue that the Treasury should use a 100/100 Mbps eligibility threshold because that’s the same speed projects are supposed to achieve if they receive funding. A separate infrastructure bill working its way through Congress is more flexible, allowing some of its $65 billion in broadband funding to go to “underserved” areas lacking download speeds of 100 Mbps and upload speeds of 20 Mbps.
If the Treasury goes forward with its rule as originally written, sparsely populated areas currently lacking broadband could leapfrog certain urban areas in their internet speeds. That doesn’t sit well with some mayors.
“The inner city of Memphis is as in a dire need of broadband connection as rural Tennessee,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who wants Treasury Department assurance before spending $20 million from the American Rescue Plan on a broadband project.
Residents almost anywhere in Milwaukee already have access to at least one internet provider offering download speeds of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps. But in parts of the city, fewer than half the households subscribe to internet service because of its cost, said David Henke, the city’s chief information officer.
“If you don’t have a job and you can’t afford broadband, that’s kind of a cycle,” Henke said. “You’re locked out of remote learning, remote work, telemedicine and participating basically in a modern society.”
Milwaukee has applied for a $12.5 million grant from Wisconsin’s share of the American Rescue Plan and would chip in $2.5 million of its own pandemic relief money to expand affordable broadband into more parts of the city, Henke said. But the city wants the Treasury Department to broaden “the narrow wording” of its rule.
Although the public comment period ended in July, the Treasury has set no date for when it will publish the rule’s final version. A Treasury official said the department is undertaking a thorough review of the comments that is likely “to continue into the fall.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, is among those urging the Treasury Department to adopt a broader eligibility threshold. He wrote that it would be “severely misguided” to assume that communities are adequately served by the “woefully outdated” broadband benchmark the department has set.
Broadband industry groups generally have urged the Treasury to stick with its original plan of targeting money at areas with the slowest internet speeds.
“Rather than reinvesting in locations that already have broadband to make it better,” the pandemic relief money should go to “places that don’t have any broadband at all,” said Patrick Halley, general counsel at USTelecom, whose membership includes AT&T, Verizon and others.
The cable industry group NCTA urged treasury officials to tighten eligibility even further. It wants to limit the number of households that already have faster service that can be included in areas targeted for improvements. It also wants to remove the potential for locally subjective decisions about areas that lack reliable service.
Allowing improvements in areas that already meet minimum speed thresholds could siphon money away from the neediest, hard-to-reach areas — potentially leaving them without service once the federal money is spent, industry groups said.
To bring super-fast internet service to every place currently lacking 25/3 Mbps speeds could cost between $20 billion and $37 billion, according to the study for America’s Communications Association. That cost jumps to between $106 billion to $179 billion when covering all areas currently lacking speeds of 100/100 Mbps.
“As a matter of prioritization, we think it’s best to start with the areas that have the least,” said Ross Lieberman, the association’s senior vice president of government affairs.
Though most of the complaints about the Treasury Department rule have come from larger cities, some residents in rural areas also have raised concerns.
Charlie Hopkins, a retired computer hardware and software designer, owns a home on a Maine island that is accessible only by boat. The internet speeds at his house registered barely 5 Mbps for downloading and just 0.4 Mbps for uploading when tested recently for The Associated Press.
Because some homes have faster speeds, Hopkins is concerned the Treasury Department rule could make it difficult for the island to get funding to improve its internet. He said broadband is essential to attract and retain residents.
“Other cities and towns in Maine, especially the cities, are getting higher-speed fiberoptic-based internet,” Hopkins said. “I don’t like being in a position where we’re essentially being told, ‘Well, you’re at the end of the Earth, so you don’t qualify.’”
KABUL, Afghanistan — Women in Afghanistan can continue to study in universities, including at post-graduate levels, but classrooms will be gender-segregated and Islamic dress is compulsory, the Taliban government’s new higher education minister said Sunday.
The announcement came as a Taliban official said Qatar’s foreign minister arrived in the Afghan capital of Kabul — the highest level visitor since the Taliban announced their interim Cabinet. There was no immediate confirmation of the visit by Qatari officials.
Earlier Sunday, the higher education minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, laid out the new policies at a news conference, several days after Afghanistan’s new rulers formed an all-male government. On Saturday, the Taliban had raised their flag over the presidential palace, signaling the start of the work of the new government.
The world has been watching closely to see to what extent the Taliban might act differently from their first time in power, in the late 1990s. During that era, girls and women were denied an education, and were excluded from public life.
The Taliban have suggested they have changed, including in their attitudes toward women. However, women have been banned from sports and the Taliban have used violence in recent days against women protesters demanding equal rights.
Haqqani said the Taliban did not want to turn the clock back 20 years. “We will start building on what exists today,” he said.
However, female university students will face restrictions, including a compulsory dress code. Haqqani said hijabs will be mandatory but did not specify if this meant compulsory headscarves or also compulsory face coverings.
Gender segregation will also be enforced, he said. “We will not allow boys and girls to study together,” he said. “We will not allow co-education.”
Haqqani said the subjects being taught would also be reviewed. While he did not elaborate, he said he wanted graduates of Afghanistan’s universities to be competitive with university graduates in the region and the rest of the world.
The Taliban, who subscribe to a strict interpretation of Islam, banned music and art during their previous time in power. This time around television has remained and news channels still show women presenters, but the Taliban messaging has been erratic.
In an interview on Afghanistan’s popular TOLO News, Taliban spokesman Syed Zekrullah Hashmi said last week that women should give birth and raise children. While the Taliban have not ruled out the eventual participation of women in government, the spokesman said “it’s not necessary that women be in the Cabinet.”
The Taliban seized power on Aug. 15, the day they overran Kabul after capturing outlying provinces in a rapid military campaign. They initially promised inclusiveness and a general amnesty for their former opponents, but many Afghans remain deeply fearful of the new rulers. Taliban police officials have beaten Afghan journalists, violently dispersed women’s protests and formed an all-male government despite saying initially they would invite broader representation.
The new higher education policy signals a change from the accepted practice before the Taliban takeover. Universities were co-ed, with men and women studying side by side, and female students did not have to abide by a dress code. However, the vast majority of female university students opted to wear headscarves in line with tradition.
In elementary and high schools, boys and girls were taught separately, even before the Taliban came to power. In high schools, girls had to wear tunics reaching to their knees and white headscarves, and jeans, makeup and jewelry were not permitted.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted Sunday about the Qatari delegation, saying it included Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdur Rahman Al-Thani, the deputy prime minister who is also Qatar’s foreign minister.
The Qatari foreign minister met with Taliban Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund, Shaheen said. The Qatari delegation also met with former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the previous government’s chief negotiator in peace talks with the Taliban.
The Taliban have maintained a political office in the Qatar capital of Doha since 2013. Last week, Qatar Airways became the first international airline to begin operating international flights out of Kabul airport, transporting more than 250 foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, out of the capital.
Qatar has also provided technical assistance, along with Turkey, to restart the airport, which had been damaged by departing U.S. troops who left Afghanistan on Aug. 30 after evacuating tens of thousands of Afghans fleeing the Taliban.
Meanwhile, the Taliban government faces enormous economic challenges with near daily warnings of an impending economic meltdown and a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations warns it could drive 97% of Afghans below the poverty level by the end of the year.
Thousands of desperate Afghans wait daily outside Afghanistan’s banks for hours to withdraw the $200 weekly allotment. In recent days, the Taliban appear to have been trying to establish a system for allowing customers to withdraw funds but it rapidly deteriorates into stick-waving as crowds surge toward the bank gates.
Outside the New Kabul Bank, Afghanistan’s first private bank established in 2004, nearly 2,000 people demanded their money Sunday.
For Zaidullah Mashwani, Sunday was the third day he had come to the bank hoping to get his $200. Each night the Taliban make a list of eligible customers for the following day and by morning Mashwani said a whole new list is presented.
“This is our money. The people have the right to have it,” he said. “No one has money. The Taliban government needs to do something so we can get our money.”