Hundreds of 9/11 families sued Saudi Arabia in federal court Monday, accusing the oil-rich Middle Eastern country of funding al-Qaida’s attack on the World Trade Center and the nation’s officials of providing Osama bin Laden and his terrorists “cover.”
The personal injury and wrongful death suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, portrays Saudi Arabia as an essential player in funding al-Qaida from start to finish in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Through several Saudi government-controlled nonprofits — ostensibly raising money for charity — senior Saudi officials and al-Qaida operatives instead sent millions of dollars through a tangled web of transfer offices and private businesses with al-Qaida terrorists as final recipients, the suit said.
In the Sept. 11 attacks, Saudi Arabia used “state-run” groups to funnel money to the terrorist organization and directed government employees, including diplomats, to help the 19 hijackers once they landed in the United States, according to the complaint. Saudi Arabia funded safe houses for the hijackers, supplied them with bogus travel documents, weapons, cash and equipment — “all of which enabled al-Qaida to conduct the September 11th Attacks,” the complaint stated.
“We’re finally going to get our day in court,” said retired FDNY fire chief James Riches of Brooklyn.
Riches, who responded to Ground Zero on the day of the attacks and six months later carried out the body of his oldest son Jimmy, an FDNY firefighter, from the Twin Towers wreckage, said the lawsuit will provide long-sought answers.
“We’re going to find out what actually happened on 9/11,” he said early Tuesday morning. “If [Saudi Arabia] helped the terrorists commit terrorists acts on American soil, they’ll be held accountable. If the Saudis did nothing wrong, they have nothing to worry about.”
Saudi Arabia officials in the New York City consulate and Washington, D.C., embassy could not be immediately reached early Tuesday. The attorney for the plaintiffs did not immediately provide a comment.
The country’s connection to al-Qaida attacks against the United States stretches back long before Sept. 11, 2001, the suit said, and included Saudi knowledge of the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors and injured dozens more.
The filing was the first big step after Congress in September overrode President Barack Obama’s veto of legislation that allowed relatives of those killed on Sept. 11 to sue Saudi Arabia. Many 9/11 families have demanded a full accounting of the Saudis’ actions, if any, in the attacks, but details have been hidden behind the cloak of classified information and the Saudis’ role as a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.
The plaintiffs are asking for unspecified punitive damages, saying the Saudis “intentionally aided, abetted and counseled al-Qaida.”
According to the 194-page suit, Saudi officials knew al-Qaida and its leader, bin Laden, were behind attacks around the world against the United States and were planning more.
But still, Saudi officials funneled millions of dollars to the terrorist group through bin Laden’s friends, government employees and nine government-controlled “charity” organizations, including several headed in part by bin Laden’s friends and brother-in-law, according to the lawsuit.
This laundered money — some commingled with Saudi embassy funds in the embassy bank accounts — supported the Afghanistan camps that trained the 19 9/11 hijackers and paid al-Qaida operatives instructed by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, among other government agencies, the suit said.
The lawsuit alleges that top-ranking Saudi officials made “substantial financial contributions to al-Qaida.”
For example, according to the suit, on or before January 2000, a senior official at the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., gave instructions to a Saudi diplomat and another embassy employee “to meet with and provide cover, advice, planning, safe houses and other material support and resources to al-Qaida hijackers Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi, the first of the 19 hijackers to arrive in the United States.”
From 1995 until the attacks, the suit states, a senior Saudi diplomat at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., intentionally disguised a Saudi employee there as “a religious worker” for a San Diego-based nonprofit. Instead of raising money for the nonprofit, Western Somali Relief Agency, Saudi Arabia “through its employees and agents” used the organization to funnel money to al-Qaida, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit alleges that in the months before the attack, Saudi “employees and agents” funneled cash to al-Qaida through a mosque in Culver City, California, a small city close to Los Angeles International Airport, and other “organizations, individuals and/or private businesses.”
Between May 2001 and the day of the attacks in lower Manhattan, the suit states that U.S. officials sent “urgent requests for assistance from Saudi Arabia” to help locate someone in the country who had maintained contact with a high-ranking al-Qaida operative involved in the planning of an upcoming unspecified Qaida attack on the United States.
“The September 11th Attacks could not have occurred absent the knowing and substantial assistance provided to al-Qaida by Saudi Arabia,” according to the complaint, “and those attacks and resulting injuries and deaths were a natural, probable and reasonably foreseeable consequence of Saudi Arabia’s conduct.”
Riches said he’s not concerned about the money and isn’t trying to rehash the past.
He said finding out the Saudis’ role will make the world safer.
“We’re going to find out how connected they were to the money they donated to these terrorist funds,” he said, “and we have to get that to stop. Otherwise it’s going to happen to other people what happened to us.”