Thousands of 9/11 families and first responders have sued Saudi Arabia in federal court, accusing the oil-rich Middle Eastern country of funding al-Qaida’s attacks on the World Trade Center and providing Osama bin Laden and his terrorists “cover.”
The personal injury and wrongful death suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, portrays Saudi Arabia as a vital player in funding al-Qaida from start to finish in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Using several Saudi “state-run” nonprofits — some run by bin Laden’s friends and a brother-in-law — senior Saudi officials and al-Qaida operatives sent millions of dollars through a tangled web of transfer offices and businesses with al-Qaida terrorists as final recipients, the suit said.
In the World Trade Center attacks, Saudi Arabia also directed government employees, including diplomats, to help the 19 hijackers — 15 of whom were Saudi citizens — once they landed in the United States, the suit said. Saudi Arabia funded safe houses for the hijackers and gave them bogus passports, weapons, cash and equipment, the complaint stated.
“We’re going to find out what actually happened on 9/11,” said plaintiff James Riches, a retired FDNY deputy chief from Brooklyn. Riches, who responded to the attacks and six months later carried out the body of his oldest son, firefighter Jimmy, said the lawsuit will provide long-sought answers.
“If [Saudi Arabia] helped the terrorists commit terrorist acts on American soil,” he said, “they’ll be held accountable.”
A Saudi embassy spokesman in Washington, D.C., declined to comment.
Michael Barasch, a Manhattan attorney for some of the plaintiffs, said it’s time to expose the 9/11 money trail, whether it wound through the Saudi government or another country.
“The hijackers didn’t have the money or the resources for their lodging, the flying lessons and everything they did here in the U.S.,” Barasch said. “ . . . And if it was Saudi Arabia they need to pay.”
Barasch, who represents some of the 2,300 plaintiffs, said taking the matter to court after 16 years will yield information that has so far been kept hidden from the public.
He said the U.S. State Department “has hidden these documents from us and the truth will come out.”
The Saudi connection to al-Qaida attacks against the United States stretches back long before 9/11, the suit said.
The filing was the first big step after Congress in September overrode President Barack Obama’s veto of legislation that allowed 9/11 survivors and families 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 remained hidden behind the cloak of classified information and the country’s role as a Middle East ally of the United States.
The plaintiffs ask for unspecified damages, saying the Saudis “intentionally aided, abetted and counseled al-Qaida.”
According to the 194-page suit, Saudi officials funneled millions to al-Qaida through bin Laden’s friends, government employees, and government-controlled “charity” organizations.
This laundered money — some comingled with Saudi embassy funds in the embassy bank accounts — supported the camps in Afghanistan that trained the hijackers and paid al-Qaida operatives instructed by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, among other government agencies, the suit said.
From 1995 until the attacks, the suit states, a senior Saudi diplomat at the embassy in Washington, D.C., disguised a Saudi employee as “a religious worker” for a San Diego-based nonprofit. From 1998 to Sept. 11, 2001, the suit stated, the agency sent more than $350,000 to al-Qaida via a money transfer agency used by the terror group. Some funds went to the transfer agency’s office in Karachi, Pakistan, founded and controlled by al-Qaida, the court papers said. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the attacks, was in Karachi dispensing about $400,000 in cash to the hijackers, the suit said.
The lawsuit alleges that in the months before the 9/11 attacks, 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 Sept. 11, 2001, 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 al-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,” the complaint said.
Riches said he’s not concerned about the money but 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.”
With Lisa Irizarry