A former Al Qaeda operative who helped plot the 9/11 terrorist attacks has claimed that he has firsthand knowledge that members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family financially supported the terrorist network in the late 1990s. Zacarias Moussaoui, who is serving a life sentence at a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, also said that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
“I was supposed to go to Washington and go with him…find a location where it may be suitable to launch a Stinger attack and then, after, be able to escape,” the French-born Moussaoui said of a plan he made with a Saudi Arabian Embassy official while in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Moussaoui said he was arrested before he could carry out the plan.
The former terrorist’s testimony has been submitted as part of a case brought by the families of 9/11 victims against Saudi Arabia for its alleged involvement in the terrorist attack that killed more than 3,000 people. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on that day were Saudi.
Over the course of two days in October, Moussaoui told lawyers that he met with the newly anointed King Salman of Saudi Arabia and other royals as a part of his duties as a courier for Osama bin Laden. He also told lawyers in a sworn statement that he listed at least three Saudi royals on ledgers to keep track of donations they made to Al Qaeda.
“There is no evidence to support Zacarias Moussaoui’s claim,” the Saudi Embassy said in a statement released on Monday night. “The September 11 attack has been the most intensely investigated crime in history and the findings show no involvement by the Saudi government or Saudi officials.” “As confirmed by the 9/11 Commission, there is ‘no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization [Al-Qaeda],’” the statement continued.
But some in Congress believe that evidence of the Saudi-Al Qaeda connection was left out of the Commission’s report — and that 28 pages of government documents classified by the Bush administration prove that Saudi officials did, in fact, play a part in the terrorist attack.
“Those twenty-eight pages tell a story that has been completely removed from the 9/11 Report,” Rep. Stephen Lynch, (D-MA), who has read the classified pages, told the New Yorker.
“I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) wrote in an affidavit filed as part of the case against the Saudi government.
The two are among a small band of legislators who are pushing to have the classified documents made public.
Although former President George W. Bush said in 2003 that releasing the 28 pages would compromise national security, Lynch and Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) introduced a resolution urging President Barack Obama to declassify the pages last month.
U.S. government documents leaked by Wikileaks already cast a dubious light on the Saudi government’s commitment to curbing terrorism.
In a 2009 diplomatic cable, then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton bemoaned an “ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist funds emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority, writing that, “[d]onors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
Clinton also noted that Saudi officials refused to ban charity organizations that provided funding to terrorist organizations.
The current King of Saudi Arabia patronized a fundraising gala in Nov. 2002 for three Saudi charities under investigation by Washington, and, that same month, claimed that, “It is not the responsibility of the kingdom,” if Saudi donations end up in the hands of terrorists.
As Foreign Policy reports, the connection between the King Salman and those the U.S. believes to have supported terrorism is not just a thing of the past.
A Saudi billionaire named Saleh Abdullah Kamel is on the board of the Prince Salman Youth Center, a charity organization chaired by the King. Kamel was also included on a list of Al Qaeda’s earliest supporters, known as the “golden chain,” although he’s denied supporting terrorism.
In its statement on Moussaoui’s testimony, the Saudi Embassy called the former Osama bin Laden aide “a deranged criminal,” and said, “[h]is words have no credibility.”
Although Moussaoui was deemed mentally ill at his own trial in 2006, the court held that he was fit to stand trial despite a paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis made by a defense psychologist. He frequently caused loud, disruptive outbursts during the trial and guards testified that he, at times, made irrational claims to them.
“My impression was that he was of completely sound mind — focused and thoughtful,” Sean P. Carter, a lawyer who spoke to Moussaoui, said.
Even Osama bin Laden cast doubt on the reliability of at least some of Moussaoui’s claims.
In an audio statement, Bin Laden refuted Moussaoui’s claim that he was supposed to strike the White House with a 747 airplane on Sept. 11.
“I am the one in charge of the 19 brothers,” bin Laden said, referring to the 19 known hijackers, “and I never assigned brother Zacarias to be with them in that mission,” he said.