Notes from a previously classified interview by the US 9/11 Commission with Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, were reported earlier this week by journalists at the Florida Bulldog news site.
According to the two-and-a-half-page, single-spaced summary, which Al Jazeera could not independently verify, Prince Bandar spent much of the October 7, 2003, interview describing what he believed were some the origins of al-Qaeda and the September 11, 2001, attacks. The interview was not recorded, and no transcript was available, the Florida Bulldog, an independent news site, said.
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Prince Bandar accused the US of not following through “in helping the Afghan people to recover from the years of war” in the 1980s, the summary said.
“This provided a breeding ground for the young Mujahideen fighters who were successful in their military campaign to look for new battles. Neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia tried to reform the fighters into civilian life again. Had we done so, we might have had a very different outcome,” read the report, summarising Prince Bandar’s comments.
Prince Bandar was ambassador to the US from 1983 to 2005. His close relationship with George W Bush and his family earned him the nickname “Bandar Bush”.
The release of the summary comes years after Prince Bandar’s name made headlines following the release of another secret document, known as the “28 pages”, that found some of the 9/11 hijackers were in contact with and received support from individuals possibly connected to the Saudi government. The Saudi government has denied any involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
The document, released in 2016, was part of a 2002 Congressional Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks.
According to that document, a telephone book of Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi-born al-Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan just six months after the 9/11 attacks, included the number of the US company that managed the affairs of Prince Bandar’s residence in Colorado. The number a bodyguard who worked at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, was also in Zubaydah’s phone book. Both numbers were unlisted, meaning someone had to provide Zubaydah with the numbers.
The “28 pages” also included details of Prince Bandar’s relationship with Osama Bassnan, a Saudi national living in the US at the time of the 9/11 attacks and investigated for his potential ties to the hijackers.
According to the “28 pages” document, Prince Bandar and his wife had sent Bassnan and his family thousands of dollars either directly or through a charity run by Prince Bandar’s wife.
The 9/11 Commission report found “no evidence” that money from Prince Bandar and his wife was passed to the 9/11 hijackers.
Media reports from the time noted, however, that evidence from the commission showed that money intended for Bassnan’s wife at some point changed hands and was given to Omar al-Bayoumi, another Saudi national who had ties to the hijackers. Still, in 2004, the FBI determined al-Bayoumi did not have “advanced knowledge” of the 9/11 attacks or knowledge of two of the eventual hijackers’ status as al-Qaeda operatives. Al-Bayoumi’s name, however, came up again in a 2012 FBI report of its investigation into the attacks.
At the time of the release of the “28-pages” document, a former Saudi Embassy employee told CNN that it was “very common for the government to help Saudi citizens, certainly in terms of providing medical assistance or support while they’re abroad”.
The Florida Bulldog noted that according to the 2003 interview summary, Prince Bandar was not asked about his direct or indirect connections to Bassan or al-Bayoumi despite the fact the 9/11 Commission would have known about the donations.
The 9/11 Commission director, Philip Zelikow, told the Florida Bulldog that the commission “did not confirm a number of the allegations, so those would not necessarily have been valid factual premises for questions posed to Saudi officials”.
According to the 2003 summary, Prince Bandar did tell the commission that the Saudis were slow to help the US before the 9/11 attacks because US intelligence agencies “couldn’t help explain when or where this attack would occur”.
“The ambassador said that for each instance where the American government might have dropped the ball somehow, the Saudi government also dropped the ball, whether it is in the law enforcement or intelligence arenas,” the commission’s summary read.
Key name to be released
The Florida Bulldog’s reporting on the commission’s interview comes during the same week that the US Justice Department announced it would reveal the name of the Saudi official with alleged ties to the 9/11 hijackers.
Survivors and families of victims of the 9/11 attacks have sought the name of the individual in hopes of it helping their lawsuit against the Saudi government over its alleged involvement in the attacks.
The Justice Department said it would release the name with the lawyers of the case, but it was unclear if the name would be made public.
The lawyers and their clients have been pushing for the name’s release since the 2012 FBI report showed that the intelligence agency was investigating al-Bayoumi and Faha al-Thumairy, another Saudi national, as well as a third individual. The report said that there was evidence that individual, whose name was redacted, had “tasked al-Thumairy and al-Bayoumi with assisting the hijackers”.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed on September 11, 2001, when hijackers crashed three jet-liners into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City, the Pentagon just outside Washington, DC, and a Pennsylvania field.
Fifteen of the 19 al-Qaeda hijackers who were involved in the attacks were Saudi nationals.