Thursday, February 5, 2015

New allegations of Saudi involvement in 9/11

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    Moussaoui Calls Saudi Princes Patrons of Al Qaeda

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    WASHINGTON — In highly unusual testimony inside the federal supermax prison, a former operative for Al Qaeda has described prominent members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family as major donors to the terrorist network in the late 1990s and claimed that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force Onewith a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
    The Qaeda member, Zacarias Moussaoui, wrote last year to Judge George B. Daniels of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, who is presiding over a lawsuit filed against Saudi Arabia by relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He said he wanted to testify in the case, and after lengthy negotiations with Justice Department officials and the federal Bureau of Prisons, a team of lawyers was permitted to enter the prison and question him for two days last October.
    In a statement Monday night, the Saudi Embassy said that the national Sept. 11 commission had rejected allegations that the Saudi government or Saudi officials had funded Al Qaeda.
    “Moussaoui is a deranged criminal whose own lawyers presented evidence that he was mentally incompetent,” the statement said. “His words have no credibility.”
    Mr. Moussaoui received a diagnosis of mental illness by a psychologist who testified on his behalf, but he was found competent to stand trial on terrorism charges. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 and is held in the most secure prison in the federal system, in Florence, Colo. Mr. Moussaoui’s accusations could not be verified.
    The allegations from Mr. Moussaoui come at a sensitive time in Saudi-American relations, less than two weeks after the death of the country’s longtime monarch, King Abdullah, and the succession of a half-brother, King Salman.
    There has often been tension between Saudi leaders and the Obama administration since the Arab uprisings of 2011 and the efforts to manage the region’s resulting turmoil. Mr. Moussaoui describes meeting in Saudi Arabia with Salman, then a prince, and other Saudi royals while delivering them letters from Osama bin Laden.
    There has long been evidence that wealthy Saudis provided support for bin Laden, the son of a Saudi construction magnate, and Al Qaeda before the 2001 attacks. Saudi Arabia had worked closely with the United States to finance Islamic militants fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and Al Qaeda drew its members from those militant fighters.
    But the extent and nature of Saudi involvement in Al Qaeda, and whether it extended to the planning and financing of the Sept. 11 attacks, has long been a subject of dispute.
    Mr. Moussaoui’s testimony, if judged credible, provides new details of the extent and nature of that support in the pre-9/11 period. In more than 100 pages of testimony, filed in federal court in New York on Monday, he comes across as calm and largely coherent, though the plaintiffs’ lawyers questioning him do not challenge his statements.
    “My impression was that he was of completely sound mind — focused and thoughtful,” said Sean P. Carter, a Philadelphia lawyer with Cozen O’Connor who participated in the deposition on behalf of the plaintiffs. He said that the lawyers needed to get a special exemption from the “special administrative measures” that keep many convicted terrorists in federal prisons from communicating with outsiders.
    The French-born Mr. Moussaoui was detained weeks before Sept. 11 on immigration charges in Minnesota, so he was incarcerated at the time of the attacks. Earlier in 2001, he had taken flying lessons and was wired $14,000 by a Qaeda cell in Germany, evidence that he might have been preparing to become one of the hijackers.
    He said in the prison deposition that he was directed in 1998 or 1999 by Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to create a digital database of donors to the group. Among those he said he recalled listing in the database were Prince Turki al-Faisal, then the Saudi intelligence chief; Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States; Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a prominent billionaire investor; and many of the country’s leading clerics.
    “Sheikh Osama wanted to keep a record who give money,” he said in imperfect English — “who is to be listened to or who contributed to the jihad.”
    Mr. Moussaoui said he acted as a courier for Bin Laden, carrying personal messages to prominent Saudi princes and clerics. And he described his training in Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.
    He helped conduct a trial explosion of a 750-kilogram bomb as a trial run for a planned truck-bomb attack on the American Embassy in London, he said, using the same weapon used in the Qaeda attacks in 1998 on the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He also studied the possibility of staging attacks with crop-dusting aircraft.
    In addition, Mr. Moussaoui said, “We talk about the feasibility of shooting Air Force One.”
    Specifically, he said, he had met an official of the Islamic Affairs Department of the Saudi Embassy in Washington when the Saudi official visited Kandahar. “I was supposed to go to Washington and go with him” to “find a location where it may be suitable to launch a Stinger attack and then, after, be able to escape,” he said.
    He said he was arrested before being able to carry out the reconnaissance mission.
    Mr. Moussaoui’s behavior at his trial in 2006 was sometimes erratic. He tried to fire his own lawyers, who presented evidence that he suffered from serious mental illness. But Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who presided, declared that she was “fully satisfied that Mr. Moussaoui is completely competent” and called him “an extremely intelligent man.”
    “He has actually a better understanding of the legal system than some lawyers I’ve seen in court,” she said.
    Also filed on Monday in the survivors’ lawsuit were affidavits from former Senators Bob Graham of Florida and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and the former Navy secretary John Lehman, arguing that more investigation was needed into Saudi ties to the 9/11 plot. Mr. Graham was co-chairman of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into the attacks, and Mr. Kerrey and Mr. Lehman served on the 9/11 Commission.
    “I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” wrote Mr. Graham, who has long demanded the release of 28 pages of the congressional report on the attacks that explore Saudi connections and remain classified.
    Mr. Kerrey said in the affidavit that it was “fundamentally inaccurate and misleading” to argue, as lawyers for Saudi Arabia have, that the 9/11 Commission exonerated the Saudi government.
    The three former officials’ statements did not address Mr. Moussaoui’s testimony.
    The 9/11 lawsuit was initially filed in 2002 but has faced years of legal obstacles. It was dismissed in 2005 on the grounds that Saudi Arabia enjoyed “sovereign immunity,” and the dismissal was upheld on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
    But the same appellate court later reversed itself, ordering that the lawsuit be reinstated. The Saudi government appealed to the Supreme Court, but it declined to hear the case, so it was sent back to Federal District Court in Manhattan. The filing on Monday was in opposition to the latest motion by Saudi Arabia to have the case dismissed.
    Mr. Carter, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said that he and his colleagues hoped to return to the Colorado prison to conduct additional questioning of Mr. Moussaoui and that they had been told by prison officials that they would be allowed to do so. “We are confident he has more to say,” Mr. Carter said.
    Correction: February 4, 2015
    Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the title of King Salman of Saudi Arabia when Zacarias Moussaoui alleges he met with Salman in Saudi Arabia before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Salman was a prince, he was not the crown prince. (He became the crown prince in 2012.)
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    Page 16

    September 11 conspirator Moussaoui says Saudi royals backed al Qaeda

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    NEW YORK Wed Feb 4, 2015 11:20am EST
    NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former al Qaeda operative imprisoned for life for his role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has told lawyers for victims of the attacks that members of the Saudi royal family supported the Islamic militant group.
    Zacarias Moussaoui made the statements in testimony filed in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday by lawyers for attack victims who accuse Saudi Arabia in a suit of providing material support to al Qaeda.
    He said a list of donors from the late 1990s that he drafted during al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's tenure included some "extremely famous" Saudi officials, including Prince Turki al-Faisal Al Saud, a former Saudi intelligence chief.
    "Shaykh Osama wanted to keep a record who give money because ... who is to be listened to or who contribute to - to the jihad," said Moussaoui, a 46-year-old French native who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in 2005.
    Moussaoui said he met in Kandahar with an official from Saudi Arabia's Washington embassy. Moussaoui said they were supposed to go to Washington together to find a location "suitable to launch a stinger attack" on the U.S. presidential plane, Air Force One.
    In Washington, the Saudi embassy said on Wednesday that Moussaoui's claims appeared aimed at undermining Saudi-U.S. relations and contradicted findings of the 9/11 Commission in 2004 that there was no evidence of Saudi funding of al Qaeda.
    "Moussaoui is a deranged criminal whose own lawyers presented evidence that he was mentally incompetent," the Saudi embassy said. "His words have no credibility."
    The testimony was filed in opposition to Saudi Arabia's latest bid to dismiss lawsuits that began more than a decade ago.
    Moussaoui made his statements in October at the super-maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, where Moussaoui has been held since being sentenced to life in 2006. He wrote a letter offering to testify.
    Families of Sept. 11 victims allege that Saudi Arabia and a government-affiliated charity knowingly provided funding and other material support to al Qaeda that helped it carry out the attacks.
    Plaintiffs include families of the nearly 3,000 people killed, as well as insurers that covered losses suffered by building owners and businesses.
    Most of the 19 attackers were Saudi nationals who hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers revolted.
    The case is In re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 03-md-01570.
    (Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)
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    New allegations of Saudi involvement in 9/11

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    Story highlights

    • Zacarias Moussaoui says members of the Saudi royal family supported al Qaeda
    • The so-called 20th hijacker in the 9/11 terrorist attacks makes allegations in a brief that's part of a case by 9/11 victims' families
    • Moussaoui, who's been in U.S. custody for more than 13 years, has had his credibility questioned before
    Washington (CNN)New allegations have emerged from the man described as the 20th 9/11 hijacker, alleging members of the Saudi royal family supported al Qaeda.
    Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to six terror-related charges, makes the allegations in a sworn statement contained in a brief submitted Tuesday as part of an ongoing civil case by the families of 9/11 victims.
    In the late 1990s, Moussaoui says, he was tasked by Osama bin Laden to create a digital database cataloging al Qaeda's donors. Every day for two or three months, he says, he entered names of the group's donors into a Toshiba computer, along with how much they gave.
    Moussaoui, who has been in U.S. custody for more than 13 years, said the list featured high-profile people, including several members of the Saudi Royal family, whom he named in his testimony.
    They include Prince Turki al-Faisal Al Saud, former director-general of Saudi Arabia's Foreign Intelligence Service and ambassador to the United States.
    Moussaoui, a French national, said he was chosen for the database job because of his education and ability to speak English.
    "Shaykh Osama wanted to keep a record who give money ... who is to be listened to or who contribute to -- to the jihad," he said in sometimes stuttered answers.
    CNN cannot independently confirm the claims Moussaoui makes in his new testimony, which was made under oath as part of a brief filed in opposition to a motion to dismiss a case against Saudi Arabia for its alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
    Unlike a deposition, Moussaoui was not subjected to cross-examination by the defendants' lawyers.

    Questions about Moussaoui's credibility, Saudi involvement

    Moussaoui's credibility has been called into question before. And though Saudi Arabia's role in the attacks has long been a topic of suspicion, the 9/11 Commission's report, released in 2004, concluded there was no evidence the Saudi government funded al Qaeda.
    "It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have contained al Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al Qaeda's fund-raising activities," the report said. "Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization."
    Still, the report noted in parentheses, "This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda."
    In a statement reacting to these latest allegations, the Saudi Embassy in Washington said, "There is no evidence to support Moussaoui's claim. The Sept. 11 attack has been the most intensely investigated crime in history and the findings show no involvement by the Saudi government or Saudi officials."

      9/11 audio recordings offer dramatic timeline

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    The Saudi statement also referred to the assessment of the 9/11 Commission.
    "Moussaoui is a deranged criminal whose own lawyers presented evidence that he was mentally incompetent. His words have no credibility," the statement said. "(Moussaoui's) goal in making these statements only serves to get attention for himself and try to do what he could not do through acts of terrorism -- to undermine Saudi-U.S. relations."

    Claims about the Saudi royal family

    Moussaoui's new sworn statements were taken in October at a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where he has been held since his life sentence was handed down in 2006.
    In them, Moussaoui goes on to say he met with members of the Saudi royal family in person more than once in Saudi Arabia, in order to hand-deliver letters to and from al Qaeda's notorious leader.
    "I was introduced as the messenger for Shaykh Osama bin Laden," Moussaoui told attorneys on Oct. 21.
    "Did they treat you well during the [first] visit?" the lawyer asked.
    "Extremely well," Moussaoui said.
    Moussaoui said he traveled on private jets and in limousines. His meetings took place in luxury hotels and even Saudi palaces.
    He was also given money for travel expenses at the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad, which he considered a bribe, he said.
    Furthermore, Moussaoui said his primary point of contact with the royal family was Prince Turki al-Faisal Al Saud, and that Turki introduced him to other prominent members of the family, including another former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
    Tuesday's court filing also included statements by three members of the 9/11 Commission, former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, and former Sens. Bob Graham and Bob Kerrey.
    Their statements do not support the specific claims Moussaoui makes, but do say that further investigation of Saudi government involvement is necessary.
    "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," Graham wrote.
    Kerrey told CNN on Friday that while he can't verify Moussaoui's specific allegations, he does believe the new information highlights the need for further investigation.
    "It deepens suspicions that everything about Saudi involvement is not as well-known as it should be," he said.

    'No hint' of direct Saudi leadership involvement

    But this suspicion of the Saudi government is not shared by all.
    Robert Jordan, who was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2001 to 2003, told CNN he "was given no hint whatsoever of direct Saudi leadership involvement -- any financing or any planning -- for these attacks."
    Jordan said he was regularly in touch with Robert Mueller and George Tenet, who led the FBI and CIA, respectively, and felt assured over the course of their investigation that allegations against the Saudi government were without merit.
    "A lot of it was my own questioning," said Jordan." 'Are you sure? Have you made certain that none of the people we're dealing with now at the senior level had anything to do with these attacks or with supporting the terrorists who financed and orchestrated them?' And I was routinely and universally given the information that they felt comfortable at least at the senior level they hadn't."
    Moussaoui has made incriminating claims about the Saudi government before.
    Last November, he said that Saudi Embassy officials were involved in a plot to shoot down Air Force One "to assassinate Bill Clinton and/or Hillary Clinton."
    He also said at that time that he had met with a Saudi prince and princess in early 2001 when he was taking flying lessons in Norman, Oklahoma, and that she "gave me money."
    Lawyers for the Saudi government denied those claims, saying pointedly, "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had no role in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."
    And the Saudis are not the only ones who have refuted Moussaoui's account of the 9/11 plot. In 2006, Osama bin Laden released an audiotape in which he denied Moussaoui's assertion that he was supposed to strike the White House with a 747 on September 11, 2001.
    "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."

    Other Moussaoui claims drew scrutiny

    Many -- if not all -- of Moussaoui's statements over the years have been called into question.
    During his 2006 sentencing trial, an expert witness testified that Moussaoui suffered from delusional paranoid schizophrenia. He was prone to loud and disruptive outbursts during that trial, and guards testified he would sometimes make irrational claims to them.
    He has also asked for certain concessions in exchange for testimony, such as a warmer cell in a different unit of the supermax prison.
    Beyond his claims about the donor database, Moussaoui also says in this latest sworn statement that he was involved in a series of other plots against U.S. targets.
    Specifically, he says he was given explosives training to attack the U.S. Embassy in London with a truck bomb.
    "I conducted a trial test of explosives for bomb of 750 kilogram of ammonium nitrate," he said. "The plot was agreed with Shaykh Osama bin Laden."
    Moussaoui said his team in that plot included Richard Reid, known as "the shoe bomber," who Moussaoui previously said was supposed to take part in the 9/11 attacks -- allegations that Reid has denied.
    The plot against the embassy in London was eventually canceled, Moussaoui said, and he was sent to Malaysia to explore the possibility of attacking the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. That plot was also canceled, Moussaoui told his attorneys, so he went to the U.S. to look into attacking Air Force One -- the plot he first revealed in November.
    "My plan was not to launch the attack," he insisted in the statement. "It was only to see the feasibility of the attack."
    CNN's Jennifer Rizzo, Deborah Feyerick and Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.

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