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Saudi link to 9/11 hijackers found in Sarasota but not revealed by FBI

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In the book Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11, Bob Graham, who was the cochair of the congressional joint inquiry into 9/11, told the authors of the book the following: The Saudis were facilitating assisting some of the hijackers, and my suspicion is they were providing some assistance to most, if not all the hijackers. It’s my opinion that 9/11 could not have occurred but for the existence of an infrastructure of support within the United States. By the Saudis I mean the Saudi government and individual Saudis who are for some purposes dependent on the government, which includes all of the elite in the country. Now joining us are the authors of Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11, Anthony Summers, who’s a former BBC journalist, and Robbyn Swan, who is a DC-based freelance journalist. Thanks very much to both of you for joining us.


JAY: So, Anthony and Robbyn, Anthony, you have a story that broke in The Miami Herald today you wrote together with Dan Christensen. Why don’t you quickly tell us what that is? Because it seems a bit of a tip of the Saudi iceberg.

ANTHONY SUMMERS, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well getting to the story, for me, was one of those typical frustrating and long-delayed bits of reporting. Several years ago I met a counterterrorist agent in Venice, Florida, where three of the hijackers learned to fly, and I interviewed him on other things that were not particularly dramatic or important but related to the build-up to 9/11. And at the end of the evening, there was something he was clearly holding–wanted to talk about but he felt difficult to discuss, and I’d always wanted to go back and find out just what it was. And I have now found out. And what has been revealed to me by him–and multiple other witnesses, as I eventually discovered–is that in the months before 9/11, there was a house in a gated community near Sarasota which is very close to Venice, where the hijackers were, and the house was owned by a Saudi and lived in by the Saudi’s son-in-law. And they were not popular in the gated community, ’cause they didn’t keep the house very well and so on. And what neighbors particularly noticed was that there was a lot of visits at night at unusual hours–two, three, four o’clock in the morning. And this was reported to the FBI and to law enforcement soon after 9/11, because people wondered whether there was a connection between the Saudis at the house and the 9/11 conspiracy. And it turned out after lots of hard work that indeed there was a connection, that when they did a phone link analysis of the calls made to and from the house that the Saudis lived in, that they linked back, sometimes at one remove, to the four men who’d been learning to fly and eventually were pilot hijackers on 9/11. They also discovered–and this was perhaps the best evidence of all–when they checked with the gate records where the comings and goings were logged and noted and where the number plates, the registration plates of cars were photographed, they discovered that those cars and the people who’d been in the cars also connected directly with the three pilot hijackers who’d been learning to fly just a few miles away at Venice, California [sic]. So it was–it’s a new and key indication that the hijackers had support from at least a Saudi living in a house just outside Sarasota. The one thing I’ve left out which is very important is that this came to the notice of the authorities and alarmed the people who ran the Prestancia development in the first place because the Saudis who lived in the house vanished, departed, not to return, just 12 days before the attacks on 9/11.

JAY: And as you point out in your piece, they departed leaving cars and furniture and other things in the house.

SUMMERS: Oh, yes. They left, leaving unattended, abandoned, vehicles that they had just reregistered and a brand-new PT cruiser, which they’d bought only a very short time, I think maybe a matter of days, before they vanished. And in the house they left, oh, dirty diapers in the bathrooms. The beds were made, clothes hanging in the closet. One computer was still left there; another one had been there, clearly, ’cause the cord was still there, but the computer had been taken. The pool still running, toys in the pool. It was clearly a very rapid, hasty departure.

JAY: Just go over again the specific links between the people living in the house and the 9/11 conspirators.

SWAN: One of the things that we’ve put together now is, you know, this would not be an interesting story if it was simply a story about an empty house and some abandoned cars. The phone records show that Atta, lead hijacker Atta, and the pilots, Jarrah, and at least one of the other muscle hijackers, al-Shehri, were known to call and visit the house, and likewise a very interesting figure who we write about in our book, Adnand Shukrijumah. Now, Shukrijumah was and is the son of a Saudi cleric who had been affiliated with a well-known fundamentalist and radical mosque in the New York area, and the mosque, in fact, that spawned and the refugee center that spawned the Blind Sheikh, Rahman, who was behind many terrorist attacks of the early 1990s. Now, Shukrijumah had been seen with Mohamed Atta in Florida and had been reported, but no one had put much more flesh on it than that. In the days after 9/11, young Shukrijumah disappeared from the United States. He is now on the FBI’s Most Wanted list and suspected of being a very senior al-Qaeda operative. He’s known as Jaffar the Pilot–that’s his nickname. And the senior law enforcement official with whom Anthony has spoken says that Shukrijumah gives him nightmares, his presence walking about in the world still gives him nightmares. And that’s a very interesting tie that has been developed out of this work that Tony and our colleague have done this weekend and which we lead into very much in our book The Eleventh Day.

JAY: Right. Now, if I understand everything correctly, there’s no suggestion anything was known about this house or these people prior to 9/11. The point here is is that this seems to be part of a pattern of not investigating, or even suppressing, information about Saudi involvement.

SUMMERS: Suppressing, yes, absolutely. When I talked to Senator Graham for this story, he pointed out that he was–he’s outraged that, with his special interest in Florida, because he’s twice been governor of the state of Florida, that as–in his role as cochair of the Congressional joint committee into 9/11, that he was not informed by the FBI, that the arrangement with the intelligence agencies was that they should share everything with the congressional inquiry, which was made up–which was specifically an inquiry into the performance of the intelligence agencies. So he’s outraged that he wasn’t told about this FBI investigation in Sarasota, which did happen and which went on for about six months. He says he’s outraged but he’s not surprised, because a mirror image investigation was conducted in California, where there was also, apparently, a form of support network for the first two hijackers to arrive in the United States as early as the millennium, in January 2000, and the FBI did not inform the committee about that either, until they stumbled on it for themselves.

JAY: Yeah. This–these are the two hijackers that Richard Clarke has said in the last little while that the CIA knew about and didn’t inform either him, the antiterrorism czar, or the FBI, and apparently they’d been in the country for almost a year prior to 9/11.

SWAN: That’s right. That’s part of a longer story. In the year before 9/11, those two hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, had come to the attention of the CIA. They were being surveilled. And the CIA has claimed since that in January 2000, right after they attended a terrorist conference, if you will, in Kuala Lampur in Malaysia, that they simply lost them. Now, that answer has not satisfied many people, and it certainly hasn’t satisfied the FBI or the State Department, who the CIA never told about the fact that these two known jihadis had visas to enter the United States. Now, putting the issue of the CIA’s either incompetence or otherwise aside, the FBI was also involved in watching terrorists in California and watching known jihadis in California, and they too had opportunities that might have allowed them to surveil these young hijackers if they had taken them. One of these opportunities was afforded to them by a man who provided accommodation to the two hijackers, who it turned out, the joint inquiry discovered, was actually an FBI informant. This is what angers Senator Graham so substantially: the FBI never told the joint inquiry that this man had been an FBI informant. Their investigators turned it up for themselves and confronted the FBI with the information.

JAY: Now, did they also not find financial links between the Saudi government, even the Saudi embassy in the United States–there’s even been suggestions about Saudi Ambassador Bandar’s wife–but certain kind of financial support and links that went to this, the fellow you’re talking about?

SUMMERS: Well, I think one should not make too much of this. I mean, it is certainly interesting that money–. Let me explain how Prince Bandar–the ambassador’s wife name comes into it. The first two hijackers to arrive in the United States, whom Robbyn has just been talking about, Mihdhar and Hazmi, met up with a man believed to have been–believed by many people to have been for several years previously a Saudi intelligence agent living in the state of California. He in turn had another friend, who’s again got a very interesting background and who again is a Saudi, whose wife received injections of money, supposedly in connection with a health problem, and in turn passed that money that she’d received from the Saudi embassy as a sort of welfare payment, passed it on to the fellow that helped the hijackers, Bayoumi. But I think this stuff came from the Saudi Embassy as–literally as a welfare payment that came in the name of the ambassador’s wife. I don’t think it’s necessary, and it’s certainly not provable, it’s not necessary to assume that the ambassador’s wife personally knew why the money might be going in the direction it was.

JAY: Right. Well, one thing that’s clear is that the joint inquiry that Graham led had a whole section on the role of the Saudis in 9/11, almost all of which was redacted when the report went public. And Graham said his main divergence with the official 9/11 Commission was that they didn’t deal with the Saudi role. So in part two of our interviews with Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, let’s delve a little further into what seems to be the role of at least senior members of the Saudi royal family and government in the events of the attacks of 9/11. Please join us for part two of this interview on The Real News Network.

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Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan are the authors of "The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden"