Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted 9/11 co-conspirator, says members of Saudi Arabia's royal family helped finance al-Qaeda in the years just prior to the 2001 terrorist attacks. The Saudi government says that "there is no evidence to support Moussaoui's claim," citing U.S. government investigations. Who's right?
We can't say for sure, in part because a 2002 joint House-Senate report contains a 28-page section on al-Qaeda's "specific sources of foreign support" that remains classified. However, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission — which investigated the leads produced by the earlier congressional report — said in its 2004 report that it "found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization," referring to al-Qaeda.
Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 for his role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, including the passengers and crew of a hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. The New York Times reported on Feb. 3 that Moussaoui gave a deposition in a lawsuit filed against the Saudi Arabian government by relatives of the 9/11 victims.
In his deposition, Moussaoui identified "prominent members of Saudi Arabia's royal family as major donors" to al-Qaeda in the late 1990s, according to the Times.
The Saudi government released a statement denying Moussaoui's claims and pointing to investigations that found no evidence for his accusations.
The definitive government report on the subject of financing al-Qaeda is from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission.
The 9/11 Commission issued a report in July 2004 that said al-Qaeda had an operating budget at the time of $30 million a year, and the 9/11 attacks cost between $400,000 and $500,000 (see Chapter 5.4). The report said al Qaeda had "fertile fund-raising ground in Saudi Arabia," including from wealthy individuals and corrupt charities. But it found no evidence that the Saudi government or top government officials helped finance the terror group in the years before 9/11.
The report also said "we have seen no evidence that any foreign government — or foreign government official — supplied any funding" for the cost of planning and conducting the 9/11 attacks.
Separately, the commission released a staff report on terrorist financing in August 2004 that elaborated on al-Qaeda's fund-raising operations. The staff report blamed the Saudi government for failing to oversee corrupt charities, such as the al Haramain Islamic Foundation, and for creating an environment that allowed al-Qaeda's fund-raising to flourish.
The staff report also said that prior to the terrorist attacks the U.S. sought the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to "stop the flow of money to al-Qaeda entities." But Saudi officials were "ambivalent and selectively cooperative in assisting the United States," and the U.S. didn't make it a priority.
The staff report does not mention by name any of the three princes singled out by Moussaoui, but it does clear Saudi Princess Haifa al Faisal of any wrongdoing. "Despite persistent public speculation, there is no evidence … Saudi Princess Haifa al Faisal provided any funds to the hijackers either directly or indirectly," the report said.
After 9/11, the Saudi government "dramatically improved cooperation with the United States" on the financing of terrorism. "Managing this nuanced and complicated relationship will play a critical part in determining the success of U.S. counterterrorism policy for the foreseeable future," the staff report said.
Now, prior to the 9/11 report, the Senate and House intelligence committees released a joint report in December 2002 that contained a 28-page section titled "Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters" that remains classified. Former Sen. Bob Graham, chairman at the time of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called for the release of the 28 pages on the day the report was made public, Dec. 11, 2002, and still holds that position.
Graham told ABC News last month that the U.S. government's refusal to release the 28 pages is an effort to protect Saudi Arabia, which he said is "the most responsible for that network of support."
"The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11, and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier," Graham told ABC News.
In redacting the 28 pages, the report says (beginning on page 415) that the committee reviewed "FBI and CIA documents suggesting specific potential sources of foreign support" for al-Qaeda. But it also says the committee "did not attempt to investigate and assess the accuracy and significance of this information independently" because it was beyond its scope.
"It should be clear that this Joint Inquiry has made no final determinations as to the reliability or sufficiency of the information regarding these issues that was found contained in FBI and CIA documents," the report says. It goes on to say an "investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations." Or, the report says, quoting from a CIA memo, a further investigation could turn up "incontroverible evidence that there is support for these terrorists … [the rest of the sentence was redacted]."
Philip D. Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission, told the New York Times,according to a Feb. 4 story, that a team of commission investigators, including Senate and House investigators who worked on the joint congressional report, further investigated the material in "the famous 28 pages" and concluded there was no evidence that the Saudi government and its top officials helped finance al-Qaeda.
"Those involved in the preparation of the famous 28 pages joined the staff of the 9/11 Commission and participated in the follow-up investigation of all the leads that had been developed earlier," Zelikow told the Times. "In doing so, they were aided by a larger team with more members, more powers and for the first time actually conducted interviews of relevant people both in this country and in Saudi Arabia." He added, "And what we found is reflected in the commission report."
That would bring us full circle. Whether the 9/11 Commission report is the final word on the subject remains to be seen. But right now, that's the best evidence we have.
– Eugene Kiely