BOSTON — The U.S. government “made a deal with the devil” and a tireless group of 9/11 loved ones say they are fighting for their day in court to finally prove why that was such a horrifically bad decision.
No public trial over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has ever been held — though many fought for one — and the “last best hope” is playing out in federal court in Manhattan now.
The families want to expose how 19 al-Qaida hijackers — 15 of them Saudi nationals — crashed four jets, killing nearly 3,000 in one day, got financial help. They are suing Saudi Arabia to force some type of admission.
“We want to make history right and correct the narrative,” Brett Eagleson told the Boston Herald last week. “We want to see Saudi Arabia say it. Say they helped the hijackers.”
Eagleson, who was 15 years old when his dad died when the twin towers collapsed 21 years ago Sunday, said newly declassified FBI documents state “Omar Albayoumi was paid a monthly stipend as a cooptee of the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency.” That redacted FBI “electronic communication” shared with the Herald goes on to state the support for that foreign agent came “via then Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan Alsuad.”
Prince Bandar was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. from 1983 to 2005.
Omar Albayoumi was a California-based Saudi spy, declassified FBI documents state, according to multiple reports. The 9/11 Commission never knew this.
It is alleged Albayoumi helped 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who were the first to arrive in the U.S. when they landed in Los Angeles in January 2000. That Southern California terror cell was exposed years later in an FBI report titled “PENTBOMB.”
“They had to have been helped. They couldn’t even find their way out of LAX because they didn’t know what an exit sign was,” said Eagleson.
Those first two hijackers would move on to San Diego where they attempted to train as pilots — not needing to know how to take off or land — and then ultimately, with a lot of help, boarded Flight 77, slamming it into the Pentagon on 9/11 and killing 64 people on the plane and 125 in the Pentagon.
The three other hijacked jets — Flight 11 and Flight 175 out of Logan International Airport in Boston and Flight 93 out of Newark International Airport — slammed into the twin towers and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, respectively, on 9/11 in an act of mass murder.
The civil action 9/11 families are pursuing in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York just finished up limited discovery and now Saudi officials are preparing to seek a second dismissal of the case. Oral arguments could be set for the spring when the 9/11 families — with 10,000 plaintiffs joining in — could witness the first courtroom accounting of what’s been dredged up.
Or, possibly not.
“The lawsuit could end in some type of agreement, a payoff, or it will go away,” said Kirk Lippold, the former commander of the USS Cole who is an adjunct professor at the Naval Academy and an expert on terrorism. His destroyer was attacked by terrorists Oct. 12, 2000, while making a prearranged fuel stop at the port of Aden, Yemen.
Lippold said the lawsuit against the Saudis could “keep the pressure on” the kingdom to seek more reforms, but the U.S. government remains linked to the nation in the fight against Islamic extremists.
“It’s a harsh recognition that you occasionally have to deal with an unsavory government,” he explained, adding the 9/11 families have “suffered an unimaginable loss,” but the outcome of the lawsuit is uncertain.
Debra Burlingame, whose brother was one of the pilots killed on Flight 77, said making the Saudi connections public would be historic. But she said another trial should also get going — the military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“The word we’re getting is (President) Biden wants to shut the trial down with a plea deal and take the death penalty away,” Burlingame said. “It’s been an extremely long haul.”
Those proceedings won’t be open to the public. It remains a death penalty case against 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged accomplices.
“It’s ridiculous it’s taken this long,” said Brian Sullivan, a now-retired Federal Aviation Administration official based in Boston who warned of a terrorist attack at Logan months before it happened.
“They all should have been tried and hanged a long time ago,” he told the Herald.
The 9/11 families, however, are seeing this through.
“Our government made a deal with the devil and there’s something there we don’t know,” said Eagleson, who seemed tired but resolute. “But it ain’t over yet.”
The young Connecticut dad said he was planning on spending Sunday at a local fire station with his senator, Richard Blumenthal, and think back to when his father took him to the World Trade Center a month before the attacks so he could see the city lights from the top of the world.
“He pointed out all the landmarks,” Eagleson said. “It was like the first time, and the last time, I saw that. I’ll never forget.”