The FBI has released a newly declassified document relating to logistical support given to two of the Saudi hijackers in the run-up to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.
The document details contacts the hijackers had with Saudi associates in the US but does not provide proof that senior Saudi government officials were complicit in the plot.
Released on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, the document is the first investigative record to be disclosed since US president Joe Biden ordered a declassification review of materials that for years have remained out of public view.
The 16-page document is a summary of an FBI interview undertaken in 2015 with a man who had frequent contact with Saudi nationals in the US who supported the first hijackers to arrive in the country before the attacks.
Last week, Mr Biden ordered the Justice Department and other agencies to conduct a declassification review and release what documents they could over the next six months.
He had encountered pressure from victims’ families, who have long sought the records as they pursue a lawsuit in New York alleging that Saudi government officials supported the hijackers.
The heavily redacted document was disclosed on Saturday night, hours after Mr Biden attended September 11 memorial events in New York, Pennsylvania and northern Virginia.
Victims’ relatives had earlier objected to Mr Biden’s presence at ceremonial events as long as the documents remained classified.
The Saudi government has long denied any involvement in the attacks.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington said it supported the full declassification of all records as a way to “end the baseless allegations against the kingdom once and for all”.
The embassy said any allegation that Saudi Arabia was complicit was “categorically false”.
The documents are being released at a politically delicate time for the US and Saudi Arabia, two nations that have forged a strategic – if difficult – alliance, particularly on counterterrorism matters.
In February, the Biden administration released an intelligence assessment implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but drew criticism from Democrats for avoiding a direct punishment of the crown prince himself.
Victims’ relatives welcomed the document’s release as a significant step in their effort to connect the attacks to Saudi Arabia.
Brett Eagleson, whose father Bruce was killed in the World Trade Centre attack, said the release of the FBI material “accelerates our pursuit of truth and justice”.
Jim Kreindler, a lawyer for the victims’ relatives, said in a statement that “the findings and conclusions in this FBI investigation validate the arguments we have made in the litigation regarding the Saudi government’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks”.
“This document, together with the public evidence gathered to date, provides a blueprint for how (al Qaida) operated inside the US with the active, knowing support of the Saudi government,” he said.
This included Saudi officials exchanging phone calls among themselves and al Qaida operatives and then having “accidental meetings” with the hijackers while providing them with assistance to get settled and find flight schools, he added.
There has been speculation about official involvement in the September 11 attacks since shortly after they happened, when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudis.
Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaida at the time, was from a prominent family in the kingdom.
The US investigated some Saudi diplomats and others with Saudi government ties who knew the hijackers after they arrived in America, according to documents that have already been declassified.
But the 9/11 Commission report in 2004 found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the attacks that al Qaida masterminded, although it noted that Saudi-linked charities could have diverted money to the group.