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Context of 'September 20, 2001: Not All Passengers on ‘Bin Laden Flight’ Are Properly Interviewed or Accounted For'

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Khalil bin Laden at the Orlando, Florida, airport, about to be flown out of the country in the days after 9/11.Khalil bin Laden at the Orlando, Florida, airport, about to be flown out of the country in the days after 9/11. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Following a secret flight inside the US that is in violation of a national private airplane flight ban, members of the bin Laden family and Saudi royalty quietly depart the US. The flights are only publicly acknowledged after all the Saudis have left. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New York Times, 9/30/2001] About 140 Saudis, including around 24 members of the bin Laden family, are passengers in these flights. The identities of most of these passengers are not known. However, some of the passengers include:
bullet The son of the Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. Sultan is sued in August 2002 for alleged complicity in the 9/11 plot. [Tampa Tribune, 10/5/2001] He is alleged to have contributed at least $6 million since 1994 to four charities that finance al-Qaeda. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
bullet Khalil bin Laden. He has been investigated by the Brazilian government for possible terrorist connections. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
bullet Abdullah bin Laden and Omar bin Laden, cousins of bin Laden. Abdullah was the US director of the Muslim charity World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). The governments of India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Bosnia have all accused WAMY of funding terrorism. These two relatives were investigated by the FBI in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996) in a case involving espionage, murder, and national security. Their case is reopened on September 19, right after they leave the country. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Remarkably, four of the 9/11 hijackers briefly lived in the town of Falls Church, Virginia, three blocks from the WAMY office headed by Abdullah bin Laden. [BBC, 11/6/2001]
bullet Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. He is a prominent Saudi official who was in the same hotel as three of the hijackers the night before 9/11. He leaves on one of the first flights to Saudi Arabia before the FBI can properly interview him about this. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003]
bullet Akberali Moawalla. A Pakistani and business partner of Osama’s brother Yeslam bin Laden. In 2000, a transfer of over $250 million was made from a bank account belonging jointly to Moawalla and Osama bin Laden (see 2000). [Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
There is a later dispute regarding how thoroughly the Saudis are interviewed before they leave and who approves the flights. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says he agrees to the flights after the FBI assures him none of those on board has connections to terrorism and that it is “a conscious decision with complete review at the highest levels of the State Department and the FBI and the White House.” [US Congress, 9/3/2003] Clarke says the decision to approve the flights “didn’t get any higher than me.” [Hill, 5/18/2004] According to Vanity Fair, both the FBI and the State Department “deny playing any role whatsoever in the episode.” However, Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, says the Saudis on the planes “[are] identified, but they [are] not subject to serious interviews or interrogations” before they leave. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] An FBI spokesperson says the bin Laden relatives are only interviewed by the FBI “at the airport, as they [are] about to leave.” [National Review, 9/11/2002] There are claims that some passengers are not interviewed by the FBI at all. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Abdullah bin Laden, who stays in the US, says that even a month after 9/11, his only contact with the FBI is a brief phone call. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New Yorker, 11/5/2001] The FBI official responsible for coordinating with Clarke is Assistant Director Michael Rolince, who is in charge of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section and assumes responsibility for the Saudi flights. Rolince decides that the Saudis can leave after their faces are matched to their passport photos and their names are run through various databases, including some watch lists, to check the FBI has no derogatory information about them.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 196-197, 209 pdf file] Numerous experts are surprised that the bin Ladens are not interviewed more extensively before leaving, pointing out that interviewing the relatives of suspects is standard investigative procedure. [National Review, 9/11/2002; Vanity Fair, 10/2003] MSNBC claims that “members of the Saudi royal family met frequently with bin Laden—both before and after 9/11” [MSNBC, 9/5/2003] , and many Saudi royals and bin Laden relatives are being sued for their alleged role in 9/11. The Boston Globe opines that the flights occur “too soon after 9/11 for the FBI even to know what questions to ask, much less to decide conclusively that each Saudi [royal] and bin Laden relative [deserve] an ‘all clear,’ never to be available for questions again.” [Boston Globe, 9/30/2003] Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of the secret flights: “This is just another example of our country coddling the Saudis and giving them special privileges that others would never get. It’s almost as if we didn’t want to find out what links existed.” [New York Times, 9/4/2003] Judicial Watch will disclose FBI documents that say, “Osama bin Laden may have chartered one of the Saudi flights.” [Judicial Watch, 6/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Omar bin Laden, Bin Laden Family, Dale Watson, Charles Schumer, Michael Rolince, Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Osama bin Laden, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, US Department of State, Khalil bin Laden, Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A private plane picks up Saudis who have gathered in Boston and flies them to Paris, then ultimately to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Because most of the passengers on board are relatives of Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 Commission calls this the “so-called bin Laden flight.” The commission claims there are 26 passengers on board, three of them security personnel. They further report that “22 of the 26… were interviewed by the FBI. Many were asked detailed questions.” However, the commission does not answer how many were not asked detailed questions, or were not questioned at all. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 557] However, Craig Unger, author of the book House of Bush, House of Saud, publishes the flight manifest during the same week as the 9/11 Commission’s final report is released, and this list contains 29 names (including the three security personnel), not 26. [Craig Unger website, 7/22/2004] The 2005 book Al-Qaeda Will Conquer by Guillaume Dasquié also makes note of this three-person discrepancy. [Financial Times, 4/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bin Laden Family, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Joe Webber.Joe Webber. [Source: US Customs]Joe Webber, running the Houston office of the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, starts investigating a man believed to be raising money for Islamic militants. The suspect is in direct contact with people who are known to be associated with Osama bin Laden. Webber has good cooperation with the local FBI office, federal prosecutors in Houston, and Justice Department officials in Washington. However, he claims that FBI headquarters officials tell him point blank that he will not be allowed to conduct his investigation. After many months of delays from the FBI, friends from within the bureau tell him that headquarters will not allow the investigation to proceed because it is being run by Customs and not by the FBI. Webber is so upset that he eventually becomes a whistleblower. Sen. Charles Grassley and other politicians support his case and say there are other instances where the FBI impedes investigations because of turf battles. Asked if the FBI would put a turf battle above national security, Webber says, “That’s absolutely my impression. You would think, in a post-9/11 environment, that an event like that wouldn’t occur. But it did.” [MSNBC, 6/3/2005]

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, Joe Webber, Charles Grassley, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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