Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi student who met the first two Al-Qaeda hijackers in Los Angeles in 2000, has had his original role and narrative regarding 9/11 retold by the FBI.
This revelation has become a significant point of contention in a federal lawsuit filed in New York by 9/11 survivors and relatives of the 2,977 victims. The Saudi government has consistently denied any involvement in the 9/11 attacks, but the Bayoumi data has revised a vital element of the story of the Qaeda plotters’ initial foray into the United States.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 plot’s mastermind, has repeatedly said that the hijackers had no accomplices in the United States. Both Saudi intelligence and the CIA had prior knowledge that Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, the first two hijackers, were active in al-Qaeda.
When they landed in Culver City, California, they were ill-prepared to establish a life for themselves. The King Fahad Mosque was a hub for religious agents working for the Saudi government to spread the kingdom’s fundamentalist Wahhabi faith across the United States. The FBI launched a new investigation, “Operation Encore,” to learn more about the links between the mosque and the hijackers.
In 1998, the FBI and CIA looked into the possible involvement of a trusted Los Angeles parishioner, Mohammed Johar. After hearing Hazmi and Mihdhar speak Arabic with a Gulfi accent, Bayoumi said he decided to stop by for lunch and introduce himself. He helped them move into an apartment in his building, helped them open a bank account, and loaned them $1,558 for the first month’s rent and security deposit.
In 2004, an FBI agent testified to the 9/11 Commission that Bayoumi and the hijackers seemed to meet by chance, though the Encore investigation team disagreed. The agents’ findings were confirmed by a more in-depth FBI report declassified last year.
As a co-opted member of the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (GIP), Bayoumi received a monthly payment beginning in 1998 and continuing until the 9/11 attacks. To satisfy specific GIP intelligence requirements, he investigated issues and gathered intelligence on people interested in the Los Angeles and San Diego Saudi communities.
When asked about the voluminous claims made in the FBI documents, neither the Saudi Embassy nor Saudi government attorneys responded.
While the Bayoumi leaks and others have been embarrassing for the Saudi government, it is still not apparent why the US government has been so secretive about the 9/11 investigation. In September 2021, President Joe Biden signed an order to release some previously kept documents. According to speculation from former FBI investigators, Bayoumi may have been recruited by US or Saudi intelligence to approach the hijackers.
Although the CIA has consistently denied facilitating the hijackers’ entry into the United States as part of a failed recruitment campaign, this explanation does not account for the agency’s apparent indifference to Hazmi and Mihdhar’s whereabouts or Bayoumi’s ambivalent attitude toward them.
According to the Saudi authorities, the plaintiffs’ requests to resume discovery are “more of the same.” The Saudi government has filed a motion asking the court to throw out the case, and those arguments will also be heard.