It’s been nearly 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, yet the revelations and controversy surrounding them continue.
On Tuesday, former Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Indiana), who was also a member of the 9/11 Commission, called for the release of the infamous 28 pages of the initial congressional 9/11 investigation known as the Joint Inquiry that have never been made public. The pages are thought to deal with suspected Saudi government connections to the hijackers.
Roemer isn’t alone, as former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Florida) and former Rep. Porter Goss (R-Florida), who chaired the Joint Inquiry, have also called for the pages to be released, as did former 9/11 Commission member John Lehman earlier this month.
At a House Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) asked four panelists to raise their hands if they believed Saudi Arabia had no prior knowledge of a major terrorist plot before the attacks happened. Two panel members, Roemer and Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, did not raise their hands. Roemer said the question was too difficult to answer by simply raising or not raising his hand.
Rohrabacher interrupted Roemer to say that, for him, it wasn’t a difficult question to answer.
“Within four months before 9/11 I was tipped off by a very high ranking Taliban, who happened to work with me in Afghanistan when we were fighting the Soviets, that there was going to be- that there was a plot going on and what do you think about this ongoing plot,” Rohrabacher said.
“When I sent that information over that I had been tipped off, they did not follow through on it,” he said. “I wonder why?”
Of the 19 hijackers involved in the September 11 plot, fifteen were Saudi Arabian citizens. Of those, two who spent time in Southern California, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, are of particular interest, as are some of their associates with ties to the Saudi government.
From Roemer’s perspective, unanswered questions remain regarding the role of Fahad al-Thumairy, a former Saudi diplomat and imam who was living in the Los Angeles area prior to the attacks and had contact with the two hijackers, the Associated Press reported in April. Roemer also reportedly has concerns about Omar al-Bayoumi, “who was strongly suspected of being a Saudi spy and was alleged to have been helpful to the hijackers.”
Within days of the AP story’s appearance, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, chair and vice chair of the 9/11 Commission, respectively, published an editorial defending their original findings. “Only one employee of the Saudi government mentioned in the 28 pages, Fahad al-Thumairy, was implicated in our plot investigation,” Kean and Hamilton write.
“He was employed by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs and was an imam at a mosque in Los Angeles,” they continue. “The earlier congressional panel did not interview him or any other Saudi. Our staff did interview him in Saudi Arabia. So did the FBI. But, ultimately, we acknowledged in our report that we had ‘found no evidence’ that he assisted the two future hijackers who passed through Los Angeles.”
Be that as it may, Philip Shenon in the Guardian earlier this month described al-Thumairy’s interrogation in Saudi Arabia by U.S. officials:
“At first, the witness, 32-year-old Fahad al-Thumairy, dressed in traditional white robes and headdress, answered the questions calmly, his hands folded in front of him. But when the interrogation became confrontational, he began to squirm, literally, pushing himself back and forth in the chair, folding and unfolding his arms, as he was pressed about his ties to two Saudi hijackers who had lived in southern California before 9/11.
Even as he continued to deny any link to terrorists, Thumairy became angry and began to sputter when confronted with evidence of his 21 phone calls with another Saudi in the hijackers’ support network – a man Thumairy had once claimed to be a stranger. (…)
The questions became especially difficult for Thumairy as he kept insisting that he did not know many of the others Saudis in southern California who had been linked to the two hijackers, including Bayoumi, despite phone logs and other records showing he had been in contact with Bayoumi dozens of times. He was presented with a statement from a witness, another Saudi cleric in Los Angeles, who recalled often seeing Thumairy and Bayoumi meeting at the southern California mosque. Presented with the evidence, Thumairy became agitated.”
Part of the argument for releasing the 28 pages of the 2002 report, and why the calls for their release have been increasing, is that it’s thought that the information in the pages, which Kean and Hamilton describe as “comparable to preliminary law enforcement notes,” is essentially duplicated in another document that was quietly released by the National Archives last year, but which which received little media attention until the website 28pages.org pointed out its significance last month.
Indeed, the document in question not only discusses al-Bayoumi and al-Thumairy, but numerous other persons of interest in the early 9/11 investigation. Among these is a mysterious informant. Though this person’s relationship to the hijackers had been disclosed in 2002, their identity has not been revealed, even in this new document. Their codename, however, has:
“Two September 11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, resided in San Diego with an FBI informant codenamed ‘Muppet,'” the document states. “A third hijacker may also have visited Muppet’s residence. The FBI agent handling ‘Muppet’ prior to the attacks was aware that Muppet had two Saudi roommates named ‘Nawaf’ and ‘Khalid,’ but did not know their complete identities until after the attacks. The FBI has investigated Muppet and has concluded that he did not have advance knowledge of the attacks.”
Although it was previously revealed that the FBI handler for “Muppet” knew the first names of the informant’s roommates, this was specifically reported as not being the case when the informant’s contacts with the hijackers first came to light in 2002:
“In September 2000, (al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar) moved into the home of a Muslim man who had befriended them at the local Islamic Center. The landlord regularly prayed with them and even helped one open a bank account. He was also, sources tell NEWSWEEK, a ‘tested’ undercover ‘asset’ who had been working closely with the FBI office in San Diego on terrorism cases related to Hamas. A senior law-enforcement official told NEWSWEEK the informant never provided the bureau with the names of his two houseguests from Saudi Arabia.”
While we now know that both “Muppet” and his handler knew the names of two of the hijackers, it appears that Muppet’s real name, as well as what he was up to, will remain a mystery, at least for now.
“The FBI acknowledges that some questions remain with regard to Muppet’s credibility, but does not believe that the remaining issues reflect on the central issue of whether he was aware of the hijackers’ plans or intentions,” according to the document. “The Joint Inquiry was not able to interview or depose Muppet to address these issues.”