As the long-awaited civil trial of a lawsuit brought by families of Sept. 11 victims against the Saudi government, Saudi Arabia’s lawyers asked the US judge presiding over the case to throw out lawsuits claiming agents in the Saudi government helped al-Qaeda carry out the terror attacks in New York and Washington, arguing the victims haven’t provided any evidence to back their cases.
The Daily News reported that Attorney Michael Kellogg said lawyers for the Sept. 11 families have submitted 4,000 pages of materials as part of the suit accusing Saudi Arabia of providing material support to Al Qaeda ahead of the terror attacks.
"Conclusions, speculation, hearsay are not enough," Kellogg told US District Judge George Daniels at the hearing in Manhattan on Thursday.
"But there are no significant facts or evidence in the materials," Kellogg said.
The families of hundreds of victims who died during the attacks filed the landmark suit last March, six months after Congress passed a bill known as Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism, or JASTA. Thanks to the law, a federal appeals court in New York late last year revived part of a $1.68 billion lawsuit against Iran's central bank, Bank Markazi, by families of soldiers killed in the 1983 bombing of the US Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon.
The legislation, which was famously opposed by the Obama administration, opened the door for Americans to take legal action against countries that support terrorism.
However, Kellogg said the families seem to be taking the position that the law enabling their lawsuit provides all the cover they need to avoid it being quashed by a judge.
"The whole pitch seems to be JASTA itself is enough to see them over the line," Kellogg said.
Sean Carter, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, argued there’s extensive evidence that the Saudi rulers funded certain charities despite knowing that they funneled money to Al Qaeda. Of course, as we reported in July 2016, Congress released a long-classified report - the fabled “28 pages” - that was left out of the official 9/11 Commission report.
The secret documents were part of the 2002 congressional investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks. They had previously been classified since the report's completion. Democrats hailed the release as vindication for the Saudis, but some of their contents would suggest otherwise.
For example, the pages revealed that a telephone number found in the phone book of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, who was captured in Pakistan in March 2002, was for an Aspen, Colo., corporation that managed the "affairs of the Colorado residence of the Saudi Ambassador Bandar," the documents show.
Osama Bassnan, who the documents identify as a financial supporter of two of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego, received money from Bandar, and Bassnan's wife also got money from Bandar's wife. "One at least one occasion," the documents show, "Bassnan received a check directly from Prince Bandar's account. According to the FBI, on May 14, 1998, Bassnan cashed a check from Bandar in the amount of $15,000. Bassnan's wife also received at least one check directly from Bandar."
The top two members of the House Intelligence Committee - including Trump antagonist Adam Schiff - at the time cautioned that much of the information in the newly released pages were not "vetted conclusions."
Schiff said he hopes the newly released pages will reduce the continued speculation over Saudi involvement. "I hope that the release of these pages, with appropriate redactions necessary to protect our nation’s intelligence sources and methods, will diminish speculation that they contain proof of official Saudi Government or senior Saudi official involvement in the 9/11 attacks," Schiff said in a statement. "The Intelligence Community and the 9/11 Commission...investigated the questions they raised and was never able to find sufficient evidence to support them. I know that the release of these pages will not end debate over the issue, but it will quiet rumors over their contents — as is often the case, the reality is less damaging than the uncertainty."
Kellogg even pointed to the report, saying it conclusively showed the Saudi government was not involved with 9/11...
In making his case for the suit to be scrapped, Kellogg also pointed to the findings of the 9/11 Commission report, which he said cleared Saudi Arabia of funding the attacks.
The controversial report concluded that the panel “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually” supplied money to Al Qaeda. But it did say that unidentified wealthy Saudi sympathizers, as well as Saudi charities, helped to finance the terror group.
"The 9/11 commission report, including its conclusions, is legitimate evidence before this court," Kellogg said.
However, Sean Carter, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, cited a CIA report naming a Saudi-backed charity as one of the principal financiers for the terrorist network.
Carter, the lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, referenced a CIA report that he said named a Saudi-backed charity as a principal funder of a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.
"In the course leading up to 9/11, it was Saudi money that...allowed them to maintain an organization," Carter said.
The suit filed in March says Saudi Arabia assisted the 9/11 hijackers “through a network of the kingdom’s officers” and funneled money to terrorists for years through a number of charities.
The kingdom “actively supported Al Qaeda in its final preparations” for the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, the suit adds.