But the most striking similarity of the two attacks was the relationship between the attackers and the Saudi ruling elite. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, shared a close relationship with the Saudi monarchy, mainly because of his father Mohammed bin Laden’s business in constructing and restoring mosques in Mecca and throughout Saudi Arabia. Until his death in a 1967 plane crash, the senior bin Laden enjoyed a close friendship with the Saudi king; his sons, including Osama bin Laden, inherited that relationship.
Based on several media accounts, the team of 15 Saudis arrived in Turkey aboard jets owned by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (known as MbS). Several members of the team allegedly provided personal security for MbS and are said to have been directed by MbS’s closest lieutenants, including adviser Saud al-Qahtani and Saudi deputy intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri.
Although the links between the Saudi military and government in the Khashoggi killing appear to evident, the links between Saudi government officials and the 9/11 attacks remain somewhat murky. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. In a 2017 investigation, Politico documented one lawyer’s quest to prove Saudi Arabia bankrolled the 9/11 attacks. New York attorney Jim Kreindler, who represents the families of more than 800 victims of the attacks believes the terrorists had help from the Saudi government.
He is not alone in this opinion. Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), co-chair of Congress’s 9/11 Joint Inquiry, is on record stating, “I’ve stopped calling what our government has done a cover-up. Cover-up suggests a passive activity. What they’re doing now I call aggressive deception.”
Graham further notes, “I came to the conclusion that there was a support network by trying to assess how the 19 hijackers could pull it off with their significant limitations. Most couldn’t speak English, most had never been in the United States, and most were not well educated. How could they carry out such a complex task?”
This story begins with a group offering vets free trips (funded by the Saudis) to the capital in order to lobby lawmakers in late 2016. The target of their ire was the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government. It became law in September of 2016 when Congress overrode Barack Obama’s veto and the Saudi lobbying effort began shortly thereafter.
The vets, who were told that the bill would allow other countries to charge U.S. troops for crimes committed overseas, stayed in two non-Trump hotels on their first trips to Washington. But then the organizer found an opening at Trump’s lavish spot in downtown D.C. Michael Gibson, who helped run the trips on behalf of the Saudis, said this had nothing to do with the regime’s trying to curry favor with a new U.S. president. He also said the rooms, which averaged $768 a night at the time, were provided at a discount.
Let’s face it, this has been going on for years. But now, the press is actually talking about it
This tells us a few things. First, the CIA must be sure it has powerful evidence of the prince’s alleged responsibility — tapes and phone intercepts included. Second, the agency must believe that MBS isn’t essential to American security interests in the region. Had the spies agreed with the president’s assessment, it is unlikely they would have leaked their conclusion of MBS’s guilt. This is significant because the CIA works closely with its Saudi counterparts, and would not have made such a determination lightly. And third, the CIA is determined not to be involved in a shabby cover-up.
Despite its alleged complicity in the 9/11 attacks, a long history of supporting radical Islamist groups, one of the world’s worst human rights records, and the prosecution of a savage war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia—up until now—has largely escaped censure by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington.
In fact, politicians from both parties have implausibly lauded Saudi Arabia as one of Washington’s most important allies. However, the Trump administration appeared to have taken this obsequious approach to the House of Saud to a new level. He and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have lavished praise on Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, often referred to as MbS. In his speech to the United Nations in September, Trump singled out the Saudi king and crown prince citing their “bold new reforms.” The president has hardly been alone. For much of the last three years, the crown prince has been able to count on a devoted fan club that includes prominent columnists, philanthropists, and titans of industry.
The 1973 oil embargo was a major rough patch. For a year, the Saudis quit selling to the U.S. in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War. But the two countries made up, united in opposition to the Soviet Union. Even the 9/11 attacks couldn’t loosen the bond. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were Saudi nationals, and U.S. public opinion turned strongly against the kingdom after Saudi citizens were allowed to leave the U.S. right after the attack — before the FBI could interview them. But President George W. Bush, whose family had long-standing Saudi business relationships, stood by the alliance, and in 2005, he was photographed holding hands with then–Crown Prince Abdullah. In the decade after 9/11, the Saudis spent more than $100 million on public relations in the U.S., trying to overcome the country’s image as an exporter of terrorism.
Is that image true?
Yes. Decades ago, the Saudi monarchy made a tacit bargain with radical Islamists in the country: It would fund the spread of Wahhabism, the Saudi form of ultraconservative Islam, and jihadism around the world, as long as the radicals didn’t blow up targets inside Saudi Arabia. Saudi money funded Islamist militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, and the Russian province of Chechnya. After 9/11, Saudi officials claimed to have turned off the money spigot. But secret U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks in 2009 said Saudi Arabia “remains a critical financial support base” for al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, giving them “millions of dollars annually.”
What about human rights?
With its draconian form of sharia law, Saudi Arabia’s autocratic government is consistently rated among “the worst of the worst” human rights offenders. Its gender apartheid system treats women as second-class citizens — shrouded in abayas, dependent on male guardians, and mostly barred from going out alone and from any form of public life. There’s no freedom of religion, and the press is censored. Brutal, public floggings and stonings are the penalty for such crimes as adultery and apostasy. Those arrested are routinely tortured to extract confessions. Last year, Saudi Arabia put to death 146 people for crimes including murder and drug dealing; most of the executions were beheadings.
What’s in it for the U.S.?
For the average US citizen, we ‘benefit’ by being soft targets for Saudi-supported groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS. But our 1% benefits a lot from Saudi bribes.
The Saudi-backed coalition, which receives U.S. support, has been working alongside al-Qaeda militants as it fights the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Associated Press reports.
Why it matters: Fighting al-Qaeda has been a primary goal of the U.S. military in Yemen, which faces what has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But according to the AP, the military has looked the other way in some instances as deals were made with al-Qaeda fighters to clear out certain areas in the country.
The U.S. is aligned with the the Saudi-backed coalition in eliminating fighters from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — “the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks.”
At the same time, the coalition is fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Per the AP, AQAP is “effectively on the same side” as the coalition in their fight against the rebels, and by extension on the same side as the U.S.
Al-Qaeda militants have been paid off to evacuate certain areas that were being targeted by the coalition, the AP reports.
In one instance, al-Qaeda fighters left major port city Mukalla after being “guaranteed a safe route and allowed to keep weapons and cash looted from the city.”
Another deal allowed militants to leave six towns in the Abyan region; they were assured that the coalition and U.S. would “cease all bombings as AQAP pulled out with its weapons,” five tribal mediators involved in the negotiations told the AP.
Indeed, any rational examination of MBS’s policies might lead both Israel and the Trump administration to conclude that, far from being crucial to the containment of Iran, Prince Mohammed has undermined that effort. The war in Yemen and the blockade of Qatar, both his initiatives, have divided the Arab world, draining military and political resources, just when unity against the Iranian threat is most important. And the Khashoggi murder, as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pointed out in Manama last month, has undermined regional stability.
Saudis who are angry at The Washington Post’s coverage of the kingdom in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder are calling for a boycott of Amazon.com Inc. because of its shared ownership by U.S. billionaire Jeff Bezos.
“Boycott Amazon” was the top trending hashtag on Twitter in Saudi Arabia for several hours on Sunday, as users circulated images showing the deletion of the Amazon smartphone app. They also called for a boycott of regional subsidiary Souq.com, acquired by Amazon last year. Neither Amazon nor The Washington Post were immediately available for comment
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly shocked over the backlash to his government’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. In a recent phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, according to the Wall Street Journal, his confusion over official Washington’s furor “turned into rage,” as he spoke of feeling “betrayed by the West” and threatened to “look elsewhere” for foreign partners.
Saudi Arabia’s indignation at the United States would not be the first time an autocratic U.S. ally in the Middle East has assumed it could act with virtual impunity due to its alignment with Washington in countering Iran. Indeed, the Saudi prince’s meteoric rise to power bears striking similarities to that of a past U.S. ally-turned-nemesis whose brutality was initially overlooked by his Washington patrons: former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.