By Andrew C. McCarthy, NATIONAL REVIEW
For many years, I was reluctant to write a memoir of my experience leading the investigation and prosecution of the jihadists against whom we are still at war over 20 years later. For one thing, while an exhilarating experience for a trial lawyer, it was also a very hard time for my family, for obvious reasons. Also, with all the tough judgment calls we had to make, we inevitably made some mistakes — “we” very much including me. A triumphant outcome has a pleasant way of bleaching away any memory of errors; to write honestly about the case would mean revisiting them. Who needed that?
And about that triumph: I had, and have, a gnawing sense that we failed. Yes, the conviction of the Blind Sheikh and his henchmen was a great law-enforcement success. Throughout the long trial and in the years that followed, though, I came to appreciate that national security is principally about keeping Americans safe, not winning court cases. Sure, winning in this instance meant justice was done and some terrorists were incarcerated. How safe, though, had we really kept Americans?
For all the effort and expense, the number of jihadists neutralized was negligible compared to the overall threat. The attacks kept coming, as one might expect when one side detonates bombs and the other responds with subpoenas. As the years passed, the tally of casualties far outstripped that of convicted terrorists. When 9/11 finally happened, killing nearly 3,000 of our fellow Americans, al-Qaeda credited none other than the Blind Sheikh with issuing the fatwa — the sharia edict — that authorized the attack. We had imprisoned him, but we had not stopped him.
That is mainly why I finally wrote the memoir in 2008. I called it Willful Blindness . . . and not just because my infamous defendant was both blind and willful. American counterterrorism, even seven years after 9/11 (and fully 15 years after the jihadists declared war by bombing the World Trade Center), had bored its head ever deeper in the sand. It consciously avoided the central truths driving the terrorist threat against the United States.
The most significant of these is that violent jihadism is the inexorable result of the vibrancy in Islam of sharia supremacism — a scripturally-rooted summons to Muslims to strive for conquest over infidels until Allah’s law (sharia) is established everywhere on earth.
This ideology — also referred to as “Islamism,” “Islamic supremacism,” “radical Islam,” “political Islam,” and other descriptors that endeavor to distinguish it from Islam (and to imply that such a distinction should be drawn) — is not the only way of interpreting Islam. Indeed, it is rejected by millions of Muslims. The conquest for which it strives, moreover, is not necessarily to be achieved by violence. Sharia supremacism is, nevertheless, a mainstream interpretation of Islam. Inevitably, it leads some believers to carry out jihadist violence, and an even greater number of believers to support the jihadists’ objectives, if not their methods.
Since 1993, the bipartisan American ruling class, throughout administrations of both parties, has refused to acknowledge, much less grapple with, this central truth of the threat we face. It has insisted, against fact and reason, that Islam is a monolithic “religion of peace,” and therefore that there can be no causal connection between Islamic doctrine and terrorism committed by Muslims. It has fraudulently maintained that jihadist violence is not jihadist at all — after all, we are to understand jihad (notwithstanding its roots as a belligerent concept, as holy war to establish sharia) to be a noble internal struggle to become a better person, to vanquish corruption, and the like. Terrorist attacks must be airbrushed into “violent extremism,” shorn of any ideological component — as if the killing were wanton, not purposeful. The fact that the attacks are so ubiquitously committed by Muslims (who explicitly cite scriptural chapter and verse to justify themselves), is to be ignored — as if all religions and ideologies were equally prone to inspire mass-murder attacks if believed too fervently.
This deceit at the core of American counterterrorism efforts has led seamlessly to other frauds. Among the most grievous is this one: Saudi Arabia is a key counterterrorism ally of the United States.
This is why it is time — it is long, long past time — for the United States government to come clean with the American people, and with the families of Americans slaughtered on 9/11 by 19 jihadists, 15 of them Saudis. The government must disclose the 28 pages of the 2002 congressional report on the 9/11 attacks that it has shamefully withheld from the public for 14 years. Those pages outline Saudi complicity in the jihad.
It is nothing short of disgraceful that the Bush and Obama administrations, relying on the president’s constitutional authority over foreign intelligence and the conduct of foreign affairs, have concealed these materials. It is equally disgraceful that Congress has indulged this decision in the context of its own fact-finding exercise. This has been done under the pretense that the Saudi government is a stalwart counterterrorism ally of the United States — an absurd proposition that passes the laugh test only if one accepts the even more absurd premise that Islam has nothing to do with jihadist terrorism.
The Saudis are the world’s chief propagator of sharia supremacism, sharia being the law of the Sunni kingdom. In Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism, a literalist interpretation of Islam rooted in scripture dating back 1,400 years, is the dominant belief system. For decades, the House of Saud has played a double game with the West: 1) feigning moderation while promoting and internally enforcing this repressive fundamentalism, which brutally discriminates against women, non-Muslims, and Muslim minorities; 2) posturing as a staunch counterterrorism ally while exporting their ideology — and, when called on it, rationalizing either that their ideology does not catalyze jihadism, or that, even if it does, exporting it is necessary to ensure that jihadists do not seize control of the kingdom and its oil wealth — an outcome that, we are warned, would be far worse for the West.
Several Saudi connections to 9/11, as well as our government’s disturbing appearance of not wanting to know the depth of Saudi culpability, have been reported over the years. Let’s look at some of the main ones.
SARASOTA, FLA.: ABDULAZZIZ AL-HIJJI
In Sarasota, Fla., Abdulazziz al-Hijji, a well-connected Saudi oil executive, abandoned his home with his wife, Arnoud, and their small children in August 2001, just weeks before the attacks. They fled to Saudi Arabia. The departure was obviously abrupt: The family left behind three cars, furniture, jewelry, food, etc. The al-Hijji home on Escondito Circle was owned by Arnoud’s father, an adviser to Saudi Prince Fahd bin Salman, a nephew of then-King Fahd. (King Fahd died in 2005; Prince Fahd died in July 2001.)
A 2002 report pried from the FBI indicates that a member of the al-Hijji family attended Huffman Aviation, the same Venice, Fla., flight school as the 9/11 hijacker-pilots who attacked the Twin Towers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi. (A third hijacker, Ziad Jarrah, who piloted the plane that heroic passengers forced to crash in Pennsylvania, trained at a flight school a short distance away.) According to published reports, Escondito Circle security records indicate that cars connected to the hijackers were seen at the al-Hijji home. Moreover, Wissam Hammoud, a convicted felon and a friend of Abdulazziz al-Hijji’s, told the FBI that al-Hijji considered Osama bin Laden a hero, knew some of the 9/11 hijackers, and once introduced Hammoud to Adnan Shukrijuma — an al-Qaeda leader and Florida resident from Saudi Arabia who was killed by Pakistani special forces in 2014 (after being suspected by the FBI of planning major attacks in the U.S.).
Former Senator Bob Graham (D., Fla.) was co-chairman of the congressional inquiry whose section on Saudi Arabia has been withheld from the public. For years, he has been demanding its release. According to Graham, the FBI’s investigation of al-Hijji was not disclosed to either his committee or the 9/11 Commission. A decade after the 9/11 attacks, documents confirming the investigation were finally disclosed to Florida press outlets pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Major sections of the reports were redacted, with the government citing FOIA exemptions that relate to foreign policy, national security, and CIA operational files.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: FAHAD AL-THUMAIRY, OMAR AL-BAYOUMI, AND ANWAR AL-AWLAKI
As I explained in my 2010 book The Grand Jihad (and elaborated on in this PJ Media column), there are disturbing Saudi government fingerprints all over the journey Saudi hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar made between arriving in Southern California in early 2000 and plowing American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on 9/11.
Upon entering the United States, the pair frequented the King Fahd mosque in Los Angeles, whose sharia supremacist imam, Fahad al-Thumairi, just happened to be an accredited diplomat at the nearby Saudi consulate. As noted in David French’s Corner post earlier this week, telephone records connect Thumairy to Omar al-Bayoumi who, as former Senator Graham has observed, was known by our government to be a Saudi government agent.
I’ve previously recounted that Bayoumi
is a native Saudi who worked for years in the Kingdom’s defense ministry before moving to the U.S. in 1994. The defense ministry continued to pay him a salary while he held a series of no-show jobs in the San Diego area. For over a year prior to 9/11, he also received an extra stipend of approximately $3,000 per month from Princess Haifa bint Faisal, the [daughter of the late Saudi King Faisal and] wife of the [former] Saudi ambassador to the United States, Bandar bin Sultan. [Prince Bandar later became head of Saudi intelligence.] It was during those months that [Bayoumi] provided essential logistical support to Midhar and Hazmi.
On February 1, 2000, after briefly visiting the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, Bayoumi met the two eventual hijackers at a restaurant. Patently, it appears to have been a prearranged rendezvous — notwithstanding Bayoumi’s counter story: He just happened to drive up from San Diego that day to address a visa issue — with a government that was paying him [and at the consulate where Thumairy worked] — when, completely by chance, he ran into Midhar and Hazmi, struck up a fast friendship with the taciturn duo, and urged them to come live in his neighborhood.
The pair obviously needed a support network: they were strangers to the United States and spoke virtually no English. Within three days of meeting Bayoumi, they made it to the Islamic Center of San Diego. There, Bayoumi received them, quickly found them an apartment, co-signed their lease, helped them open a bank account (with money they’d received from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed), and facilitated the payment of their deposit to the real estate agent.
Like Abdulazziz al-Hijji, Bayoumi suddenly left the United States to return to Saudi Arabia in the weeks before the 9/11 attacks. By then, Midhar and Hazmi had moved on to Virginia, where they were in the frequent company of an al-Qaeda operative to whom Bayoumi had introduced them in San Diego, Anwar al-Awlaki.
FROM SAN DIEGO TO VIRGINIA TO RIYADH: ANWAR AL-AWLAKI
Awlaki was the imam of San Diego’s Rabat mosque (Masjid Al-Ribat al-Islami) when he met Midhar and Hazmi. As Paul Sperry has reported for the New York Post, despite his Yemeni lineage, Awlaki had important Saudi contacts of his own. He worked for the Saudi embassy as a tour guide for Hajj pilgrimages. At the mosque, as they prepared for their role in the suicide-hijackings, Midhar and Hazmi met regularly with Awlaki in a small anteroom on an upper floor.
As I’ve previously recounted:
Awlaki gravitated out of San Diego in mid-2000, finally landing in Virginia in early 2001. Not much is known of his whereabouts in the interim, although a report cited in his Wikipedia biography relates that, by his own account, he “travel[ed] overseas to various countries.” We do know that when he settled in Virginia, he was appointed imam at the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Falls Church — one of the most important Saudi-underwritten Muslim Brotherhood hubs in the United States.
The mosque was established in 1991, on real estate purchased by the North American Islamic Trust — a Brotherhood organization cited as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Justice Department’s Hamas terrorism-financing prosecution, the Holy Land Foundation case. The Islamic Affairs Department of the Saudi embassy in Washington chipped in towards the $6 million construction costs of the mosque complex. [I’ve profiled Dar al-Hijra in this National Review column.] . . .
Awlaki and Dar al-Hijra were a perfect fit. After he settled in, Hazmi and [9/11 hijacker Hani] Hanjour followed along from Mesa, Arizona — where Hanjour had taken a refresher course in piloting aircraft. With Awlaki’s intercession, the mosque helped the soon-to-be suicide-hijackers find housing. Bank records show that Hanjour had his utility deposit transferred from his former residence to Dar al-Hijra. After the 9/11 atrocities, the mosque’s fax number was found in the Hamburg apartment of Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohamed Atta, bin al-Shibh was among the principal 9/11 plotters.
Coincidentally, during these same early months of 2001, while Awlaki was meeting with the 9/11 jihadists, he also struck up a friendship with the eventual Fort Hood jihadist, Nidal Hasan. After Awlaki presided over the funeral of Hasan’s mother, the two began a years-long relationship, mainly conducted by email. It turns out that, prior to the Fort Hood massacre, those communications were known to the FBI and the Defense Department. They were dismissed as insignificant, despite mounds of evidence about Awlaki and Hasan’s unabashed allegiance to Islamic supremacism.
In August 2001, Awlaki made a quick trip back to San Diego to pick up a few things he’d left behind. He stopped to bid farewell to a former neighbor, Lincoln Higgie. As Higgie recalled the encounter for the New York Times, he urged Awlaki, of whom he’d grown fond, to stop by and visit whenever he came to town. Awlaki, however, pregnantly replied, “I don’t think you’ll be seeing me. I won’t be coming back to San Diego again. Later on, you’ll find out why.”
After his fellow fundamentalists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, Awlaki was interrogated by the FBI several times and made patently false statements minimizing his acquaintance with them. Yet, he was somehow allowed to leave the United States in March 2002. The investigators who believed he was complicit in the 9/11 plot were overruled by other agents who rationalized that his contacts with the hijackers and other radicals on both coasts were (as the New York Times put it) “random, the inevitable consequence of living in the small world of Islam in America.”
Sometime after leaving the country, Awlaki made his way to Saudi Arabia. In the meantime, the Justice Department developed a passport-fraud case against him and an arrest warrant was issued. As I’ve outlined here, Awlaki was thus placed under arrest when he arrived at JFK International Airport in New York on October 10, 2002, on a flight from Riyadh. Remarkably, the Justice Department intervened to direct that he be un-arrested and allowed to enter freely . . . in the company of the Saudi government representative who was conveniently on hand to assist him.
For years, our government implausibly claimed that the arrest warrant had been vacated because the case was weak. Subsequently, FBI and Justice Department officials fessed up to Congress that the government knew Awlaki was returning to the United States ahead of time, and that the warrant for his arrest had not been vacated when he arrived — the decision was mysteriously made to allow him to go free, in the custody of his Saudi handler.
Awlaki was never apprehended in the U.S. again — he was permitted to leave the country and eventually holed up with al-Qaeda in Yemen. Besides egging on Hasan, the Fort Hood jihadist who killed 13 soldiers in November 2009, Awlaki is also believed to have been complicit in the unsuccessful attempt by Umar Abdulmutallab to blow up a plane over Detroit just a month later, on Christmas Day. When he was finally killed in Yemen by U.S. forces a decade after 9/11, he was reportedly a suspect in some 29 terrorism cases.
VIRGINIA: ABDULLAH AWAD BIN LADEN AND SALEH HUSSAYEN
In 1972, in cooperation with the Saudi government, the Muslim Brotherhood established the World Assembly of Muslim Youth in Riyadh. WAMY’s stated purpose was to “arm the Muslim youth with full confidence in the supremacy of the Islamic system over other systems.” It grew into the world’s largest Muslim youth organization, operating in over 60 countries.
As I outlined in The Grand Jihad, WAMY is intolerant of non-Muslims, supportive of violent jihad, and boldly anti-Semitic. It has been banned in Pakistan, where it shared office space with the Benevolence International Fund, an al-Qaeda charitable front founded by Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. WAMY has also been accused by the governments of India and the Philippines of abetting terrorism.
WAMY has always been intimately connected to the Saudi regime. For example, a past WAMY president later became the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs. No doubt owing to Saudi pressure, our government has never designated WAMY as a terror facilitator, but the U.S. military considers ties to that organization sufficient reason to continue to detain enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay. WAMY’s Virginia office was also raided by the FBI in 2004, though no charges were ever filed.
That Virginia office of WAMY was founded by none other than Abdullah Awad bin Laden, the nephew of al-Qaeda’s late emir, Osama bin Laden. The office is just three blocks from where hijackers Hanjour and Hazmi were staying in the summer of 2001, while they were meeting frequently at Dar al-Hijra with Alwlaki.
On the night before the 9/11 attacks, those two hijackers, joined by a third, Midhar, checked into the Marriott Residence Inn near Dulles Airport. That same day, Saleh Hussayen, a Saudi government official then touring the U.S. offices of WAMY and other Saudi concerns, left a different hotel in which he was staying and, for reasons that have never been explained, checked into the very same Residence Inn.
Coincidence? Well, after the three hijackers attacked the Pentagon, the FBI tried to interview Hussayen. But, as an FBI agent later testified, Hussayen “feigned a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians found nothing wrong with him.” Though the agent wanted Hussayen to be barred from fleeing the U.S. until she could conduct the interview, higher-ups rebuffed her recommendation. Hussayen was allowed to return to Saudi Arabia.
He is not the only one. Abdullah Awad bin Laden and his brother Omar, who shared a Falls Church home, were among several prominent Saudis — including several other bin Laden family members — whom our government permitted to be whisked out of the United States in the hectic days immediately following 9/11. At the time they scurried out, before anything resembling a competent investigation of potential terror ties could have been carried out, the skies were still closed to American travelers.
Upon returning home, Hussayen was promoted to Saudi government minister overseeing the grand mosques at Mecca and Medina. Meanwhile back in the United States, Hussayen’s nephew, a computer scientist named Sami Omar Hussayen, was indicted for material support to terrorism based on his administration of a website that expressly advocated suicide bombing and the use of planes as weapons. Sami Hussayen was acquitted — while he had clearly lent his skills to the jihadist cyber endeavor, a jury elected not to hold him responsible for the posted content.
* * *
Washington’s bipartisan insistence that the Saudi regime is a vital counterterrorism ally of the United States is a delusional byproduct of its willful blindness to sharia supremacism — the ideological driver of violent jihadism and the oil-rich kingdom’s most consequential export.
The point of the post-9/11 investigations was to hold every culpable actor and negligent government agency accountable. No American citizen or government official, not even the sitting president, was spared. It is time for Washington to stop running interference for the Saudis while the Saudis run interference for the jihadists. At long last, let’s see the 28 pages.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow