Two dozen Saudi Arabian officials, including members of the royal family, may have to testify about their knowledge of the events leading up to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A federal judge ordered 24 current and former Saudi officials to be available for depositions for a lawsuit brought by family members who lost loved ones during the 9/11 attacks.
What are the details?
Federal Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn in New York unveiled the ruling on Thursday, the eve of the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. The judge ordered Saudi officials to testify and reveal what they knew before the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. Judge Netburn said that Saudi Arabia officials must provide depositions and were not protected by diplomatic immunity.
The judge asked that members of the royal family testify, including Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was a former intelligence chief in Saudi Arabia and was the kingdom's ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005.
Judge Netburn wants Bandar to testify because of his possible ties with Fahad al-Thumairy, a Saudi consular official based in Los Angeles and the imam of the King Fahd Mosque in Los Angeles.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, al-Thumairy was "reputed to be an Islamic fundamentalist and a strict adherent to orthodox Wahhabi doctrine" and "appears to have associated with a particularly radical faction within the community of local worshippers, and had a network of contacts in other cities in the United States."
He also reportedly had associations with 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.
Judge Netburn noted that court documents obtained during the course of discovery "indicates that Prince Bandar likely has firsthand knowledge … [of] the role that al-Thumairy was assigned by the kingdom and the diplomatic cover" provided to him, as reported in Yahoo News.
Judge Netburn also called for Bandar's longtime chief of staff, Ahmed al-Qattan, to testify. Court documents show that al-Qattan "likely has unique firsthand knowledge of al-Jarrah and al-Thumairy's relevant pre-9/11 activity and any post-9/11 ratification of their conduct."
Mussaed Ahmed al-Jarrah was a foreign ministry official within the Saudi Embassy, who oversaw the activities of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Until last year, al-Jarrah worked in the Saudi Embassy in Morocco. In May, the FBI accidentally revealed al-Jarrah's name as the Saudi official suspected of directing "crucial support" to two al-Qaeda hijackers involved in the 9/11 terror attacks.
Saleh bin Abdulaziz, who served as Minister of Islamic Affairs at the time of the attacks and still works for the Saudi government, was also asked to be available for depositions.
Some family members of Sept. 11 victims claim that Saudi officials were complicit with al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden before the commercial airliner attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks, 15 were Saudi citizens. The families are seeking billions of dollars in damages. The Saudi government has denied involvement in the terrorist attacks.
"This is the most important thing to happen other than JASTA being passed letting us sue Saudi Arabia," the plaintiffs' attorney, James Kreindler, said on Friday.
"We now get a chance to move up the totem pole of Saudi officials," Kreindler stated. "We can begin unraveling the entire plot of Saudi officials working with al-Qaeda commit mass murder. We can start uncovering what they know."
"We want to do discovery into everything Saudi officials did in the United States," he said.
Kreindler said he hopes depositions begin "as soon as possible," preferably starting within "weeks or months, not years."
"This is a game changer," said Brett Eagleson, whose father was killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers and is a spokesperson for the families involved in the 9/11 lawsuit. "This is the most significant ruling we've had to date in this lawsuit. And to have this on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, you couldn't script this any better. The families are elated."
Michael Kellogg, an attorney for Saudi Arabia, declined to comment on Friday, according to the Washington Post.