The Trump administration has decided to declassify a key name long sought by relatives of 9/11 victims who are suing Saudi Arabia over allegations of that country’s involvement, but declined to release the name publicly.
The name of the individual, which the 9/11 families believe may support their allegation of Saudi involvement in the terror attacks, will be disclosed to the plaintiff’s lawyers under a protective order. The order makes it illegal for those attorneys to release the name to the public, meaning the identity of the individual will remain a secret — at least for now.
NBC News reported that the decision by the FBI and the Justice Department on Thursday was a partial victory for the 9/11 families, who have been fighting in court to compel the Trump administration to hand over the name.
Terry Strada, who chairs the group 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, called it “a good result.”
“The families are dedicated to getting to the truth, and we shouldn’t have to beg for this sort of basic information, or be kept in the dark, about the Saudi role in the attacks,” Strada said in a statement.
The long-awaited decision involved whether to disclose the name of a person who allegedly directed two men in California who assisted hijackers in the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 families and their lawyers believe the person may be a Saudi official, but the name was redacted when a 2012 summary of the FBI’s inquiry into the matter was previously released.
But the decision pitted President Donald Trump’s efforts to show he’s seeking justice for 9/11 victims against his desire to maintain close ties with Saudi Arabia, already strained in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents last year. Trump has worked to preserve the relationship with the Saudis despite widespread criticism in Congress of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s leadership.
Although 15 of the 19 attackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudi citizens and mastermind Osama bin Laden was born there, Saudi Arabia’s government has long denied involvement in 9/11. The 9/11 Commission that investigated the attacks found it likely that Saudi government-funded charities did fund the attacks but did not find evidence that the government or senior Saudi officials were involved.
The lawsuit against Saudi Arabia was enabled by a 2016 law called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act that allowed for a civil suit against a foreign state if it supports international terrorism against Americans or their property. Former President Barack Obama vetoed the law, warning it could create a precedent for the U.S. or its officials to be sued in foreign courts, but Congress voted to override his veto.