A US federal judge issued a court order on Thursday addressed to the Saudi government, requiring access to 24 current and former Saudi officials to provide statements about their potential knowledge of relevant information regarding the 11 September 2001 attacks, killing nearly 3,000 US citizens.
The most-wanted person to appear before the US court is Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the US, who has been very close to decision-making circles in Washington, according to US Yahoo News on Friday.
The families of the 11 September victims immediately welcomed the court order and considered it an important step after the efforts they have been undertaking for many years to prove that some Saudi officials were either complicit in the attacks, or knew that the kingdom had been supporting some of the bombers during the months before the attacks.
Brett Eagleson, whose father was killed in the attacks and who is currently the spokesperson for the families of the victims, regarding the decision rendered by Federal Judge Sarah Netburn, stated: "This judicial decision is a turning point in the advancement of the case, because it is the most important judgment we have obtained so far in this case, especially that precedes the day of commemoration of the events of 9/11."
According to the news site: "The execution of the judgment depends on the will of the Saudi government, which has the choice to allow its citizens to testify, particularly since the order issued includes high-ranking personalities who no longer hold official positions and therefore cannot be compelled to testify."
However, any explicit challenge to the court's decision by the Saudis, or any rejection of the convocation, could exacerbate the already tense relations following the assassination of Saudi journalist of The Washington PostJamal Khashoggi, in 2018. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concluded that his murder was most likely the result of orders from Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The news site also noted that: "The case is considerably full of risks, especially for Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, as he is a member of the Saudi royal family who has had close relations with senior US government officials for many years – to the extent that he was called 'Bandar Bush' because of his close ties to the family of former US President Bush. Besides, his daughter Princess Rima Bint Bandar Al-Saud is the current Saudi ambassador to Washington."
The lawyer representing the Saudi party in the case did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday and no evidence emerged in the case that Bandar had personal knowledge of those who carried out the attack.
However, Bandar, during his long tenure in Washington which lasted from 1983 to 2005, supervised a large number of embassy staff. Some of them, particularly those who were charged with Islamic affairs, were identified in documents recently revealed by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as suspects for providing potential support to the perpetrators of the attack in the US.
The families of the victims conducted an independent investigation that led to the development of an indirect investigation that revealed that two of the perpetrators, Khaled Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al-Hazmi, had received financial and other support from individuals associated with the Saudi government after their arrival in the US.
According to Yahoo News in May 2020, FBI documents show that an official of the Saudi Foreign Ministry working at the Saudi Embassy, Saudi diplomat Ahmed Al-Jarrah's assistant, had frequent contact with two key figures suspected of being involved in issuing guidelines to help the abductors.
One of them is Fahd Al-Thamiri, a Saudi Islamic affairs official, who was the imam at King Fahd's mosque in Los Angeles and met some of the participants in the attacks.
Al-Jarrah, who until last year served at the Saudi embassy in Morocco, is among the current and former officials whose names are mentioned in the court order and who were summoned by Judge Netburn to testify.
In addition, significantly, the list includes other princes and high-ranking personalities who still serve in the government, including Saleh Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh, who was the minister of Islamic affairs.
The judge also ordered the convocation of Ahmed Bin Abdulaziz Qattan, a long-time Bandar team leader, stating that the court documents show that: "It is possible that he had direct knowledge and to a significant extent regarding the activity of Al-Jarrah and Fahd Al-Thumairi that is strongly linked to the 9/11 attacks, or an admission of past behaviour regarding the support provided to the perpetrators of the attacks."