By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers, BrowardBulldog.org
A group representing 6,600 survivors and relatives of those killed and injured in the 9/11 attacks called on the FBI Thursday to “come clean” about its investigation of Saudis in Florida who may have aided the terrorist hijackers.
The reaction by 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism followed news that former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham had accused the FBI in court papers of concealing the existence of its Sarasota investigation and impeding Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“After almost 12 years, the time has come for the Department of Justice, the FBI and this administration to give the American people access to the truth about who financed the murder of 3,000 people on 9/11,” said Sharon Premoli, who was pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Graham, co-chairman of the Congressional probe, discussed the FBI’s performance in a sworn declaration given in support of a Freedom of Information lawsuit pending in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
BrowardBulldog.org filed the suit last summer while seeking FBI records of its probe of Esam Ghazzawi, a former advisor to a senior Saudi Prince – who had he lived was well placed to become king – Ghazzawi’s wife Deborah and son-in-law and daughter, Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji.
The Ghazzawis owned the upscale home at 4224 Escondito Circle where the al-Hijjis lived until about two weeks before 9/11. Neighbors called the FBI after the family’s hurried departure – leaving behind cars, furniture and other possessions.
Sources have said that security records – including photos of license plates – from the gated community where the al-Hijjis lived later revealed that vehicles used by the future hijackers had visited the al-Hijji home.
The FBI, however, has publicly denied finding any evidence linking the family to 9/11.
Yet 31 pages of FBI documents released to BrowardBulldog.org in March say something very different: that the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”
The Justice Department recently asked U.S. District Judge William Zloch to end the lawsuit, citing national security and declaring that it has no more documents to produce.
Bill Doyle, who lives in The Villages, lost his son Joseph in the attacks.
“The FBI keeps contradicting itself,” Doyle said in a statement released by the group on Thursday. “But they can’t have it both ways. And the courts should not let them get away with it.”
Survivor Sharon Premoli is a Vermont resident who maintains the advocacy website www.JusticeAgainstTerrorism.net. “It is simply implausible that release of this information would interfere with any current national security investigation,” she said. “Rather, the FBI’s obstruction creates at least the perception of a cover-up to protect Saudi potentates.”
Terry Strada, a Mount Vernon, N.J. resident whose husband Tom died in the World Trade Center, said through the group that she believes the Sarasota “documents will lead us to our ultimate goal of truth, accountability and justice we so desperately seek.”
Since 2002, the 9/11 Families group has been suing an array of individuals, banks, corporations and Islamic charities that the group’s lawyers have said were “historically implicated in the sponsoring of al-Qaeda’s terrorist activities.
A senior FBI official has told a Fort Lauderdale federal judge that disclosure of certain classified information about Saudis who hurriedly left their Sarasota area home shortly before 9/11 “would reveal current specific targets of the FBI’s national security investigations.”
Records Section Chief David M. Hardy’s assertion is contained in a sworn 33-page declaration filed in support of a Justice Department motion that seeks to end a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed last year by BrowardBulldog.org.
The government’s latest court filings, thick with veiled references to foreign counterintelligence operations and targets, deepen the mystery about a once-secret FBI investigation of Esam and Deborah Ghazzawi and their tenants, son-in-law and daughter, Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji.
The filings by Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Carole M. Fernandez also seek to justify in the name of national security numerous deletions of information from FBI records about the decade-old investigation that were released recently amid the ongoing litigation.
They do not, however, explain why an investigation the FBI has said found no connection between those Saudis and the Sept. 11th attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people involves information so secret its disclosure “could be expected to cause serious damage to national security.”
The investigation, which the FBI did not disclose to Congress or the 9/11 Commission, was first reported in a September 2011 story published simultaneously by BrowardBulldog.org and The Miami Herald.
The newly released FBI records contradict the FBI’s public denials. One dated April 4, 2002 says the investigation “revealed many connections” between the Saudis who fled Sarasota and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”
The report goes on to list three of those individuals and connect them to the Venice, Florida flight school where suicide hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi trained. The names of those individuals were not made public.
The FBI removed additional information in the report, citing a pair of national security exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act.
For months, the FBI claimed it had no responsive documents regarding its Sarasota investigation. But on March 28, Hardy unexpectedly announced the Bureau had located and reviewed 35 pages of records. It released 31 of them.
Prosecutor Fernandez now contends the FBI conducted a “reasonable search” and that “no agency records are being improperly withheld.”
Her motion asks the court to grant summary judgment in the government’s favor.