September 11, 2001: Evacuation of Saudi Nationals

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Yet to attract the proper attention it deserves from the media is the March 29, 2005, AFP article "FBI flew Saudis out after 9/11":

"... newly released US government records show that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents gave personal airport escorts to two prominent Saudi families who fled the US, while several other Saudis were allowed to leave the country without first being interviewed."

The information was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit lodged against the Department of Justice by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group, who gave the information to the New York Times. Although "major passages" of the information were deleted, "the records show that prominent Saudi citizens left the United States on several flights that had not been previously disclosed." [1]

This clearly answers the question posed May 18, 2004, by Alexander Bolton: "Who let bin Ladens leave U.S.?" In his article, Bolton provided a comprehensive overview of the situation as it was known at the time.

  • Earlier in the day, September 13, 2001, the FAA "issued a notice that private aviation was banned and that three private planes that had violated the ban had been forced to land by military aircraft," according to an article published in Vanity Fair.
  • On the afternoon of September 13, 2001, "three Saudi men in their early 20s flew in a Lear jet from Tampa, Fla., to Lexington, Ky., where they boarded a Boeing 747 with Arabic writing on it waiting to take them out of the country."
  • The flight from Tampa to Lexington, first reported October 2001 in the Tampa Tribune, "was one of several flights that Saudi Arabian citizens took in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001 when the rest of the country was prohibited from flying.""
  • "Many of the Saudis were members of the Saudi royal family or the bin Laden family."
  • The New York Times "reported that bin Laden family members were driven or flown under FBI supervision to a secret meeting in Texas and then to Washington, from where they left the country when airports were allowed to open Sept. 14, 2001."

Bolton concluded that "close to 140 Saudis left the U.S. days after the attacks, even though 15 of the 19 terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks were Saudi Arabian."

The Question

On April 12, 2004, Representative Henry A. Waxman wrote a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, "regarding the departure of members of Osama bin Laden's family and the Saudi royal family following the September 11, 2001, attacks."

Previously the purview of conspiracy theories, the Boston Globe's Craig Unger wrote on April 12, 2004, to say that the Bush administration needed to answer some "unasked questions." [2]

Unger stated that the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission), while then calling former and current administration officials while under oath to task for actions prior to and following the attacks, should ask who, two days following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, authorized "the evacuation of approximately 140 Saudis."

The Bush administration refused to answer repeated requests from the 9-11 Commission "about who authorized flights of Saudi Arabian citizens, including members of Osama bin Laden's family, from the United States immediately after the attacks of 2001." [3]

Craig Unger is the author of House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties (Scribner, March 2004). See Unger's article for the full details of both the event and his investigation and evidence.

Also see "The Bush-Saudi Files"--Passenger Lists which were "previously unpublished" about the Saudi evacuation after 9/11--posted on Unger's web site.

On "one flight list is Prince Ahmed bin Salman, best known as a horse racing aficionado and owner of the Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem -- but who also allegedly had ties to al-Qaida, and, according to journalists Unger and Gerald Posner, may even have had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. In 2002, Prince Ahmed reportedly died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 43, back inside Saudi Arabia." [4]

The Answer

Matthew L. Wald, in the April 14, 2004, New York Times, wrote that the Panel had cleared the handling of the Bin Laden family on September 11th. [5]

The Commission determined that the Bush administration had properly handled the evacuation of the "six chartered flights that rushed scores of Saudi citizens out of the United States after the attacks."
"A flight on Sept. 20, 2001, carried 26 passengers, most of them relatives of Osama bin Laden, according to the statement. But all 142 passengers on the flights, mostly Saudi citizens, were screened by law enforcement officials, the statement said, to ensure that they were not security threats and not wanted for questioning. The flights were 'dealt with in a professional manner' by the government, the commission said.
"The rush by the Saudis to depart attracted notice and stirred accusations that the administration allowed it to take place to maintain good relations with the Saudis. An article in Vanity Fair magazine last October asserted that the Saudis were allowed by the White House to violate a ban on flights imposed after the attacks to fly a group from Tampa, Fla., to Lexington, Ky., in a small jet, where they would join a larger group. But the Federal Aviation Administration maintained that the ban was lifted before the plane took off.
"Among other critics, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York said last September that some of the Saudis who were allowed to leave may have had ties to terrorism. 'This is just another example of our country coddling the Saudis and giving them special privileges that others would never get,' he said.
"But according to the statement, the FBI checked 'a variety of databases' and searched the aircraft. The statement said that it was not clear whether anyone checked a watch list maintained by the State Department, but that a check after the departure showed no matches.
"The statement said the FBI concluded that no one who was allowed to depart was wanted for questioning, and that the commission had found no evidence to contradict this."


Writing on September 5, 2003, for The Hindu, Sridhar Krishnaswami said that the White House had approved the evacuation of the Saudi nationals. [6]

"In an admission that has raise [sic] eyebrows on Capitol Hill, officials at the White House are said to have approved a plan to evacuate scores of prominent Saudi Arabian nationals in this country, including members of the Osama bin Laden family in the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
Former White House advisor Richard Clarke was quoted in the September 4, 2003, The New York Times "as saying that he agreed with the plan because the Federal Bureau of Investigation had informed him that the Saudi nationals departing were not linked to terrorism; and the White House feared retribution for the terrorist hijackings if they stayed back in the U.S." [7]
"Many prominent Saudi nationals left this country soon after 9/11, with the knowledge of the FBI. But it is the first time that information is coming that the White House and senior administration officials had approved the plan.
Clarke spoke "of the involvement of the White House in the departure of prominent Saudi nationals, including relatives of Osama, ... several weeks after a Congressional Inquiry Report on 9/11 that ... raised a political storm. Some 28 pages of the report remain classified and much of the material is said to be about the involvement of foreign governments -- mainly Saudi Arabia -- in the events of 9/11.
"The Saudi Government has denied any role in the 9/11 events and has publicly called on the Bush administration to de-classify this section of the Congressional report, a request that has been quickly rejected by the U.S. President, George W. Bush.
Clarke's "admission of the role by the White House in the departure of some 140 Saudi nationals" led to the call from Senator Schumer "for an internal investigation by the White House on the matter," as Schumer suspected that "some of those who left hurriedly, including two relatives of Osama, may have had links to terror outfits and, therefore, could have shed light on terror attacks."
Schumer said: "This is just another example of our country coddling the Saudis and giving them special privileges that others would never get. It's almost as if we didn't want to find out what links existed." A spokesman for the FBI "insisted that there was nothing to indicate that the people who left could have been of further assistance and that no 'additional courtesies' were extended to this group that would not have been available to others."

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