The intricacies surrounding the kidnapping, torture and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey this month remain enshrouded in a web of intrigue, but the manner with which it was carried out bears a striking resemblance to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed over 3,000 Americans.
For almost two decades, controversy has brewed over how the 19 men, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals, could have flown literally under the radar for almost two years. To many investigators, it appears that the 9/11 attackers were either extremely lucky or had a lot of help, or both.
One striking similarity between the events that transpired this month and the 9/11 attacks is the structure of the hit teams involved. According to Turkish news media, Khashoggi’s murderers arrived in separate teams to carry out the attacks. From the news reports, two teams of Saudi military personnel arrived in civilian clothes on two flights and, after carrying out the attack, departed as two teams on two flights.
The Saudi attackers on the 9/11 also dressed in plain clothes and lived in separate terrorist cells for over a year before carrying out attacks on separate flights.
But the most striking similarity of the two attacks was the relationship between the attackers and the Saudi ruling elite. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, shared a close relationship with the Saudi monarchy, mainly because of his father Mohammed bin Laden’s business in constructing and restoring mosques in Mecca and throughout Saudi Arabia. Until his death in a 1967 plane crash, the senior bin Laden enjoyed a close friendship with the Saudi king; his sons, including Osama bin Laden, inherited that relationship.
Based on several media accounts, the team of 15 Saudis arrived in Turkey aboard jets owned by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (known as MbS). Several members of the team allegedly provided personal security for MbS and are said to have been directed by MbS’s closest lieutenants, including adviser Saud al-Qahtani and Saudi deputy intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri.
Although the links between the Saudi military and government in the Khashoggi killing appear to evident, the links between Saudi government officials and the 9/11 attacks remain somewhat murky. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. In a 2017 investigation, Politico documented one lawyer’s quest to prove Saudi Arabia bankrolled the 9/11 attacks. New York attorney Jim Kreindler, who represents the families of more than 800 victims of the attacks believes the terrorists had help from the Saudi government.
He is not alone in this opinion. Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), co-chair of Congress’s 9/11 Joint Inquiry, is on record stating, “I’ve stopped calling what our government has done a cover-up. Cover-up suggests a passive activity. What they’re doing now I call aggressive deception.”
Graham further notes, “I came to the conclusion that there was a support network by trying to assess how the 19 hijackers could pull it off with their significant limitations. Most couldn’t speak English, most had never been in the United States, and most were not well educated. How could they carry out such a complex task?”
Over President Obama’s strenuous objection and veto, which then-candidate Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE called “one of the low points of his presidency,” Congress unanimously passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act in October 2016. The act permits U.S. courts to carry out discovery of facts related to the Saudi government’s potential involvement in financing the 9/11 attacks. That a deeply divided Congress came together to override the president’s veto implies that the American people believe the terrorists almost certainly had a state sponsor.
The peculiar way in which the 9/11 attacks and the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi were orchestrated — using military personnel in civilian clothing, arriving in teams, and the apparent relationships of the attackers with the Saudi ruling elite — all point to a common progenitor. The styles rhyme, even if the targets differ.
The United States may have forgotten the lessons of 9/11. Previous administrations made deals with the Saudis premised upon U.S. access to vast Saudi oil reserves. It seemed to them like a marriage made in heaven. But given the apparent willingness of the Saudi government to provide sanctuary to terrorist factions, and the brazen attack on a U.S. resident in a protected foreign consulate, the relationship requires closer scrutiny.
The Trump administration should not make the mistake that previous administrations made in assuming that mutually beneficial economic and geopolitical relationships between the United States and Saudi Arabia are free from serious risks. A marriage of convenience it may be, but made in heaven it is not.