Are 9/11 Islamist Saudi officials heroes or villains?
In public minds, the association of the 15 Saudi Al-Qaeda members who took part in September 11 terrorist attacks on US soil with the image and reputation of the Kingdom is almost indelible. For the past 19 years, while the attacks are directly attributed to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, the Kingdom is talked of as having some level of responsibility for these atrocities. While Iran’s role in harboring and coordinating with Al Qaeda has been briefly mentioned – most recently in connection with the liquidation of Qassem Soleimani by a US air strike, the discourse has focused on the Saudi role almost to the same extent as doling out the responsibility to the masterminds of the operation. Some of the arguments concerning the alleged role of the country in these events has been downright contradictory.
On the one hand, much scorn, derision, and anger has been heaped on the Saudis for alleged cover up of the identity of a member of the Royal Family allegedly giving cover to these events. On the other hand, Mohammed bin Naif, who eventually became the Crown Prince, and who eventually was displaced by Mohammed bin Salman and since then arrested in connection to vast government corruption and alleged conspiracies to force the new Crown Prince from power, was praised by Western intelligence agencies as an essential counterterrorism interlocutor supposedly targeted by Al Qaeda. Same praise has been heaped upon other officials and members of the Royal Family who were in visible security positions at the same time and in the years that followed, before many of them were displaced from power by the ascent of and under Mohammed bin Salman and arrested during various corruption probes or wanted on various charges.
As sheer coincidence would have it, most if not all of these important partners were Islamists. How can it be that the same country nearly equated with Al Qaeda and held almost in equal measure responsible for the attacks, simultaneously be so clearly associated with important counterterrorism efforts which presumably helped the United States in one way or another? And is it not rather strange that the same voices bringing up 9/11 every time the media breaks out some scandal concerning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who was a high school student at the time of the attacks, do not see the irony in the fact that he went after the very people on whose watch all these terrorists became operational, and that in fact, many of the attacks against him are precisely for the reason of the displacement of these functionaries?
Is Ali Soufan Qatar’s Security Mouthpiece or Strategy Mastermind?
The strange dichotomy may be clarified by two recent developments, which put the roles of the main players in perspective. One is a denouement involving an important actor on the US side, a former FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan, who had recently accused a Saudi journalist Hussein Al-Ghawi of harassing and organizing threatening campaigns online, campaigns that as the Washington Post alleges, also preceded the former Saudi intelligence officer and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s demise. Soufan, through his intelligence team, accused al-Ghawi of working with the Saudi government to plot his own demise. In response, al-Ghawi produced an investigative program, which in painstaking detail, traces Ali Soufan’s suspicious connections to Qatar, and Qatar’s equally unexplainable links to ever major intelligence failure which has marred Soufan’s seemingly stellar career, as well as revealing Soufan’s accusations against al-Ghawi, detailed in the New York piece, as at best unsubstantiated and quite likely, outright fabrications.
It also reveals that Soufan may have been one of the masterminds of the campaign to paint the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (in other words, the King and the people) as responsible parties linked to terrorism. According to the documentary, Soufan came to the US as a translator and eventually was put on the 9/11 investigation task force. Interesetingly, Soufan would have joined the team at the time, when, as the investigative journalist Paul Sperry alleges, Robert Mueller, who headed the Bureau, acting against the regulations of the agency recruited a number of foreign Arabic language translators without vetting them properly. Furthermore, according to Sperry, these translators, unqualified for sensitive work by virtue of their lack of US citizenship and proper vetting, later turned out to have links to Islamist extremists
Furthermore, Sperry wrote, Mueller did so while engaging in discriminatory hiring practice against Jewish US citizens who were fluent in the language, which was later subject to a US government inquiry (and was confirmed to the author by a lawyer who had been involved in that inquiry). Be it as it may, Soufan seems to have ignored, concealed, or overlooked a number of issues tying in Qatar to 9/11, such as the harboring of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, who at the time was not pursuit, the release of a Qatari prince connected to Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, and other related figures, the presence of Qatari citizens who had been scoping out the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty prior to the attacks and were schedule to be on a plane that would target Pentagon before changing their flights, and the use of a phone tracked to the Qatar-backed Saudi opposition member accused blacklisted for terrorist links by the UN and the US, Sa’ad Al-Faqih. Osama bin Laden himself appears to have had ties to Doha that were never discussed much.
In the similarly strange turn of events the investigation of the role of Qataris in connection to the USS Cole bombing tasked to Soufan, was thwarted by then-US Ambassador to Yemen who later began her work in Qatar. Further of interest is the fact that Qatar seems to have given a hefty donation to then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani is what may be interpreted as a settlement for the refuge to Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and that the official who proferred the $35 million contribution was the first of any foreign states to visit the US. Following the end of his political career, Giuliani started a firm, Giuliani Partners, which opened an office in Doha and was soon joined by Soufan, continues al-Ghawi, following the end of his own career. Soufan, lauded for his exemplary counterterrorism contributions, notes al-Ghawi, ended up working with a number of Qatari residents known for extremist views, such as Mohammed al-Amari, whose organization was shut down in the US for suspicious activity in connection to terrorism, Azmi Bishara, whose support for extremism in Israel had gotten him in hot waters, and others of that ilk.
Furthermore, Soufan ended up receiving residence via the head of Qatar’s intelligence, who happens to be the cousin of Sheikha Mozah, the mother of Emir Tamim, and, as rumored in the region, the political powerhouse of Qatar. One of the security agencies staffed by Soufan in Qatar was filled with former US diplomats who had been previously stationed at the Embassy in Riyadh, as well as by other former FBI agents. Soufan also procured a Qatari citizenship (which he had apparently tried to cover up), according to al-Ghawi, and had involved a US-based security consultancy he started in a contract with the Obama administration. All of this is to say, that Soufan was not only a big name in the security and intelligence world, but his connections to Qatar’s agenda, according to the information presented in the program, have been both substantial and highly influential on the narratives in the US counterrorism and intelligence. Indeed, Soufan used his stature, credentials, and authority of past involvement in these educations to push the narrative of the 15 Saudi nationals involvement in the attacks as somehow evidence of top-level approval for terrorism in response to Vice President Pence’s comments concerning Qassem Soleimani’s and Iran’s relationship to Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks on Twitter.
These developments may indicate that there was a long-term compromise within the US intelligence operation, and that Soufan was not only caught up in the operation, but may have been one of the masterminds of it. Whether all of the files he was working on have been undermined would require a careful review – but if many of those who had been willing to turn a blind eye and did not ask the simple questions a Saudi journalist exposed in his program are now in senior positions at the Bureau or other agencies, none of that information can be expected to see the light of day in the near future. Did Soufan come to the US with the intention of embedding himself as a mole? Was he recruited shortly after? Or was he part of an ongoing effort that goes back much farther in time than the events around 9/11? These are are all questions a discerning analyst may ask after watching the documentary, and analyzing the inconsistencies in the narratives around this chain of events. It is obvious, however, that whatever his role initially, in his current position he has a significant and senior role in implementing Qatar’s security agenda, and that with his gravitas, the shaping of the narrative about Saudi Arabia becomes a serious information warfare blow rather than a mere repetition of the familiar talking points.
Former Saudi Intelligence Officer Describes an Islamist State-Within-A-State Opposed to the Kingdom’s Counterterrorist Agenda
The second development that fills in the picture further is the testimony of a former Saudi intelligence officer and, later, an employee of the Islamic Development Bank, Adnan Rahmatallah, interviewed about his experiences in public by the author. At the time of his employment at the IDB, before and after 9/11, Rahmatallah observed the existence of what could be best termed a “state-within-a-state”, inside Saudi Arabia, as well as the institutions connected to it. This concept goes beyond the idea of a Deep State of government officials driven by ulterior motives and pushing behind the scenes a shadow agenda clashing with the official position of the legitimate government and/or head of state. Rather, it speaks of an entire population beholden to particular views at odds with the official positions. In the case of Islamist views, which comprised the vertebrae of this hidden state, it is an ideology that is contrary to the very idea of the nation state; therefore, its proponents did not contain themselves to a specific geographic location, but on the contrary coordinated their activities with their counterparts abroad, and across international institutions, such as financial institutions and NGOs, as well.
The particular brand of Islamists Rahmatallah is referring to followed closely the agenda subsequently revealed by Qatar’s former Emir Hamad in the secret tapes of his conversations with Muammar Gaddhafi. In other words, these plans were in the works for years before attempted assassination of the Crown Prince Abdullah and other operations acknowledged to be part of that transnational agenda aimed at dividing Saudi Arabia and diminishing its role in the region. As part of his early work for IDB, Rahmatallah explained, he was tasked with projects related to Pakistan. That is where he came across a secretive and suspicious project affiliated with an individual Rahmatallah later recognized from a photo to be Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, following the release of that information in connection to the 9/11 attacks. He also observed none other than Osama bin Laden himself interacting with relevant representatives and heard the discussions concerning the Twin Towers attacks.
Another individual affiliated with the same network was Yassin Qadi, an al Qaeda affiliate who started out as an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member, and who found asylum, along many of the Brothers, in Saudi Arabia under King Fahad, who represented a period of time where many of the Brotherhood members were fleeing to KSA and away from Nasser’s crackdown. Qadi was deeply involved in the Pakistani Al Qaeda program; in Saudi Arabia he succeeded in founding a business that worked with the Saudi government and continued in that vein for decades. In a truly fascinating turn of events, just as Saudi Arabia finally designated the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist organization in 2014, al-Qadi was delisted from counterterrorism sanctions by OFAC. He had been listed by US authorities for his alleged involvement in financing the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was first removed from the sanctions list by the UN in 2012.
The OFAC statement only said that the circumstances that had led to his designation “no longer apply”. What type of people gave him cover for decades? And who was in a position to intervene on his behalf in 2014, when King Abdullah, nearly assassinated years earlier, was looking to pursue Islamists with particular aggression? Who was the right hand responsible for counterterrorism action? By 2014, it was none other than Mohammed bin Naif, who was the very Crown Prince lauded by the all the usual suspects in the West for his cooperation on Al Qaeda. And who was his intelligence chief? Sa’ad Al-Jabri, who is now wanted by the Saudi authorities for embezzlement, and who recently filed a lawsuit accusing Mohammed bin Salman of trying to assassinate him, as it so happens the same accusation levied with no evidence by Ali Soufan around whom all terrorist connections leading to Qatar seemed to vanish mysteriously.
The plot thickens.
In every major IDB operation Adnan Rahmatallah took part, he observed improprieties which stood in contrast to the institution’s own bylaws and were certainly contrary to the state goals of said projects and of the many of the 54 countries comprising the institution. The Islamist network ran deep and spread wide.
For instance, where Saudi Arabia pushed for the establishment of an IDB branch in Azerbaijan, known for its cooperation with the West and tough stand on terrorism, Mr. Bader Al-Ayban, a businessman in the oil sector, who was seeking to strengthen KSA business with Baku was thwarted by the President of the IDB. As a result, the new branch was opened in Astana, where, much to Rahmatallah’s surprise, the Kazakh operation appeared to be filled with Hamas officials and various Palestinian cause activists going back and forth and apparently receiving loans and other types of funding, in what appeared to be in clear violation of the Bank’s security obligations, and likely involved various types of fraud and money laundering.
These strange occurrences fell under the mantle of Suleiman Shamsuddin, who was the Director of the Special Assistant Office.The President of IDB, and those below him, relied on loyalists of assorted backgrounds to cover up the obvious financial inconsistencies and improprieties. Abdul Ryazak Iababdy was a Syrian Muslim Brotherhood member who worked in the finance department who was consistently used by the President of IDB to audit the department and to cover up any wrongdoings, including and especially those which took place in the Kazakh branch of the IDB. Another official, who worked closely with Iababdy, was Ahmed Nujaimi, who was involved on the administrative side.
Further irregularities indicated that he and other officials of the IDB essentially hijacked the institution towards the promotion of illicit Islamist/Muslim BRotherhood agenda, under the noses of the governments they were supposed to represent. One of the more shocking illegal operations Rahmatallah had discovered was the funding allocated to the Iranian nuclear program at the time, in the early 2000s, when the common intellectual talking point among the foreign policy and security elites was that Sunni and Shi’a were enemies, and that Iran and various Arab Gulf States had nothing in common. The key official in charge of this program, which was in direct violation of IDB’s program was Tareq Al-Ridi, the director of a department known as Operations and Projects, who proposed allocating the funding directly to Iran’s Central Bank. None of this had been mentioned at the time or subsequently, noted Rahmatallah, adding that all of these issues should be scrutinized and investigated.
When Rahmatallah started asking questions, the senior members of the bank were not pleased. Several plotted against him from early on to prevent further inquiry and also to use Rahmatallah as a convenient scapegoat and a distraction from the illicit operations. Three of these included a corrupt lawyer Adel Jamjoom, who had been assigned the cover up the mistakes done by the Al Inted company in yet another suspicious operation in Albania, as well as Iababdi and Nujaimi. They eventually succeeded in drawing unwanted attention to Rahmatallah’s investigation; Rahmatallah was issued a letter, and accused of financial improprieties such as embezzling. He was essentially fired from the job. At that point the natural point of contact would have been Sa’ad Al Jabri who was assigned to oversee such inquiries at the Ministry of Interior; of course given that Al Jabri was actually at the epicenter of all of this activity and likely supervised it from a far, that would have ended disastrously. Instead, Rahmatallah conveyed his concern to Turki al-Faisal through his special assistant, Jamal Khashoggi… and never heard back about this case, for reasons he could not understand at the time.
Rahmatallah eventually learned that the Muslim Brotherhood was on to him and came to consider him a threat serious enough to warrant a detention or worse. He, therefore, did not stick around to find out what happens, but took his family and got out of the country. Eventually he came to play a role in preventing an Islamist backed attempted assassination of then-President of Pakistan Musharraf on US soil. While in the course of testifying about that matter for the FBI agents and assorted intelligence officers, he had tried to convey the hijacking of IDB by the Islamists, and their clandestine role in backing Al Qaeda’s attacks in the United States. As he saw first hand, however, there was more of an interest in covering up the fact that these elements were subverting the will of the monarchs than in disclosing the full facts. Furthermore, his experience was not isolated. The FBI agents he learned about who had been pursuing the Qadi angle at the time and for years to come were taken off the case. Indeed, Rahmatallah came away with an impression that some political corruption or infiltration had taken place within Western intelligence agencies, and that there was either a pattern of willful blindness towards uncovering the role of the Islamists in this matter or a concerted effort to frame the Kingdom as a country for the sins of the Islamist network that had taken hold of various institutions internally and externally.
The congruence of factors that came together at the time, in retrospect, could not have possibly been a coincidence. The Al Qaeda attacks on US soil, the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, the various Islamist plots and operations, and the series of attempted assassinations of high profile heads of states known to have pro-Western inclinations such as Musharraf and later Crown Prince Abdullah, all took place at the time when the aforementioned IDB officials were playing an active and senior role, when Al Jabri was a little-known but greatly trusted intelligence operative for Mohammed bin Naif (who was already active in security matters long before his promotion), when Jamal Khashoggi was likewise a trusted intelligence operative for Turki al-Faisal… all of the individuals were legendary figures in Saudi security and diplomacy, and all were the faces of a time period where Saudi Arabia itself was facing a plague of terrorist attacks, but also gaining a reputation for exporting extremist Islamist ideology all over the West. Can it possibly be a coincidence that all were in place when all these occurrences took place, and when Ali Soufan, increasingly obviously connected to Qatar even in his FBI career day, was assigned to handle many of the related terrorist cases?
Whatever the case may be, the IDB officials responsible for contributing to the false narrative about 9/11 and KSA were from 54 different countries – and those who are still alive remain well known in their capacities. Some are now in senior positions in IDB; many linked to Rahmatallah’s story were never investigated for their wrongdoings, as this is the first time their role in those events being aired in public. Much more remains to be uncovered, and Adnan Rahmatallah’s testimony remains key to understanding how millions of people had gotten hoodwinked by Qatar’s well known narrative that was playing out decades before the current discussions about its alleged role in funding Hezbullah or other terrorist organizations. Moreover, it can be safely said that the roots of the Islamist Quartet vastly predate the most recent operations, and the calamity that befell the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Khashoggi’s death at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul likely has its roots in events that predate the Crown Prince’s birth, much less his own confrontation with the corrupt Islamists haunting this story.
Did Khashoggi die because he knew too much?
Khashoggi, whose name has peppered assorted seemingly unrelated stories, had likewise been a witness to all these events. Ali Soufan had admitted to knowing him. It is obvious that Khashoggi at the time would have met Soufan in his capacity as an intelligence operative representing a particular interest. But given that Khashoggi had openly embraced Islamist views, and given that his history with Osama bin Laden predates the widely known narrative of their encounter when Khashoggi was an embedded reporter in Afghanistan, the story of Turki al-Faisal’s reported engagement of Khashoggi to prevent Al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia begs a reevaluation. Furthermore, of interest is Khashoggi’s reported efforts to unite the Saudi opposition in London, including the blacklisted Qatar-backed Al Qaeda suspect Sa’ad Al Faqih who, too, played a part in Qatar’s agenda of ridding Saudi Arabia of the al-Saud family, albeit with the unlikely proposition of installing himself as a “constitutional” monarch beholden to the Islamist ideology.
Why would a reputable and liberal-minded reporter be associated with a suspected terrorist supporter and with other dissidents known to be funded by Qatar, a long-term adversary of the Kingdom? Khashoggi was one of those best positioned to have known of Emir Hamad’s funding of the Saudi Islamist networks and assorted fellow travelers and of the Gaddafi tapes, given his role all these years. Indeed, it seems that SOufan, Khashoggi, Al Jabri, and others were part of the same network and had been working towards the same goal. This may explain why Al Jabri and Soufan both had been parroting the Khashoggi-inspired narrative that Mohammed bin Salman allegedly was sending out a squad of assassins to eliminate “dissidents”. Rumors that Khashoggi was eliminated because he had knowledge of 9/11 attacks financing and was ready to inform on his former colleagues connected to the Islamist networks in the Saudi intelligence services had been circulating since shortly after his death.
However, rather than going all the way to the natural conclusion of this line of inquiry, which would be to examine the Islamists who had been at the helm and their counterparts in the Western intelligence, most of the commentators on that topic implausibly attributed Mohammed bin Salman to this “cover up” effort. This, of course, defies logic in that the Crown Prince was not only just a teenager when 9/11 took place, but came from the branch of the family strongly opposed to Islamism, and went after many of those who could very well have been linked to Islamist financing schemes the moment he took power. But the main point bears scrutiny.
Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Had Khashoggi who had been threatened with arrest by Mohammed bin Salman, lost control of the plot and eventually become a cause of worry for all those involved in these schemes? Is Ali Soufan’s repetition of the stale old chestnut about the “15 Saudi nationals” in response to VP Pence’s comment about Qassem Soleimani and Iran not only a repetition of the traditional pro-Qatar attack on the Kingdom’s image but a deliberate attempt to redirect belated scrutiny away from what could have come about Khashoggi’s and his own role in that scenario, for instance, the cover up of the contacts between the Islamists and Iran, and the coordination between Iran, the Brotherhood networks in Saudi and IDB, and Al Qaeda?
This may also explain how by strange coincidence the same law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, that had worked on the Yassin Qadi effort to get removed from the US sanctions list had just this July represented the Committee to Protect Journalists in an effort to force the US government to release documents that would confirm or deny the awareness of threats to his life, a narrative championed by Khashoggi’s Qatar-backed dissident associates such as Omar Abdulaziz and Iyad al-Baghdadi. The same firm, by sheer coincidence represented George Soros’ Open SOciety Justice Initiative related to a FOIA request for government records related to the Khashoggi investigation. Open Society had previously funded the efforts of the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard who had concocted a report, funded by outside parties concerning Khashoggi killing without interviewing Saudi sources.
SHe also had likewise authored a technically flimsy report in support of Jeff Bezos’ discredited allegations of the Saudi Crown Prince’s hacking of his phone, “supported” by equally dubious testimony of the same Iyad al-Baghdadi. Ali Soufan is cited in Open Society’s Justice Initiative as an interrogator who would not torture terrorists, but al-Ghawi’s investigation shows that may not at all be true. Both Agnes Callamard and Ali Soufan are to participate in the “House Intelligence Committee On U.S-Saudi Security and Intelligence Relationship.” Is it a coincidence, fate, or natural selection that puts these same people together on the same issues time after time?
Or is there a clear pattern to the joint, deliberative, well planned actions showing evidence of coordination between Qatar, Saudi and other international Islamists, leftists, and assorted intelligence agents and political opportunists in the Wests who had been cultivated or working together for decades planting seeds of evens that appear as sensations in today’s media many years before some of us are even conscious of their existence?
At the very least all these “coincidences” of the same people being in specific times and places just as specific events take place and then driving the narrative after taking part in those very events should raise red flags and questions about how a few people with key access manage to control the flow of information and what we think we know about some of the life-changing moments in our history. Still, there is increasing evidence that most of the story has not only been not told, but bears a thorough scrutiny and retelling. Yet another tragic anniversary of the atrocity is an opportunity for us to stop buying the simplistic stories fed to us by the people we are conditioned to trust – and to start demanding the totality of circumstances and to start pushing for all of the actors of those events, not just the chosen few pre-selected for us by unknown or suspect forces, to help us uncover what really happened, how, and most importantly, why.