The Department of Justice pledged on Monday to conduct a fresh review of files related to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks for possible public release, after years of pressure from victims’ families to disclose information on the alleged role of Saudi government officials.
The Justice Department did not detail what documents or information might be released after the review is complete.
The decision comes just days after nearly 1,800 9/11 survivors, first responders and victims’ family members told President Joe Biden to skip memorial events this year, unless he released FBI documents detailing Saudi government officials alleged role in the deadly attacks.
FDNY firefighters carry fellow firefighter, Al Fuentes, who was injured in the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Matt Moyer | Corbis News | Getty Images
It also comes a month ahead of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
Biden welcomed the Justice Department’s decision.
“As I promised during my campaign, my Administration is committed to ensuring the maximum degree of transparency under the law, and to adhering to the rigorous guidance issued during the Obama-Biden Administration on the invocation of the state secrets privilege,” Biden said in a statement. “In this vein, I welcome the Department of Justice’s filing today.”
The Justice Department’s decision comes in in the wake of a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York by 9/11 victims’ families against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Justice Department, in a court filing Monday, noted that the FBI recently closed an investigation focused on individuals who may have provided substantial assistance to 9/11 hijackers.
The FBI will review its prior decisions to withhold information and identify additional information appropriate for disclosure, according to the filing.
“The FBI will disclose such information on a rolling basis as expeditiously as possible,” Justice Department officials said in the filing.
Organizations representing 9/11 victims’ families, including Peaceful Tomorrows and the 9/11 Families’ Association, did not immediately respond for comment.
Biden campaigned on the promise to provide 9/11 survivors and family members with more transparency about unreleased documents the government has on the attacks.
Survivors, first responders and victims’ families argued on Friday that Biden had failed to live up to his words. They also previously claimed that there are up to 25,000 pages of documents related to 9/11 that have been withheld from them.
“We cannot in good faith, and with veneration to those lost, sick, and injured, welcome the president to our hallowed grounds until he fulfills his commitment,” they wrote in a statement on Friday.
Brett Eagleson, whose father was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, told CNN on Friday that the group specifically wants documents that reveal any information on the alleged role of the Saudi Arabian government.
“The administration, behind a cloak of secrecy, continues to stab us in the back,” Eagleson said.
The 9/11 Commission investigation, which concluded in 2004, found it likely that charities funded by the Saudi government supported the terrorist attacks but did not report evidence of direct funding from the government.
The group of survivors and family members contends that more recent FBI documents, such as from a 2016 investigation of Saudi Arabia, would reveal whether any individuals associated with al Qaeda, the group that carried out the terrorist attacks, received assistance or financing from the Saudi government.
Fifteen of the 19 attackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudi citizens, and mastermind Osama Bin Laden was born in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has denied allegations that it was involved.
Multiple presidential administrations have withheld documents related to the attacks, citing security concerns. Most recently, the Trump administration invoked the state secrets privilege in 2019 to justify keeping documents classified.