9/11 victims, first responders challenge Biden to release documents about attack
A statement released Friday asks Biden to not attend 20th anniversary memorial services unless he reveals information about Saudi Arabia's role in the attacks
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — September will mark 20 years since the 9/11 attacks. Victims and their families are still searching for answers.
Tim Frolich was on the 80th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower that day, and remains thankful that he was able to get out alive despite his leg shattering during his escape.
He's one of more than 1,800 people directly impacted by the attacks who issued a statement Friday asking President Biden to stay away from the anniversary's memorial services if he doesn't release documents that detail Saudi Arabia's involvement in the attacks.
"Fighting for this and fighting for the real transparency of documents that the families are demanding and that the families deserve has become a passion of mine," Frolich, a 57 year old from Dyker Heights, said. "It's frustrating. The families are sickened."
During the 2020 presidential campaign, candidate Joe Biden made a commitment to release the documents that the families have been searching for and believe link the Saudi government to the attacks.
Like President Trump before him, Biden has yet to do so. A White House spokesperson told NBC that its Office of Public Engagement and the National Security Council staff had met with victims' family members about their document requests and to "hear their thoughts on policy priorities."
"Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, especially in these days preceding the 20th anniversary of the attacks," the spokesperson said. They did not say whether the documents would be released, but said there would be more news before the anniversary.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, who Frolich said he's closely worked with on the issue, blasted Biden on Friday for his lack of commitment and action for the families.
Since taking congressional office earlier this year, Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/South Brooklyn) has made repeated calls for the federal government to release the documents.
"President Biden's callous decision to ignore the cries of our 9/11 families is a slap in the face to every victim, injured and sickened survivor, first responder, and thousands of Americans who lost a loved one that tragic day," she said.
"I urge the Administration to immediately declassify and publish every relevant CIA and FBI document which may implicate the Saudi government in the 9/11 attacks."
According to its report, the 9/11 Commission in 2004 "found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded" Al Qaeda, the terrorist network most closely linked to the attacks.
Al Qaeda's founder, Osama bin Laden, and 15 of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi nationals, and evidence has since emerged that link members of the nation's government to the attack.
For example, Omar al-Bayoumi is a Saudi national who helped some of the hijackers secure housing in San Diego after their arrival in the U.S.
A government report declassified in 2016 found that the "FBI believes it is possible that (al-Bayoumi) was an agent of the Saudi Government and that he may have been reporting on the local community to Saudi Government officials."
Saudi Arabia, in addition to being an oil-rich nation, is a key American ally in the Middle East — a region thousands of miles away that the U.S. has been directly involved in for almost two decades.
The Justice Against State Sponsors of Terrorism Act passed chambers of Congress in 2016 via a veto override of then- President Obama, and allowed families to take legal action against the Saudi government.
They've since done so, but, as Frolich put it, the lack of the full evidence has "hamstrung" their efforts.
"As we approach this anniversary, this is just a perfect time for this to come to the forefront, because 20 years is way too long not to know the real facts," he said.
According to statements made by the families, they're seeking documents, including witness interviews, phone records and banking records, that establish the Saudi role in 9/11.
Their statement made Friday asks Biden to release the documents. Additionally, they want American policy makers to take a firmer stance against the Saudis.
They hope to force the kingdom to admit its alleged roles in 9/11, the 2019 terrorist attack carried out by a Saudi national on a naval base in Florida that left three sailors dead, and the brutal 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been implicated.
"As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and having been used as a political bargaining chip for two decades, our patience has expired," the victims and families wrote in their statement.
"It is our deep hope that President Biden promptly upholds in meaningful ways his campaign promise to us and then stands by our side at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on 9/11/21, where we can together honor those who died and were injured — armed with the truth that it has taken 20 years too long to receive."
(c)2021 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.