Jerry Goldman, a Jewish attorney from Philadelphia who represents the families of men and women killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks, never expected to meet with a top Al Qaeda terrorist convicted in connection with that attack, and at the terrorist’s own request.
But that’s what happened when Goldman met Zacarias Moussaoui, known as the “20th hijacker” in the 9/11 attack, on October 20. Now, the outcome of that meeting, along with an unexpected recent court ruling, have revived the prospect that a long languishing court case could reach trial, airing charges that high-ranking officials of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia helped enable the 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
“It wasn’t troubling,” Goldman told the Forward, recalling the hours he spent with Moussaoui at the super-max prison in Florence, Colorado, where the convicted terrorist has been sentenced to serve the rest of his life without parole. “Intimidating wouldn’t be the word, nor would scary… My personal impression was — wow, it’s interesting hearing this directly from someone with personal knowledge, directly from the source.”
The firsthand personal knowledge Moussaoui claims to have, which now fills more than 100 pages of court filings, implicates several Saudi princes who were working closely with the U.S. government as active supporters of the Al Qaeda terrorist network in the years leading up to 9/11. Moussaoui was arrested by the FBI on an immigration violation less than a month before 19 Arab hijackers commandeered three commercial planes for use as weapons against their U.S. targets; he first aroused suspicion over the flight training courses he was taking in Eagan, Minnesota. He eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill U.S. citizens as part of the 9/11 attacks. Transcripts of Moussaoui’s testimony to Goldman and three other lawyers were filed with the court hearing Goldman’s case on February 3.
Among other things, Moussaoui pointed to former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, as an active donor to Bin Laden’s jihad campaign. Bandar was known for his ties to top political circles in Washington and was close to presidents George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush. Also on the alleged list of donors to Al Qaeda, which Moussaoui said he prepared at the direct order of Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama Bin Laden, was Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was Saudi intelligence chief at the time. Prince Turki also later served as Saudi Arabia’s envoy to Washington.
Saudi businessman Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, who has been a major investor in Citibank and in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, among other companies, was a third such funder, Moussaoui claimed. He also named Saudi religious leaders as active supporters of Al Qaeda.
In another part of his deposition that could prove embarrassing to the Saudis, Moussaoui recalled meeting with an official from the Saudi embassy in Washington to discuss the possibility of shooting down Air Force One, the presidential airplane, with a personal surface to air missile.
“I mean, you talk about million[s] of dollar[s],” Moussaoui said in broken English, according to his deposition. “You had — for example, they — depending — the — the — the Saudi, okay — the Saudi prince, you know, Abdullah — and he was a new prince at the time, you know — they will give 2, $3 million.”
Goldman, a partner in the New York and Philadelphia law firm Anderson Kill, has no doubt that Moussaoui’s testimony was “100% credible,” though Saudi Arabia contests this vehemently.
If deemed credible by the court, Moussaoui’s deposition could be the most damning piece of evidence to date that the Saudis will have to face. The prospect that they will face it increased greatly in December 2013, when an appeals court unexpectedly reversed its own earlier ruling that had barred the 9/11 families’ suit from going forward in a New York district federal court. According to the current trial schedule, Saudi Arabia has until the end of March to respond to the new evidence presented by plaintiffs, and if the court finds no further reason to accept the Saudi request to dismiss the case, the trial will kick off on April 9.