Jim Kreindler was in his law firm’s offices in New York’s midtown when the attackers struck on 9/11.
Since then, he has dedicated thousands of hours and millions of dollars trying to secure what he considers justice for the families of those who were killed – an admission, or else a court decision, that officials from Saudi Arabia provided material support to the 19 al-Qaeda hijackers.
Earlier this year, Kreindler filed a suit against Saudi Arabia on behalf of the families of 850 individuals who were killed and 1,500 who were injured. “9/11 could not have happened without Saudi Arabia’s support for al-Qaeda,” he said.
Last month, Donald Trump visited the kingdom during his first foreign trip as president, where he agreed a $100bn arms deal.
Saudi Arabia has always denied that it was involved in the attacks that left almost 3,000 dead. But Kreindler now believes Trump’s engagement with Riyadh has created a situation whereby Saudi Arabia may be tempted to settle.
“I believe this engagement helps,” he said, seated at his desk, looking out over Manhattan. “If they are going to make billions of dollars out of infrastructure deals and the Royal family is preserved, maybe some wise person is going to say ‘we have to get out of this 9/11 mess’. Because it’s not going away.”
The issue is hugely controversial. The filing of the lawsuit against Saudi Arabia was only possible after the passing earlier this year of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) – a piece of legislation that allows Americans to sue foreign states in US courts. Barack Obama had opposed the law, but the Senate overturned his veto of the legislation. (Trump, by contrast, strongly supported the bill.)
Saudi Arabia had spent millions of dollars lobbying against the law, and is now trying to have it modified. It was recently revealed that a Washington lobbying firm, Qorvis MSLGROUP, had paid scores of US military veterans to protest against the legislation, claiming that it could threaten US service personnel by making them vulnerable to retaliatory lawsuits by foreign governments.
The veterans were sent on all-paid four day trips to Washington DC, without being told that Saudi Arabia was picking up the tab. When they found out, most were horrified.
“I joined the Marine Corps as a direct result of 9/11, so to be wined and dined by the very people I joined to fight against, that was sickening,” Timothy Cord, who served as a Marine sergeant in Iraq, told the New York Post.
The suit, which was filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York and will be heard US District Judge George Daniels, seeks unspecified monetary damages.
It claims that Saudi Arabia supported al-Qaeda in four critical ways. Firstly, it names several Saudi charities that were “alter egos of the government” and ran terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. It says the Saudi Arabia directly funded Osama Bin Laden’s terror group, and supported it by providing the hijackers with passports.
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Finally, it identifies Saudi officials in the US who worked with the hijackers in the 18 months leading up to the attacks, “providing them with money, cover, advice, contacts, transportation, assistance with language and US culture, identification, access to pilot training and other material support and resources”.
Saudi Arabia has long existed as a source of radical, extremist Islam – something that both the US and UK have been happy to exploit, or either look the other way, when it has suited them.
Yet it has retained its own lawyers in the US, as it has sought to defend itself and deny involvement in the attacks. Two years ago, lawyer Michael Kellogg told a court that plaintiffs seeking damages had failed to produce “admissible, concrete, competent evidence” that Saudi Arabia was involved.
Asked to comment on the lawsuit filed following the passage of JASTA, Kellogg said: “Sorry. But I don’t speak about pending cases.”
Kreindler said Saudi Arabia had until 1 August to file a motion to dismiss his firm’s lawsuit. His response to that is due on 1 October. He believes that if all goes to plan, the case could begin in either December, or January of next year.
“We have tonnes of evidence. Most of it is based on things the government has said – either the US government, or else other governments, such as the Germans,” he said. “I’m an optimist.”