Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 4, 2017

Was Saudi Arabia behind 9/11? A reply to Andrew Cockburn

Filed under: conspiracism,Saudi Arabia,September 11 — louisproyect @ 8:54 pm

In the latest issue of Harpers Magazine (dated October), Andrew Cockburn tries to make the case that Saudi Arabia orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. Key to this conspiracy-mongering is 28 pages of a previously classified 2002 Congressional report that supposedly connected the dots between the hijackers and Saudi governmental officials. This is typical:

The FBI files in California were replete with extraordinary and damning details, notably the hijackers’ close relationship with Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi living in San Diego with a no-show job at a local company with connections to the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation. The FBI had investigated his possible connections to Saudi intelligence. A couple of weeks after the two hijackers flew into Los Angeles from Malaysia, in February 2000, he had driven up to the city and met with Fahad al-Thumairy, a cleric employed by his country’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs who worked out of the Saudi Consulate. Thumairy, reported to be an adherent of extreme Wahhabi ideology — he was later denied a U.S. visa on grounds of jihadi connections — was also an imam of the King Fahad mosque in Los Angeles County, which the hijackers had visited soon after their arrival.

Those 28 pages only surfaced because a former Democratic Senator from Florida named Bob Graham had raised a ruckus about Saudi complicity. As co-chair of the Congressional committee that produced the report in 2002, he had the clout to make it happen. You wouldn’t know it from Cockburn’s reporting but the Saudi government was just as vociferous in demanding that the 28 pages be released since they were sure it would clear them.

If you’ve read the 28 pages or articles about them, you’ll discover that there are three Saudis who had contact with a couple of the 9/11 hijackers when they were taking flying lessons in San Diego:

  1. Omar al-Bayoumi, who Cockburn describes as having a no-show job with a local company with connections to the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation.
  2. Fahad al-Thumairy, a cleric who was on the payroll of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. After al-Bayoumi met with al-Thumairy, he “accidentally” met the two hijackers at a Middle Eastern restaurant in San Diego.
  3. Osama Bassnan. He was a friend of al-Thumairy who funneled money from Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, the former Saudi ambassador in Washington.

Clearly, the Bandar connection is critical to establishing high-level support for the 9/11 plot since he was widely regarded as about as close to the ruling dynasty as you can get. Of course, he was also widely regarded as just as close to the White House, whichever president sat in the oval office. He had such a close relationship to George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, he was often referred to as Bandar Bush.

Cockburn cites a Hillary Clinton memo dated December 2009 that refers to Saudi donors funding Sunni terrorists all around the world, clearly agreeing with her claim. Yet this does not jibe exactly with Bandar advocating Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in Iraq in March 2003. I guess if you are into false flags, this might make sense since it would provide the necessary cover for Prince Bandar to have worked with al-Qaeda to completely destroy the Twin Towers—the symbol of American financial power—and inflict massive damage on the Pentagon, the symbol of American military power.

It does not seem to make much difference to Andrew Cockburn that Saudi Arabia has been a stalwart defender of American imperialism for decades. He does not bother to provide an analysis of why the chief voice of the ruling dynasty would act against his country’s strategic interests but instead invokes the wild card whenever this business comes up: Wahhabism.

It was the Al Saud family’s alliance with “the puritanical and intolerant Wahhabi sect” that explains the royal family’s support for the hijackers. Fahad al-Thumairy was an adherent of “extreme Wahhabi ideology” so naturally he would make himself available for the aid and comfort of the hijackers in San Diego.

What about Prince Bandar? How much of a Wahhabist fanatic was he? In 2013, when Prince Bandar stepped down from his diplomatic duties, Christopher Dickey wrote about his austere lifestyle in the Daily Beast: “When the prince was the ambassador he was the toast of Washington, and plenty of toasts there were. Bandar bin Sultan smoked fine cigars and drank finer Cognac.” Oh, I guess this was just a clever ruse to get the Americans to believe that he was a good old boy. When all the infidels finally went home from these affairs, I am sure he lashed himself with a cat o’ nine tails just to get right with Allah.

If George W. Bush was so determined to keep the 28 pages a secret, maybe he was in on the plot as well. And how about that Robert Mueller? He was also in on the act suppressing information that would blow the Saudi complicity sky-high. Cockburn writes:

The reason we know so much about the West Coast activities of the hijackers is largely because of Michael Jacobson, a burly former FBI lawyer and counterterrorism analyst who worked as an investigator for the Joint Inquiry. Reviewing files at FBI headquarters, he came across a stray reference to a bureau informant in San Diego who had known one of the hijackers. Intrigued, he decided to follow up in the San Diego field office. Bob Graham, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told me recently that Robert Mueller, then the FBI director (and now the special counsel investigating connections between Russia and the Trump campaign) made “the strongest objections” to Jacobson and his colleagues visiting San Diego.

Whoa, Nellie! Mueller was trying to cover things up. The plot thickens…

The truth is that allegations of Saudi connections to al-Qaeda are bullshit and only a hair’s width in distance from the “controlled demolitions” people.

If the USA connived to open doors for men bent on its destruction, why wouldn’t it send in operatives to prepare a planned detonation of the twin towers or fire a missile at the Pentagon? If the ruling class was so desperate to launch a new war in the Middle East based on a “false flag”, why not?

The guilt of the Saudi government has been accepted by much of the conspiracy-minded left for obvious reasons. Osama bin-Laden admitted he was behind it and 15 out of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia just like him. Isn’t that proof enough? As so many guests on the Bill Maher or Jon Stewart show used to put it, we should have invaded Saudi Arabia rather than Iraq.

If you buy into this, it is probably a good idea to gloss over the long-standing relationship between the ruling class of the USA and the Saudi royal family. Saudi Arabia has been staunchly opposed to radical movements in the Middle East and supportive of stability in the West, where much of its oil wealth was invested. It supported the first Gulf War and has provided an open door to the construction of American military bases. In 2010 the USA signed a 60 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia, not exactly consistent with reports that they might be used to destroy American assets both economic and personal.

In fact, it makes no sense at all, especially in light of al Qaeda’s hostility to the monarchy. Indeed, one of the reasons bin-Laden gave for the 9/11 attack was the presence of American troops on the land where Muhammad was born.

But an alternative interpretation begins to make sense if you look beneath the surface. Bin-Laden and the 15 hijackers might have been Saudi but their roots were in the Yemeni tribe that has been brutally oppressed by the Saudi monarchy since the early 20th century.

The Arabian Peninsula was home to two major tribes historically, the Adnan who lived in the north and became the rulers of contemporary Saudi Arabia, and the Qahtani who dwelled in the south and are now referred to as Yemenis. Bin-Laden was a Qahtani descendant as were every single one of the Saudi hijackers. Furthermore, most of the initial cadre of al Qaeda were Yemenis from the Asir region of Saudi Arabia that borders Yemen and was Qahtani homeland. Like Texas, this was a piece of foreign territory that a more powerful nationality was able to conquer and absorb.

If you have trouble with the word tribe, it is simply a synonym for the more anthropologically precise “segmentary lineage” term that is defined in Wikipedia as:

A simple, non-anthropologist’s explanation is that the close family is the smallest and closest segment, and will generally stand with each other. That family is also a part of a larger segment of more distant cousins and their families, who will stand with each other when attacked by outsiders. They are then part of larger segments with the same characteristics. Basically, if there is a conflict between brothers, it will be settled among all the brothers, and cousins will not take sides. If the conflict is between cousins, then brothers on one side will align against brothers on the other side. However, if the conflict is between a member of a tribe and a non-member, then the entire tribe including distant cousins could mobilize against the outsider and his or her allies. This tiered mobilization is traditionally expressed e.g. in the Bedouin saying: “Me and my brothers against my cousins, me and my cousins against the world.”

In 1906 the Asiris formed a state under the leadership of Muhammad al-Idrisi, the great-grandson of a revered Sufi scholar known for his skillful debates against Wahhabists from the north. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of WWI, al-Idrisi cast his lot with the British who he hoped could guarantee the sovereignty of his people. Instead the British chose alignment with Saudi Arabia that had became a state in 1932. Did this have something to do with the fact that the north had oil and the south virtually none? Do I have to ask?

Deciding that Asir must become part of Saudi Arabia, its monarch Ibn Saud went to war and was victorious. Some historians believe that as many as 400,000 Asiris and other tribesmen died as a result of Ibn Saud’s onslaught.

Once the Asiris were brought under Riyadh’s thumb, a process of forced assimilation took place with Wahhabi beliefs being forced down the throats of people whose customs could not be more remote from the austere but mammon-worshipping norms of the north. Qahtani tribesmen wore garments that amounted to skirts, revealing much of their legs. They were known as the “flower men” and frankly could pass for people walking around Haight-Ashbury in 1969.

As for the women, they liked to dress in colorful clothes and shunned the veil. Their elaborate headdresses were customarily bedecked with coins and jewelry.

To consolidate its grip on a people that obviously resented being forced into the Wahhabist mold, the Saudis constructed Highway 15 that would be the backbone of an economic-military presence in its newly acquired territory. It would have air bases, missile sites, and garrison outposts just like the Alamo. Guess who got the job of building Highway 15. Osama bin-Laden’s father. That project and others in Saudi Arabia generated billions for the family but did little to mollify his son. Even though the Asiris appeared to have been re-engineered as Wahhabi robots, they harbored resentment against the American presence in the region as well as the ostentation of the Saudi ruling class. From its inception, the Qahtani tribe had preferred a simple life and tribal camaraderie. Bin-Laden might not have had flowers in his hair but there were aspects of Saudi society he found deeply objectionable, in fact far more irritating than the reputed “Western” values like Madonna videos he supposedly reviled.

In order to understand the clash between the Asiris and the royal family, as well as to help debunk the outlandish claim that top Saudi government officials were involved with 9/11, you have to read Akbar Ahmad’s “The Thistle and the Drone” that I reviewed for Critical Muslim two years ago. Ahmad lays out the social divide between the descendants of the Adnan and the Qahtani:

Muhammad [bin-Laden] had come to feel at home in Asir. He loved its tribes, its ways, its history, and its cultural ambiance. One of his favorite wives was from Asir. In turn, the tribes of Asir accepted Muhammad as one of their own. Not only was he a fellow Yemeni, but they were won over by his easy charm as he held court sitting in a large white canvas tent with brightly colored cushions and carpets covering the floor. Muhammad received tribesmen who would petition him to settle disputes or for other assistance. He had become more than a mere construction worker. He had become their sheikh. The tribes would respond with loyalty when Muhammad’s son Osama would come to them for support. Twelve of the 9/11 hijackers were from towns along Highway 15.

While the oil boom made the Saudi royal family and its supporters very rich, little was done for the people of Asir. The large, extravagantly built holiday villas owned by the Saudi elite in Asir seemed to add nothing but salt to their wounds. In 1980 the poverty-stricken province had only 535 hospital beds for a population of about 700,000. Besides, given their religious background and its emphasis on austerity, the Yemenis disapproved of the Saudis’ arrogance and vulgar displays of wealth. Poor Yemeni tribesmen desperate for work looked for jobs in the Saudi cities. Typically, they could only find employment in the military or as cooks, gardeners, or drivers. After the kingdom began to invite immigrant workers from the Philippines and India, the Yemenis could not even obtain those menial positions. Their resentment against the Saudi centers of power remained a constant undercurrent of Asir society.

Eventually, the grievances against the ruling family reached a critical mass and led to open revolts. A cleric from Asir named Juhayman al-Otaybi led the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in December-January 1979 that was directed both against infidelity to Islam and the worship of riches in the country’s top echelons.

Finally, despite the emphasis on radical Islam versus the civilized world, a more plausible explanation for the violent clashes taking place around the world is not that different from that between tribes and civilization more generally. Indeed, Islam does not have to enter the picture as the British conquest of Ireland might indicate.

For Osama bin-Laden, the loyalty to Qahtani values might trump his Wahhabi beliefs. Indeed, if you take a close look at his statements around 9/11, there is a tribal element that stands out as Murad Batal al-Shishani pointed out in a March 4, 2010 Jamestown Foundation article:

A focus on tribes in Yemen has been a main reason behind al-Qaeda’s success in finding a safe haven there.  Abu Musab al-Suri, the first to see Yemen’s potential as a safe haven for the jihadist movement, has said that the main reason for considering Yemen a stronghold for jihadis is the tribal nature of its people and the solidarity between tribes. [3]. It was for similar reasons that Osama bin Laden addressed the southern tribes of Saudi Arabia in 2004, specifically in Asir province (which borders Yemen), naming the tribes and encouraging them to fight in Iraq. “Oh heroes of Asir and champions of Hashed, Madhaj, and Bakeel, do not stop your supplies to assist your brothers in the land of Mesopotamia [i.e. Iraq]. The war there is still raging and its fire spreading.”

Abdul-Ilah al-Sha’e, a Yemeni journalist, confirms that al-Qaeda has succeeded in building an alliance with the tribal system in Yemen because the country has not been “tamed” or “civilized” like other countries.  Tribes are still in control and thus it was easy to build alliances with them. [5] Abdul-Illah said that al-Qaeda wanted to recruit young people who were not afraid of death and found these young people in Yemen’s tribal and Bedouin societies, where acts of revenge and battles between tribes are still dominant, given the absence of state institutions (al-Jazeera.net, January 21).



  1. Cockburn’s article is not behind a paywall. You can read it here. https://harpers.org/archive/2017/10/crime-and-punishment-4/

    Comment by Ken — October 4, 2017 @ 9:34 pm

  2. excellent article.

    Comment by Les Evenchick (@evenchick) — October 4, 2017 @ 9:42 pm

  3. Dear Les,
    which article did you find excellent the original article by Andrew Cockburn or the review of that article by Louis Proyect?

    Comment by Curt Kastens — October 5, 2017 @ 2:23 am

  4. Have you really researched 9/11? Seriously, man. Have you actually taken a sustained amount of time to determine if the official story is a lie? The evidence is absolutely overwhelming that the 9/11 attacks were a false-flag operation done so the ruling class could wage multiple wars in the Middle East. Do you know about World Trade Center Building 7? Have you seen the video of it coming down? That is so obviously a controlled demolition! Thousands of highly qualified architects and engineers are calling for a new investigation because they know the official explanation for how that building came down is a lie. Please just visit ae911.org.

    It is painful to see Marxists so hoodwinked by the ruling class.

    Comment by Tyler — October 5, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

  5. My apologies – the correct web address for Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth is ae911truth.org.

    Comment by Tyler — October 6, 2017 @ 12:41 pm

  6. Dear Tyler,
    Yes it is so painful to see so many People get hoodwinked by the ruling class. The vast majority of people are totally unprepared to be able to tell the difference between a fake conspiracy and a real conspiracy. What is worse is that among those people who could, do to their training and perhaps to their intelligence, tell the difference between a fake and a real conspiracy the attitude of how can i become a member of the real conspiracy and make even more money seems to be the much much more common than what can I do to protect others attitude.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — October 6, 2017 @ 10:37 pm

  7. As always an interesting article broadening the debate and switching on the giant fan that chases away the vision-diminishing fog that encircles many of us. One element I’ve never understood was the targeting of the Navy Intelligence Office at the Pentagon on that memorable morning where an investigative team on financial misdemeanors had amassed delicate information that could have been deemed as too revealing. Apparently, only one person survived the blast. The so-called important people were safely housed and out of harms way on the other side of the building. On the 10th of september, as you all well know, Mr Rumsfeld made it public that the piffling sum of 2.3 trillion with a T dollars was missing from the defense departments’ accounts.
    Finally, and correct me if I’m mistaken, the illegal 240 billion dollars of 10-year treasury bonds extracted to help topple Russia reached their maturity on the 12th september; the people behind this would’ve been legally bound to explain the existence of this considerable and unofficial sum of money! Not likely mate!
    Pure hypothesis and I know wildly too far-fetched , a second Pearl Harbour event had to be engendered to distract everyone’s attention, especially the world medias, and to hide the financial aspect of this fateful day. And to oblige the US to radically alter its foreign policy bringing about military interventions in the oil and gas-rich nations of the Middle-East and poppyfield filled Afghanistan, through which the dreaded talibans didn’t want US companies to build their pipelines from the Caspian Sea region to the indian ocean. Terrorism was the preselected lever pummelled into us by the well-financed and presstitute medias. A good salary potentially offers you a more comfortable material existence and greater possibilities to be less unhappy in our brief lives. You’re paid to read, not to think and ask questions! Anything that jeopardises american financial and political interests cannot and will not be tolerated without retaliation, whether it be destabilisation, recruiting terrorist mercenary thugs, paying private armies, using repetitive paid media propaganda…the list is long and the modus operandi never alters. The brutish british, where I hail from, were masters at this without the UK people ever knowing anything about it. The people are far too stupid to understand, so we simply say nothing.
    Personally, I feel it’s important to remember what the british geographer, Halford Mackinder, said about central asia and the control of the World Island, Eurasia. He who controls this World Island (Eurasia)including Russia, will control the world. The chinese One Bridge One Road silk road project connecting Vladivostok with Lisbon, is inevitably a hegemonic threat to the occidental powers that be and their long-standing stranglehold on world affairs. Quickly guys before the chinese and the russians beat us to it! By any means at our disposition. Ça peut se comprendre.

    Comment by Charles Young — July 20, 2018 @ 11:57 am

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