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9/11 attacks: Biden orders declassification of FBI documents

Justice Department ordered to review the FBI's investigation of the 11 September, 2001 attacks and release declassified documents over the next six months
A US flag is placed near a victim's name at the September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero
A US flag is placed near a victim's name at the September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero on 31 August, 2021 in New York City (AFP)
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Washington

US President Joe Biden has directed the Justice Department and other agencies to begin a six-month process of declassifying documents related to the FBI's investigation into the 9/11 attacks, which the victims' families believe could detail connections between the 19 hijackers and Saudi authorities.

The president signed an executive order on Friday directing the Justice Department and other federal agencies to "oversee a declassification review of documents" related to the investigation.

The order also requires the US attorney general to publicly release the declassified documents over the next six months.

"When I ran for president, I made a commitment to ensuring transparency regarding the declassification of documents on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America," Biden said in a statement. "As we approach the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, I am honoring that commitment."

Families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks are party to a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, and have accused the country of being involved. They have been seeking US government documents related to Riyadh's alleged role in aiding or financing any of the 19 individuals who carried out the devastating attacks.

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On Thursday, family members of victims asked a US government watchdog to investigate their suspicions that the FBI lied about or destroyed evidence linking Riyadh to the hijackers.

The request, in a letter to Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, said "circumstances make it likely that one or more FBI officials committed willful misconduct with intent to destroy or secrete evidence to avoid its disclosure".

Saudi Arabia has long denied involvement in the attacks, in which almost 3,000 people died as hijacked jetliners crashed into New York's World Trade Center, as well as the Pentagon, and a field in western Pennsylvania.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi - as was Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda's leader at the time.

Last month, several US senators also called on the Biden administration to declassify and make available key documents related to the kingdom's alleged role in the attacks.

"We're talking about the declassification of evidence relating to an attack that took place 20 years ago - and not just any attack, an attack that claimed nearly 3,000 American lives," Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at the time.

"If the United States government is sitting on any documents that may implicate Saudi Arabia or any individual or any country in the events of September 11, these families, and the American people, have a right to know."

Biden is planning to commemorate the anniversary of the attacks next week. The families of the victims previously said the president was not welcome at this year's memorial events marking the 20th anniversary of the attacks unless he declassified the documents.