Newly released video shows Saudi man filming locations ahead of 9/11 attacks

<span>A rescue helicopter surveys damage to the Pentagon as firefighters battle flames after an airplane crashed into it on 11 September 2001.</span><span>Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters</span>
A rescue helicopter surveys damage to the Pentagon as firefighters battle flames after an airplane crashed into it on 11 September 2001.Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters

A 25-year-old video has come to light of a man identified by the FBI as a Saudi intelligence agent filming locations in the center of Washington three months before Al-Qaida decided to carry out the 9/11 attacks.

The footage, shot in the summer of 1999 and in the possession of the FBI, was unsealed in a court action by families of the victims of 9/11, who claim that Saudi Arabia’s government was complicit in the event, which the country’s rulers deny. It was obtained by CBS and shown on the 60 Minutes program.

The video includes commentary from the man, Omar al-Bayoumi, about various locations in the city, including the Washington monument and the entry points and security arrangements of the US Capitol building, and referring at one point to a “plan”.

The Capitol is believed to have been the target of one of the planes before its hijackers were overwhelmed by passengers, causing it to crash in the Pennsylvania countryside.

Saudi authorities have long and strenuously denied complicity or support for 9/11, as does Bayoumi. Lawyers for the Saudi government have filed for the families’ case to be dismissed, with oral arguments due this summer.

The film was initially found by UK investigators in Bayoumi’s flat in the days after the attack in 2001, when he was a PhD student at Aston University in Birmingham. The flat also contained an address book that lawyers for the families say contains the contact details of officials in the Saudi government at the time. Scotland Yard gave the footage to the FBI.

Saudi Arabia has always denied that Bayoumi was its agent. He has long been a subject of speculation due to his links to two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. An FBI report declassified in March 2022 presented evidence of “a 50/50 chance [Bayoumi] had advanced knowledge the 9/11 attacks were to occur” from his relationship with Hazmi and Mihdhar.

Another bureau report declassified the year before says he gave significant help to the pair after their arrival in the US, and communicated with a key logistics facilitator for Osama bin Laden each time he assisted them.

The video was shot over several days and is of somewhat grainy quality. He starts it in Arabic, saying, “O beloved, esteemed brothers, a greeting to you from Omar al-Bayoumi,” then adds: “We greet you, the esteemed brothers, and we welcome you from Washington – Washington the American capital city.”

Pointing out the Washington monument, he talks about going there and “reporting to you in detail what is there” to the people he is addressing in the film. He also notes the proximity of the airport.

Focusing on cars outside an unidentified building, he says: “Their cars, you said that in the plan.”

The FBI claims that when Bayoumi was shooting the video, he was with two Saudi Arabian diplomats who the bureau said had ties to al-Qaida.

The Saudi government declined to comment to 60 Minutes about the contents of the report.

The official 9/11 Commission report, a 585-page document published in 2004 from the findings of an inquiry set up by the US government, concluded that intelligence failures on the part of the CIA and FBI were primarily to blame for the attack. Referring to Bayoumi, the report said: “We have seen no credible evidence that he believed in violent extremism, or knowingly aided extremist groups.”

The commission reported that when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, credited as the attack mastermind, was asked under interrogation if he knew Bayoumi, he said he did not.