By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A former al Qaeda operative imprisoned for life for his role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has told lawyers for victims of the attacks that members of the Saudi royal family supported the Islamic militant group.
Zacarias Moussaoui made the statements in testimony filed in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday by lawyers for attack victims who accuse Saudi Arabia in a suit of providing material support to al Qaeda.
He said a list of donors from the late 1990s that he drafted during al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s tenure included some “extremely famous” Saudi officials, including Prince Turki al-Faisal Al Saud, a former Saudi intelligence chief.
“Shaykh Osama wanted to keep a record who give money because … who is to be listened to or who contribute to – to the jihad,” said Moussaoui, a 46-year-old French native who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in 2005.
Moussaoui said he met in Kandahar with an official from Saudi Arabia’s Washington embassy. Moussaoui said they were supposed to go to Washington together to find a location “suitable to launch a stinger attack” on the U.S. presidential plane, Air Force One.
In Washington, the Saudi embassy said on Wednesday that Moussaoui’s claims appeared aimed at undermining Saudi-U.S. relations and contradicted findings of the 9/11 Commission in 2004 that there was no evidence of Saudi funding of al Qaeda.
“Moussaoui is a deranged criminal whose own lawyers presented evidence that he was mentally incompetent,” the Saudi embassy said. “His words have no credibility.”
The testimony was filed in opposition to Saudi Arabia’s latest bid to dismiss lawsuits that began more than a decade ago.
Moussaoui made his statements in October at the super-maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, where Moussaoui has been held since being sentenced to life in 2006. He wrote a letter offering to testify.
Families of Sept. 11 victims allege that Saudi Arabia and a government-affiliated charity knowingly provided funding and other material support to al Qaeda that helped it carry out the attacks.
Plaintiffs include families of the nearly 3,000 people killed, as well as insurers that covered losses suffered by building owners and businesses.
Most of the 19 attackers were Saudi nationals who hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers revolted.
The case is In re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 03-md-01570.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)