UAE warned US it could end intelligence cooperation over 9/11 victims claims

UAE warned US it could end intelligence cooperation over 9/11 victims claims
Thu Jun 22, 2017 17:59:24

The United Arab Emirates suggested it might withdraw intelligence cooperation with the US in an attempt to block legislation allowing families of September 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia and UAE for compensation.

(telegraph) -- Leaked emails seen by the Telegraph show how Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE's ambassador to Washington DC, privately warned senators that countries at risk of being sued in US courts would be "less likely to share crucial information and intelligence".

The communications reveal how UAE joined Saudi Arabia's work to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (Jasta), with Mr Al Otaiba coordinating his efforts with Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister.

Two of the 19 hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center towers in 2001 came from the UAE while 15 others were Saudi. 

Court documents filed in New York show that after Jasta was passed, a legal claim was launched against UAE's Dubai Islamic Bank, in which it was alleged that the Bank "knowingly and purposefully provided financial services and other forms of material support to al Qaeda ... including the transfer of financial resources to al Qaeda operatives who participated in the planning and execution of the September 11th attacks."

The case naming Dubai Islamic Bank as a defendant was flagged up with Mr Al Otaiba on December 15, as "the first Jasta complaint involving a UAE party as a defendant".

 "It was going to happen sooner or later," he replied. The claim against the Bank was withdrawn last month, at an early stage. The bank did not respond to requests for comment.

The disclosures come amid a growing row among Persian Gulf Arab monarchies after Saudi Arabia and UAE severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar, accusing the state of supporting terrorism.

Qatar denies the charge, with its US ambassador, stating on Sunday that "Emiratis, not Qataris, were among the hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers."

US laws granting foreign nations immunity from legal claims have prevented previous attempts to sue Saudi Arabia for alleged complicity in the September 11 attacks.

Allegations of complicity have always been publicly denied by Saudi Arabia and the Pentagon has described the UAE as "very solid partners."

In September 2016 Congress overwhelmingly passed Jasta, in order to allow such claims.

The move overrode a veto by Barack Obama, who argued that the law would expose US troops abroad to lawsuits if other countries introduced reciprocal legislation.

Ahead of Congress's vote to override Mr Obama's veto, the UAE's foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, warned that the law would "have negative effects on international cooperation in the fight against terrorism."

The senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham attempted to pass a legislative "fix" which would narrow its scope.

An urgent email from a senior US official to Mr Al Otaiba on December 1 stated that he "cannot reach Adel [al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign minister]" .

He forwarded a message to Mr al-Jubeir about the "fix", asking: "Is the Kingdom ok with it?"

Mr Al Otaiba replied: "Adel is trying to reach you. The answer is YES."

A senior official at the UAE embassy then told the ambassador that Mr Graham "needs three Dems [Democrats] to co-sponsor his legislation".  She named three senators she believed "would be open to you making the ask that they co-sponsor, if you're comfortable doing so."

"Happy to do it," Mr Al Otaiba replied.

He asked about whether to approach a fourth senator, but was told: "Adel went to see him at 12:30 today."

In a separate letter to a fifth senator, Mr Al Otaiba said he understood "the desire to provide justice for those who were affected by 9/11".

But the "unintended consequences" of the legislation posed a large risk to the US and its allies. He highlighted three reasons for supporting the "fix": "the impact of JASTA on U.S. troops and military personnel, the impact of JASTA on the U.S’s counterterrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing efforts, and the impact on U.S. investments both domestic and abroad."

He added: "JASTA would also have a chilling effect on the global fight against terrorism. In order to effectively fight the scourge that is terrorism, the US needs reliable, trustworthy international partners.

"If a foreign sovereign nation is at risk of being sued in a US court, even if it's an ally, that nation will be less likely to share crucial information and intelligence under Jasta. Why risk alienating key allies at a time when their cooperation is absolutely necessary?"