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Report Links Saudi Government to 9/11 Hijackers, Sources Say

The Nation

August 02, 2003|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The 27 classified pages of a congressional report about Sept. 11 depict a Saudi government that not only provided significant money and aid to the suicide hijackers but also allowed potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to flow to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups through suspect charities and other fronts, according to sources familiar with the document.

One U.S. official who has read the classified section said it describes "very direct, very specific links" between Saudi officials, two of the San Diego-based hijackers and other potential co-conspirators "that cannot be passed off as rogue, isolated or coincidental."

Said another official: "It's really damning. What it says is that not only Saudi entities or nationals are implicated in 9/11, but the [Saudi] government" as well.

Despite such a harsh assessment of the alleged role of the Riyadh government, those U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say congressional investigators found no specific evidence proving that top Saudi officials -- notably members of the royal family -- conspired in any purposeful way to fund the Sept. 11 plot or other acts of terrorism.

And they concede that senior leaders of the CIA, FBI, Treasury Department and other agencies involved in the U.S. counter-terrorism effort have begun to raise strenuous behind-the-scenes objections to some of the assertions made in the classified section of the report.

Some U.S. officials disagree sharply over whether key members of the Saudi royal family knowingly took action to support terrorist activity or simply showed a pattern of what one official called "willful ignorance."

The nearly 900-page report, released last week, concluded that a series of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence failures preceded the Sept. 11 attacks and that there was evidence of financial support for the hijackers by an unnamed foreign government. U.S. officials have confirmed that that government is Saudi Arabia, but nearly all the details supporting that claim are contained in the lengthy redacted section of the document.

On Friday, several dozen U.S. lawmakers joined in calling on the Bush administration to declassify the section several days after the Saudi Arabian government also called for its release.

Saudi officials have vehemently denied any wrongdoing, saying any allegations of links to the Sept. 11 attacks contained in the report are unsupported by the facts and are politically motivated. They also denied allegations in the report that they allowed Saudi charities and other groups to raise money for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations within their borders.

Adel al-Jubeir, a chief Saudi spokesman, said in an interview that there were thousands of members of the royal family, and that while an internal government investigation had uncovered "wrongdoing by some," such lapses were certainly not part of any government conspiracy.

The report itself cautions that its findings are inconclusive and require further investigation.

"On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, 'incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists,' " one passage from the unclassified section states. "On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations."

Several U.S. officials confirmed that the classified report detailed what the FBI has long since concluded: that there were far more financial links than have previously been disclosed between Riyadh and American-based Saudis who associated with the hijackers, and to a larger network of terrorists worldwide.

Those officials refused to discuss the classified sections of the report but confirmed that they detailed additional allegations about Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Bassnan, two Saudi men, and their suspicious activities in the United States.

Al Bayoumi was an employee of the Saudi civil aviation authority who FBI agents said received "seemingly unlimited funding" from Saudi Arabia. Bassnan and his family received significant charitable support from Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Al Bayoumi and Bassnan are believed to be in Saudi Arabia.

Federal law enforcement officials said they viewed both men with deep suspicion, particularly Al Bayoumi, and that the ties between the purported San Diego-based student and Saudi officials were more extensive than has been disclosed to date. The classified section cites federal authorities as saying they believed both men, each of whom has been linked to Al Qaeda operatives, could have been Saudi intelligence agents who reported back to government officials in Riyadh and acted as conduits for financial aid for the hijackers and other Saudi militants. Sources say the classified section concludes that Al Bayoumi received at least $3,000 a month from Saudi officials.

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