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Furious Saudis reject US 9/11 claims
Friday July 25, 2003
The Saudi Arabian government has furiously denied involvement in the September 11 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington, after a US report speculated on Saudi connections to two of the 19 hijackers.
"The idea that the Saudi government funded, organised or even knew about September 11 is malicious and blatantly false," the Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, said in a sharply-worded statement released yesterday.
The ambassador denied allegations contained in a 900-page congressional report that a Saudi national, Omar al-Bayoumi, who knew two of the hijackers while living in San Diego, had ties to the Saudi government.
Mr Bayoumi knew hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi when they lived in San Diego a year before the September 11 attacks. He helped pay their rent, US authorities say.
However Mr Bayoumi, who left the United States in April 2001, denied last year that he had helped the two hijackers and said he had been cleared by US and British investigators.
The allegations of Saudi involvement in the hijackings is contained in 28 pages of classified information that was not released to the public. In the report, several unidentified US government officials also complained of a lack of Saudi cooperation.
"According to a US government official, it was clear from about 1996 that the Saudi government would not cooperate with the United States on matters related to Osama bin Laden," the report says.
Only the US treasury department's general counsel is identified among the critics.
Prince Bandar angrily defended his country's record on fighting terrorism, and called for the publication of the classified information.
"First we were criticised by 'unnamed sources'. Now we are being criticised with blank pieces of paper. In a 900-page report, 28 blanked-out pages are being used by some to malign our country and our people," he said. "Saudi Arabia has nothing to hide. We can deal with questions in public, but we cannot respond to blank pages."
Some officials involved in the congressional inquiry said they pushed for additional declassification, but that the White House had refused.
"Since September 11, Saudi Arabia has questioned over 1,000 individuals, arrested more than 500 suspects and succeeded in extraditing al-Qaida members from other countries to face justice," Prince Bandar' statement said.
"Bank accounts of suspected individuals have been frozen and some of the most stringent banking regulations implemented. Saudi Arabia today has one of the toughest counter-terrorism laws and regulations in the world," it added.
One Saudi official told Reuters that most of the comments were made by Democrat congressmen seeking to discredit the Republican president.
"It is individuals with grudges against their own government. They are running for elections. Most of the comments are from Democrats running for elections and we're an easy target for them," the official told Reuters.
The former FBI director, Louis Freeh, testified that the FBI forged an "effective working relationship" with the Saudis after the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing.
The Bush administration has also recently praised Saudi efforts to round up al-Qaida operatives following the May bombings of housing compounds in Riyadh that killed 35 people, including nine US citizens.
All but four of the September 11 hijackers were Saudi, leading some in the US to complain that the kingdom was a stronghold for extremists tied to al-Qaida. The kingdom also faces complaints that some Saudis gave money to charities that helped finance Osama bin Laden and his network.