Saudi aide denies money link to September 11 hijackers

WASHINGTON (November 25 2002) : An aide to Crown Prince Abdullah denied on Saturday that the Saudi government had sent money to two of the hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks and said his country was pursuing al Qaeda mercilessly.

Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to the kingdom's de facto ruler, told CNN from Riyadh that Saudi officials had worked closely with the FBI in investigating the funding allegations when they first emerged “seven or eight months ago”.

According to US sources, a congressional inquiry into issues related to last year's Sept. 11 attacks was investigating a possible money trail from the Saudi government to two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.

Asked if the Saudi government had sent money to the hijackers, al-Jubeir replied: “There is no evidence to that effect whatsoever.”

US National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack cautioned on Saturday that it was too early to jump to conclusions about a money trail.

“While you have an ongoing investigation, it's important not to rush to judgement,” he said during a visit by President George W. Bush to Romania.

Newsweek magazine reported that payments of about $3,500 a month reached the hijackers, possibly via two Saudi students living in the United States who had received it from an account in the name of Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Newsweek said the FBI had found a steady stream of payments to the family of one of the students, Omar al-Bayoumi, beginning early in 2000. It said Bayoumi had befriended the hijackers in San Diego several months earlier.

Al-Jubeir said an investigation by Princess Haifa's office had shown that the money appeared to have reached the students via another person, a woman who was on a list of recipients of charitable and other donations regularly made by the princess.

He said it was not clear who the woman was or how her name had come to be on the list of recipients. Investigations were continuing, he said.

'A VERY GENEROUS WOMAN': “Princess Haifa is a very generous woman … she donates large amounts of money to charities,” al-Jubeir said.

The Washington Post reported in its Sunday edition that Saudi officials had acknowledged that Princess Haifa gave money to the family of Osama Basnan to help defray medical costs. Bayoumi was a friend of Basnan's, the paper said.

The newspaper cited a Saudi Embassy official as saying that Princess Haifa had provided $15,000 to Basnan in 1998 and followed up with $2,000 monthly checks to Basnan's wife.

The paper said Saudi officials said there was no evidence any of the money made it into the hands of the hijackers and that embassy officials were still pouring over bank records to see if any checks sent to the Basnan family were endorsed over to Bayoumi.

Saudi-US relations were strained after the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks after it was discovered that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. About 3,000 people died in the attacks.

Al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia was working closely with the United States in the broader hunt for members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group, accused of carrying out the attacks.

“I don't believe that there are any two governments that are co-operating more closely than your government and my government on this matter,” al-Jubeir said.

“Ultimately it is your country and my country that are in the crosshairs of al Qaeda and we have been pursuing them for a number of years and we will continue to pursue them mercilessly because that is the only way we can rid this region of this scourge,” the Saudi diplomat said.

White House officials said the FBI was conducting a broad investigation into the attacks and their financing. “They (the FBI) have in fact received some co-operation from the Saudis on this investigation which is ongoing,” McCormack said.

“They do no have the luxury of supposition. They have to deal with the facts and they are pursuing them,” he said.

Al-Jubeir said the Saudis had thought the money trail issue was closed. “So we find it surprising that now out of the US Congress they repackage this and push it as new evidence, which leads me to believe that the people who are behind this are more interested in scoring political brownie points than they are in arriving at the truth,” he said.-Reuters

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