WASHINGTON – The United States has released 12 Saudi nationals detained after the Sept. 11 attacks. Four of them will immediately return to Saudi Arabia. The others will remain in the United States.
The move follows the sentencing of Khalid Al-Draibi, a Saudi Arabian citizen who was arrested on Sept. 11 after being pulled over just 15 miles from Washington Dulles International Airport for driving on a flat tire. In his possession were Arabic flight manuals and drivers licenses from eight states. His Virginia license was a day old.
He was charged with falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen and sentenced Friday to four months in prison including time served for visa fraud charges. Al-Draibi, who arrived in Virginia on Sept. 10, leaving an American wife in Alabama, last entered the United States in February 2001 on a tourist visa. He will be deported when his jail time is finished at the end of the month.
The sentencing was moved up 14 days without explanation, but comes as Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, trumpeted to the Saudi Press Agency that the United States had released 12 Saudi nationals detained after Sept. 11.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher would not say whether the Saudis specifically had complained about the detentions, but admitted some governments have registered concern over the detention of their nationals.
"We have had governments come to us and talk about that matter with regard to people are currently in detention," Boucher said.
Boucher added the State Department has informed inquiring countries that "the Department of Justice and the detaining authorities have to make decisions about who needs to be kept in detention and who might have violated our law and who could be released, deported or whatever happens."
Other diplomatic sources later confirmed that the Saudis had indeed complained to the State Department. A Justice Department spokesman said, however, that he knew of no pressure applied on the Justice Department by the State Department to release the Saudi detainees.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudi nationals. U.S. authorities still have more than 500 people in custody as a result of a roundup following terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The Justice Department won't say how many are Saudis.
The detainees primarily face immigration violation charges. Only one, Zacarias Moussaoui, a Moroccan, has been charged in connection with the attacks.