RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A Saudi minister on Monday condemned accusations the wife of the kingdom's ambassador to Washington had provided money to terror suspects, saying charitable giving shouldn't be a crime.
Claims by some U.S. lawmakers that Saudis helped finance two Sept. 11 terror suspects are "baseless fabrications," Interior Minister Prince Nayef said in remarks carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Prince Nayef did not directly refer to Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in his remarks. However, officials at the Saudi Embassy in Washington said they spent the weekend having bankers go over her transfers to figure out how thousands of dollars in monthly payments from her account apparently ended up in the wrong hands.
Some of the money apparently went into the accounts of two men who U.S. officials think provided financial support to hijackers.
There are many Saudis in the United States and, through charitable giving, they help each other when in need, Prince Nayef said, according to SPA.
"If they consider any assistance from a Saudi to another as a crime, then this is a problem," he was quoted by the agency as saying.
An editorial in the state-controlled Al-Watan daily newspaper derided claims against the princess as part of a politically motivated campaign among some circles in the United States aimed at "distorting the kingdom's reputation."
A parade of senators, including some who doubted the princess meant to help terrorists, upbraided the Saudi government on Sunday television talk shows in the United States for what they saw as years of complicity in anti-American radicalism.
Still, the lawmakers said they did not know whether the princess had meant for the money to go to Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. U.S. officials believe those men provided financial support to two of the hijackers while the terrorists lived in the United States.
Saudi foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir has said the princess sent $2,000 per month to a Saudi women living in the United States who sought help paying for medical treatment. It was revealed only recently that the woman was Basnan's wife and that some of the money also ended up with al-Bayoumi's family, he said.
Basnan is believed to be back in Saudi Arabia after his deportation, and al-Bayoumi is either there or in Britain, according to al-Jubeir. Saudi officials will probably question them, he said, but he noted that U.S. and British officials already interrogated them months ago.
President Bush's aides, for whom the matter is a troubling turn as they work to shore up Saudi support for a possible war with Iraq, did not join in the recriminations.
U.S. officials suspect al-Bayoumi and Basnan helped Khalif al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi after they came to the United States from a planning conference in Malaysia of the Al Qaeda terror network. Al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, killing 189 people.