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Saudi: Money From Princess Wasn't Front for Hijackers

A Saudi man at the center of a U.S.-Saudi diplomatic dispute over financing terrorism on Tuesday denied reports that he passed on Saudi government money to two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Osama Basnan said he used money from Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of the Saudi ambassador to Washington, to help pay for his wife's medical treatment.

Basnan and his wife, Palestinian Majeda Dweikat, were arrested in August in San Diego on visa fraud charges. They pleaded innocent to using and making false immigration documents.

Basnan was deported to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 17. Saudi officials say they believe his wife, who has thyroid problems, was deported to Jordan two weeks earlier.

His comments were published Tuesday in the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, based on an interview Monday in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jiddah. The London-based paper ran photos of Basnan, his veiled wife and two of their six children.

Efforts by The Associated Press to reach Basnan were not successful.

A senior U.S. official said Tuesday that the Bush administration is pressing Saudi Arabia to monitor Islamic charity groups to make sure contributions do not fall into the hands of terrorists.

The drive was launched months before recent U.S. media reports that Princess Haifa's charitable contribution to the Basnans may have indirectly helped the hijackers. The FBI is investigating the Saudi ambassador's wife.

Basnan said he has casually met Omar al-Bayoumi -- another Saudi who was receiving financial support from the Saudi government and believed to be an advance man for the hijackers -- in a mosque at San Diego.

But he denied meeting the two hijackers, Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, 15 are Saudi.

"If the Americans hold accountable every Muslim for the acts and violations of whoever they pray with, no one will be left without questioning," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Saudi officials say the Basnan family received a check for $15,000 in April 1998 and regular payments from Dec. 4, 1999, through May.

Basnan denied his wife passed on the money to al-Bayoumi. "Our debts are larger than what we received from Princess Haifa," he said. "We are in a big financial crisis because of the size of our family."

Basnan did not have a regular job while living in the United States. His wife, who became pregnant in the United States, failed to find work as a nurse.

Basnan said his family relied mostly on money his father sent. He told the newspaper he was so overwhelmed by his wife's illness and the demands of his children that he forgot to renew his six-month U.S. visa. He said he was arrested the day he returned from the Saudi consulate to renew his papers.