Published July 24, 2003
WASHINGTON – Some senior U.S. officials involved in the hunt for Al Qaeda criticized Saudi Arabia (search)'s lack of cooperation in counterterrorism efforts, according to the report of congressional inquiry into the 2001 terrorist attacks.
But the unclassified version of the report sheds no light on questions about whether the Saudi Arabian government provided support to some of the hijackers.
The Saudi ambassador to the United States angrily denied any government ties to the hijackers in a statement issued Thursday. He also said the kingdom is supporting efforts against Usama bin Laden (search)'s organization.
In the report, several unidentified U.S. government officials complained of a lack of Saudi cooperation.
"According to a U.S. government official, it was clear from about 1996 that the Saudi government would not cooperate with the United States on matters related to Usama bin Laden," the report says. Only the Treasury Department's general counsel is identified among the critics.
However, former FBI Director Louis Freeh (search) testified that the FBI forged an "effective working relationship" with the Saudis after the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing.
The Bush administration has recently praised Saudi efforts to wrap up Al Qaeda operatives following the May bombings of housing compounds in Riyadh.
The report also says there is some evidence of "foreign support for some of the Sept. 11 hijackers while they were in the United States," but the pages of the report that identifies the sources have not been declassified.
Some officials involved in the inquiry said they pushed for additional declassification, but the Bush administration refused.
"I remain deeply disturbed by the amount of material that has been censored from this report," said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the inquiry. Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla. and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he thought the report was properly redacted but that more information should properly be released later.
The Saudi ambassador called suggestions of Saudi support for the hijackers "malicious and blatantly false."
"Cooperation between our two countries in fighting terrorism is excellent in all areas and has never been greater," said Prince Bandar bin Sultan in a statement issued Thursday. "It is disappointing that despite everything we are doing, outrageous charges continue. They are not based in fact and only serve to denigrate Saudi Arabia, which is exactly what bin Laden wanted to accomplish."
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, leading some in the United States to complain the kingdom was a stronghold for extremists tied to Al Qaeda. The kingdom also faces complaints that some Saudis gave money to charities that helped finance Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda group.
The questioning grew louder late last year with the disclosure that money donated by Bandar's wife may have wound up with Saudi students suspected of aiding two of the hijackers.
The Saudis say that Princess Haifa al-Faisal donated the money to pay the medical bills of a Saudi woman living in the United States and that she didn't know the woman's husband turned over some of the money to others. The White House has accepted the explanation.