WASHINGTON – Still-secret parts of the congressional report into the Sept. 11 attacks examine interactions between Saudi businessmen and the royal family that may have intentionally or unwittingly aided Al Qaeda (search) or the suicide hijackers, according to people who have seen it.
The report suggests that one, and possibly two, Saudi men who encountered the hijackers or their acquaintances were tied to Saudi intelligence and that a Muslim imam in the United States may have been a facilitator for some hijackers, the sources said, speaking only on condition of anonymity. The Saudi ambassador to the United States said Saturday that any suggestion the two Saudi men are agents of the Saudi government is "blatantly false."
U.S. investigators are setting out anew to determine if the connections are innocent coincidences in an Islamic culture that urges charitable support or a pattern of pro-terror money and patronage flowing from the wealthy kingdom that is a longtime U.S. ally, according to government officials familiar with those efforts.
Some of the most sensitive information in a 28-page classified section of the report involves what U.S. agencies are doing currently to investigate Saudi business figures and organizations, the officials said.
The congressional investigators, however, warn the leads they have dug up for the FBI (search) and CIA to pursue are at times contradictory or circumstantial. The FBI and CIA (search) have not substantiated ties to Saudi intelligence.
"On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, 'incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists' ... On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations," one passage from the unclassified section of the report states.
Nonetheless, FBI Director Robert Mueller (search) acknowledged to lawmakers in a secret session that he had learned from Congress about new evidence.
"I am saying the sequence of events here, I think the staff probed and as a result of the probing, some facts came to light here and to me, frankly, that had not come to light before," Mueller told the joint House-Senate intelligence inquiry in one closed hearing last October.
Top Saudi officials are calling for the public release of the still-secret section of the report, and say it is ridiculous to suggest the royal family would deliberately fund an Al Qaeda movement dedicated to its overthrow.
"There is no there, there," said Adel al-Jubeir (search), a Saudi foreign policy adviser.
He said his government hasn't seen the classified section of the report written by a joint House-Senate committee, but based on the Saudis' own investigation "we believe the reason the intelligence community insisted on classification of that section is it could not confirm or agree with what the joint inquiry report says."
Suspected terrorist leader Usama bin Laden (search), a Saudi by birth, was excommunicated from his homeland in the mid-1990s for his advocacy of violence against the United States and his threats to overthrow the Saudi royal family for allowing U.S. troops on Saudi soil during the 1991 Gulf War.
FBI officials are seeking to question, anew, Saudi businessman Omar al-Bayoumi. During his time in San Diego, he threw a welcoming party for eventual hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi and put down money for their deposit and first month's rent.
Al-Bayoumi left the United States two months before the suicide hijackings and settled in Britain, where Prince Turki al-Faisal, a member of the royal family was serving as ambassador after a stint as chief of Saudi intelligence, according to officials familiar with the report.
Several such connections to Saudi government officials — as well as an uneven flow of money to him — have led some in Congress to question if al-Bayoumi was a Saudi intelligence agent. Al-Jubeir denies any such connection.
Saudi officials say British and U.S. officials questioned al-Bayoumi immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks and released him.
A lawyer for three central witnesses in the hijacking investigation says the FBI also may have an interest in videotapes al-Bayoumi took of numerous events at an Islamic center in San Diego, including the party for two hijackers.
Al-Bayoumi "had a video camera at that party. He and his video camera were inseparable. In fact, one of my clients even held the camera for a while at that party," attorney Randall Hamud said in an interview Friday.
The report also notes al-Bayoumi worked with a Saudi government aviation official whose son's picture was found on a computer disk along with pictures of many of the 19 hijackers, most of whom came from Saudi Arabia. FBI officials questioned the son last year.
Congressional officials question in the report the nature of the work al-Bayoumi did for his Saudi pay and why money to him spiked when he was befriending the hijackers, according to officials who have seen it.
The classified report as well as other sensitive intelligence gathered by U.S. investigators focuses on a series of financial transactions and movements by Saudi citizens and royalty.
For instance, Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, and his wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wrote tens of thousands of dollars of checks to a Saudi named Usama Basnan and his wife, Magda Ibrahim Dweikat, who were in San Diego around the time of the hijackers stay.
Al-Jubeir said Bandar gave charitable donations to Basnan to help cover his wife's medical bills starting in 1998 and that al-Faisal separately gave regular monthly payments to Dweikat, who used her maiden name that did not call attention to her marriage to Basnan.
Al-Jubeir said Saudi investigators traced every payment — which totaled more than $100,000 — and found evidence two or three of the princess' checks to Dweikat were signed over to al-Bayoumi's wife. Saudi officials found no evidence that money was transferred to the hijackers or even used by al-Bayoumi when he assisted the hijackers, he said.
He said the money the prince and princess gave was among millions they've donated to help Saudis living in the United States. He added the Saudis believe al-Bayoumi was repaid by the hijackers for his initial money.
FBI officials obtained information about Basnan, who was charged with visa violations after Sept. 11 and eventually sent back to Saudi Arabia, "clearly indicating that Basnan is an extremist and Bin Laden supporter," the congressional report concludes.
In classified sections of the report, congressional investigators also trace his movements after Sept. 11, raising the possibility he went to Houston to meet with a Saudi figure with intelligence ties who had come with royal family members when they met with President Bush in Texas.
Prince Bandar said in a statement that it would be "baseless and not true" to tie al-Bayoumi and Basnan to the Saudi government.
"It is unfortunate that reports keep circulating in the media ... with attribution only to anonymous officials," said Bandar's statement.
Among other connections, the report states that an imam who had been on the FBI's radar before Sept. 11 served as a spiritual adviser for two of the hijackers and his mosques may have facilitated the hijackers on both coasts.
The congressional report says the FBI dropped pre-September inquiries about the imam, which it does not name, "despite the imam's contacts with other subjects of counterterrorism interest and reports concerning the imam's connection to suspect organizations."
Another connection for U.S. authorities is a Saudi businessman named Saleh Abdullah Kamel, who heads Dallah al-Baraka Group (search) (DBG).
Al-Jubeir said al-Bayoumi once worked for Dallah Avco, a DBG company involved with the Saudi government's aviation department. That department is overseen by Prince Sultan, the father of the princess in Washington and another member of the royal family.
Kamel has been sued by families of some of the Sept. 11 victims who allege Saudi support for terrorism. The families allege his name appeared in a late 1980s document recovered in Bosnia identifying potential financial support for bin Laden's mujahadeen fighters when bin Laden was still a U.S. ally fighting Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
In addition, two witnesses in the 2001 trial of Al Qaeda operatives convicted of blowing up U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 testified several Al Qaeda accounts had been kept at a Sudanese Islamic bank. Kamel and his company helped found the bank, according to the victim's family lawsuit.
Al-Jubeir said Kamel has been interviewed by U.S. investigators. "We understand they have talked to U.S. agents about al-Baraka and about al-Bayoumi inside Saudi Arabia as well as in the United States," he said.
Another major Saudi Islamic banking figure, Prince Mohammed al-Faisal (search), has also been sued by the Sept. 11 families. The prince is the brother of Princess al-Faisal in Washington. The families cite as evidence testimony from the embassy bombing trials that an Al Qaeda account was kept at a Sudanese bank that was part of al-Faisal's empire.
The prince's attorney, Louis Cohen, said any information purporting to link Prince Mohammed with Sept. 11, Al Qaeda or any other terrorist activity "is entirely false."