CRAWFORD, Texas – With a fresh promise of Saudi cooperation in hand, the Bush administration said Monday it is eager to question a man linked to the Sept. 11 hijackers and the Saudi government.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud (search) told White House officials last week that FBI and CIA agents in his country were free to question Omar al-Bayoumi (search), who once threw a welcoming party for two eventual hijackers and who had several connections to the Saudi government.
Al-Bayoumi said Sunday he was ready to talk. "I am ready to sit with American investigators, whether from the FBI or the CIA, in the presence of Saudi investigators and on Saudi land," he said on Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Monday that "we do look forward to having access to him and questioning him."
"We have good cooperation with the Saudis, and we are working cooperatively in this effort," McClellan said in Crawford, where President Bush is spending August.
McClellan said he had no timetable on when the interview with al-Bayoumi would take place. Another senior administration official said it was likely in the near future.
The FBI sent a team to Saudi Arabia over the weekend as part of the al-Bayoumi investigation, a senior law enforcement official said.
American and British investigators questioned al-Bayoumi immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, but that was long before a congressional report last month that raised new questions about whether the Saudi royal family may have aided Al Qaeda or the suicide hijackers, either intentionally or unwittingly.
According to the congressional report, while in San Diego al-Bayoumi threw a welcoming party for eventual hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar (search) and Nawaf al-Hazmi (search), and put down money for their deposit and first month's rent.
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, the congressional report also said.
In the interview Sunday, al-Bayoumi said he had done nothing wrong.
He said he would talk to American investigators only in Saudi Arabia, and in the presence of officials from his government — conditions that Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., urged the Bush administration to reject.
"Accepting these conditions, especially since Bayoumi appears to be a conduit through which Saudi officials were involved in 9-11, would show that the Bush administration continues to coddle the Saudi regime about its links to terrorism," Schumer wrote in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft.