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Classified section report faults saudi rulers { July 26 2003 }

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   http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/26/national/26SAUD.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/26/national/26SAUD.html

July 26, 2003
Classified Section of Sept. 11 Report Faults Saudi Rulers
By DAVID JOHNSTON

WASHINGTON, July 25 Senior officials of Saudi Arabia have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable groups and other organizations that may have helped finance the September 2001 attacks, a still-classified section of a Congressional report on the hijackings says, according to people who have read it.

The 28-page section of the report was deleted from the nearly 900-page declassified version released on Thursday by a joint committee of the House and Senate intelligence committees. The chapter focuses on the role foreign governments played in the hijackings, but centers almost entirely on Saudi Arabia, the people who saw the section said.

The Bush administration's refusal to allow the committee to disclose the contents of the chapter has stirred resentment in Congress, where some lawmakers have said the administration's desire to protect the ruling Saudi family had prevented the American public from learning crucial facts about the attacks. The report has been denounced by the Saudi ambassador to the United States, and some American officials questioned whether the committee had made a conclusive case linking Saudi funding to the hijackings.

The public report concluded that the F.B.I. and C.I.A. had known for years that Al Qaeda sought to strike inside the United States, but focused their attention on the possibility of attacks overseas.

The declassified section of the report discloses the testimony of several unidentified officials who criticized the Saudi government for being uncooperative in terrorism investigations, but makes no reference to Riyadh's financing of groups that supported terror.

Some people who have read the classified chapter said it represented a searing indictment of how Saudi Arabia's ruling elite have, under the guise of support for Islamic charities, distributed millions of dollars to terrorists through an informal network of Saudi nationals, including some in the United States.

But other officials said the stricken chapter retraces Saudi Arabia's well-documented support for Islamic charitable groups and said the report asserts without convincing evidence that Saudi officials knew that recipient groups used the money to finance terror.

The public version of the report identified Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi student who befriended and helped finance two Saudi men who later turned out to be hijackers.

Mr. Bayoumi helped pay the expenses for the men, Khalid Almidhar and Nawaq Alhazmi. Mr. Bayoumi, the report said, "had access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia." The report said Mr. Bayoumi was employed by the Saudi civil aviation authority and left open his motivations for supporting the two men.

The Saudi ambassador to the United States has angrily denied that his country had failed to cooperate with the F.B.I. and C.I.A. in fighting terrorism and dismissed accusations that it helped finance two of the hijackers as "outrageous."

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador, said in a statement after the report was released on Thursday that his country "has been one of the most active partners in the war on terrorism, as the president and other administration officials have repeatedly and publicly attested."

Prince Bandar dismissed the report's assertions about Saudi involvement in the hijackings.

"The idea that the Saudi government funded, organized or even knew about Sept. 11 is malicious and blatantly false," Prince Bandar said. "There is something wrong with the basic logic of those who spread these spurious charges. Al Qaeda is a cult that is seeking to destroy Saudi Arabia as well as the United States. By what logic would we support a cult that is trying to kill us?"

He added: "In a 900-page report, 28 blanked-out pages are being used by some to malign our country and our people. Rumors, innuendos and untruths have become, when it comes to the kingdom, the order of the day."

Asked to comment on the report today, a Saudi Embassy representative said Prince Bandar was out of town and could not be reached.

Today, a senior Democratic senator wrote to President Bush asking for the White House to demand that the Saudis turn over Mr. Bayoumi, who is believed to be residing in the kingdom.

"The link between al-Bayoumi and the hijackers is the best evidence yet that part of official Saudi Arabia might have been involved in the attacks," said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York. "If the Saudi royal family is as committed to fighting terrorism as it claims, it will turn this guy over to U.S. officials immediately so that we can finally get to the bottom of his role in the attacks and his links to Al Qaeda."

Behind the immediate issue of whether Saudi Arabia played any role in terrorism are a complex web of political, military and economic connections between the two countries. Successive Republican and Democratic administrations have aggressively sought to maintain the relationship with a huge producer of oil and an ally in the Arab world.

One section of the report took issue with Louis J. Freeh, the former F.B.I. director, who testified to the joint committee that the bureau "was able to forge an effective working relationship with the Saudi police and Interior Ministry."

The report quoted several senior government officials, who were not identified, expressing contradictory views. One government official told the panel "that he believed the U.S. government's hope of eventually obtaining Saudi cooperation was unrealistic because Saudi assistance to the U.S. is contrary to Saudi national interests."

Another official said: "For the most part it was a very troubled relationship where the Saudis were not providing us quickly or very vigorously with response to it. Sometimes they did, many times they didn't. It was just very slow in coming."



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