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Saudi ambassador wife { November 24 2002 }

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US-Saudi ties strained by hijacker money clain
By Mark Huband and Roula Khalaf in London, Robin Allen in Dubai and Alan Beattie in Washington
Published: November 24 2002 20:57 | Last Updated: November 24 2002 20:57

US relations with Saudi Arabia are facing new strains after claims that charitable donations by the wife of the Saudi ambassador to Washington may have been passed on to two of the hijackers who crashed an aircraft into the Pentagon on 11 September 2001.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is examining reports that Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, gave $15,000 and monthly payments of $2,000 to Osama Bassnan and his wife to meet medical costs in the US.

Mr Bassnan was a friend of Omar al-Bayoumi, whose contacts with two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, are being examined in a US congressional inquiry into the financing of the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudis.

Congressional leaders on Sunday said the US should investigate the allegations, even at the risk of damaging relations with Saudi Arabia. Richard Shelby, outgoing vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, told NBC television the FBI "ought relentlessly to pursue these leads anywhere they go". The Saudis "have charities which fund terrorist groups. They have a lot of answering to do, in my judgment", he said. If the Saudi royal family turned out to be funding terrorism, the American people should know about it, Mr Shelby said.

Lawmakers from both parties said the US administration had been lax in investigating alleged links between Saudi Arabia and the September 11 hijackers. Joseph Lieberman, Democratic senator from Connecticut, told CBS television: "This administration ought to be demanding a full public accounting by the FBI and the CIA about what they know about Saudi involvement."

John McCain, Republican senator from Arizona, said the government had failed to gain co-operation from the Saudi authorities in many areas.

Saudi officials dismissed the claims. Adel al-Jubeir, adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, the kingdom's de-facto ruler, said the princess, who makes many charitable contributions, had given money to a woman, apparently the wife of Mr Bassnan, because she had asked for medical help. "She [the princess] had no idea what the woman was doing with the money," he said.

Mr al-Jubeir said there was no evidence that either Mr Bassnan or Mr al-Bayoumi had any links with terrorists, and that both were questioned by the FBI after September 11 and then let go.

"This is about politics and people interested in scoring political points rather than establishing facts," he said.

According to Saudi officials, Mr al-Bayoumi had told the FBI that he had lent money to two of the hijackers in San Diego in the same way as he had helped many other young Saudis in the US.

Saudi officials suggested the case of the princess was being promoted in Congress by the lawyers of a trillion-dollar lawsuit filed last August by relatives and survivors of the September 11 attacks against Saudi institutions and members of the royal family.

Last week, lawyers for the plaintiffs filed "a third amended complaint, citing 50 banks", according to Allan Gerson, an independent lawyer acting in conjunction with the firm Ness Motley, which is acting for most of the plaintiffs. The amendment reportedly included a big Saudi joint-venture bank and added more royal family members.

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