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Saudi report crazy { November 25 2002 }

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Saudi Calls Report on Gifts to Hijackers 'Crazy'
Senators Fault Kingdom for Lax Control of Funds

By Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 25, 2002; Page A09

A senior Saudi official yesterday branded as "outrageous" and "crazy" reports that charitable gifts from the wife of the Saudi ambassador in Washington may have been intended for two Sept. 11 hijackers, but senior U.S. lawmakers of both parties faulted the Persian Gulf kingdom for continued lax financial controls.

Adel al-Jubeir, a senior foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, the country's de facto ruler, said in interviews televised here yesterday that the Saudi government was determined to uncover all the facts. In Washington, an embassy official said his government's investigation most likely would be widened to cover all beneficiaries of gifts handed out by the embassy.

But several senators, citing Saudi Arabia's poor record of cooperating with U.S. investigators since the attacks, expressed skepticism and called on the FBI to intensify its investigation of Saudi financial links to terrorism.

"If you look at the overall support of the so-called charities that fund a lot of terrorist groups, they've got a lot of answering to do in my judgment," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who pressed successfully for the establishment of an independent national commission on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, both expressed doubts yesterday that Saudi Embassy officials would have knowingly channeled money to terrorists.

But they called on the Saudis to be far more vigilant in tracking the funds going to Islamic groups. "The list goes on and on of Saudi failures and the central role that they have played in one way or another in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism all over the world," McCain said on ABC's "This Week."

Lieberman, interviewed on CBS's "Face the Nation," called the new allegations "very serious," and added: "Either [the Saudis] have to change or the relationship we have with Saudi Arabia is going to change dramatically."

News stories over the weekend reported that Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, made gifts to a Jordanian woman, Majida Ibrahim Ahmad, who then may have endorsed several of the checks to her Saudi husband, Osama Bassnan.

An embassy official said yesterday that Bandar, using his personal funds, also made a gift of $15,000 to Bassnan in April 1998. Princess Haifa's checks to Bassnan's wife were issued in increments of $2,000 between November 1999 and May 2002, and were meant to defray costs of treatment for a thyroid condition, Saudi officials said yesterday.

Al-Jubeir, interviewed for "Face the Nation," said at least one of the checks to Bassnan's wife may have been endorsed to the wife of another Saudi, Omar al-Bayoumi, who has been under investigation by the FBI.

Al-Bayoumi, a friend of Bassnan, helped two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdar and Nawaf Alhazmi, when they arrived in San Diego in 2000. Bayoumi reportedly wrote a check covering the rent of the new arrivals, though he was later repaid, Saudi officials said yesterday.

Bassnan was deported to Saudi Arabia for visa violations Nov. 17, and his wife was deported to Jordan. Al-Bayoumi left the country before the Sept. 11 attacks and is living either in Europe or Saudi Arabia.

Princess Haifa issued the following statement yesterday: "I find accusations that I contributed funds to terrorists outrageous and completely irresponsible. This is the time for people to come together to combat the scourge of terrorism."

"Did the woman [Bassnan's wife] deceive Princess Haifa? We don't know that yet. Did she apply for help under a false name? We don't know. We're determined, as is Princess Haifa's office, to uncover this and uncover all facts," Al-Jubeir said in his interview.

Meanwhile, an embassy spokesman said the inquiry probably would look at all charitable beneficiaries. "We've got to see who got the funding. Every penny has to be checked," he said. He said, however, it would be unfortunate if the investigation interfered with the charitable giving on which many Saudis here depend.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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