Does Saudi Money Continue to Fund Al Qaeda?

Nov. 25, 2002 -- Amid new allegations that about a dozen prominent Saudi businessmen were financing al Qaeda through international accounts, U.S. lawmakers called for the Bush administration to investigate whether Saudi money made it into the hands of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

ABCNEWS has learned that at least 12 Saudi businessmen were financing al Qaeda through accounts in Cyprus, Switzerland and Malaysia, among other countries. U.S. officials told ABCNEWS that a full investigation into the allegations was under way and that there may be criminal charges filed before the end of the year.

The latest revelations followed weekend reports that money from the Saudi royal family was indirectly funneled to the 9/11 hijackers.

In a report published in Newsweek, the magazine alleged that money from an account in the name of Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of the Saudi ambassador to Washington, reached the hijackers.

Following the report, U.S. lawmakers have been calling for investigations into the alleged money trail from Saudi bank accounts.

Speaking on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America today, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., promised to "look under every rock" to pursue the allegations "because we believe there's a lot of information there."

Shelby also hinted that U.S.-Saudi relations were especially strained due to the new allegations. "We have, at best, not a great relationship with the Saudis," he said. "It's transactional and we should keep that in mind."

But Saudi officials have denied allegations that the royal family had any connections to the hijackers, dismissing the allegations as "crazy."

Speaking on Good Morning America today, Saudi Foreign Policy Adviser Adel al-Jubeir said his country was cooperating with the United States in the war on terror "like no other country in the world."

"It is unfortunate that some people who should know better are trying to make political hay out of something that is fiction," he said.

Studying Account Reports

Over the weekend, Saudi officials were studying account records for the princess to determine whether thousands of dollars were channeled to the 9/11 hijackers.

Of the 19 hijackers, 15 came from Saudi Arabia.

Officials said that Princess al-Faisal — wife of Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and daughter of the late King Faisal — sent checks for tens of thousands of dollars to the wife of a man named Osama Basnan.

But Saudi officials say the money was transferred to help Basnan's wife with her medical expenses.

Basnan's wife however endorsed some checks over to Omar al-Bayoumi, who Newsweek reports may have given money to Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, two of the hijackers that crashed into the Pentagon.

Saudis Say 2 Men Were Released

Officials said that the princess did give money to the wife of a Saudi man in San Diego. But the Saudis said there was no evidence that money made its way into the hands of Almidhar and Alhazmi.

"To think that Princess Haifa, whose father was murdered by a terrorist in 1995, who's a mother, who is a grandmother, would write checks to people who give it to terrorists is crazy," al-Jubeir told ABCNEWS' This Week on Sunday.

Al-Jubeir also denied allegations that Basnan and al-Bayoumi had fled to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking on Good Morning America today, the Saudi foreign policy advisor said al-Bayoumi was detained in Britain, but the British authorities and the FBI "let him go."

Al-Jubeir also said Basnan was detained in the United States for three months, until he was deported to Saudi Arabia.

"I don't buy this argument that they fled," he said before adding that if the two men were in Saudi Arabia, the authorities there would "find them quickly and question them if that is what is needed."

A few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, New Scotland Yard, working with the FBI, had arrested al-Bayoumi, a business graduate in England. According to Newsweek, they discovered records of phone calls to two Saudi diplomats in Washington.

But al-Bayoumi denied any links with al Qaeda and was released after a week without charge and is believed to be in Saudi Arabia.

Basnan was arrested in the United States for visa fraud last August but was ordered deported to Saudi Arabia.

‘Faustian Bargain’

In Saudi Arabia today, several newspaper columns charged that the recent reports of the Saudi royal family's alleged indirect financial links to al Qaeda were aimed at putting pressure on the oil-rich Middle East kingdom to cooperate with Washington in its hard-line policy on neighboring Iraq.

But in Washington, U.S. lawmakers said the reports raised hard questions about Saudi cooperation with the war on terrorism.

"The Saudis have been engaged in a Faustian bargain with the radical Islamic fundamentalists for many, many years in order to stay on the throne," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"President Bush has taken a lot of abuse in the last two years because of the connections of this administration with Saudi Arabia," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., told reporters over the weekend. "I think it's time for the president to blow the whistle and remember what he said after September 11 — you're either with us or you're with the terrorists."

The Bush administration is also under fire from conservatives, who charge it's often too willing to look the other way when it comes to the Saudis.

"When the president says they're either with us or against us, I think by and large the Saudis are against us and they've been against us for the last 15 years," said Ken Adelman, a member of the Defense Policy Board, which provides the Defense Department guidance on major matters of defense policy.

Bush officials said they will wait until the ongoing FBI investigation is over before responding to any of the criticism.

ABCNEWS' Brian Ross and Tamala Edwards contributed to this report.