FBI probes possible Saudi, 9/11 money ties
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI is investigating whether the Saudi Arabian government funneled money to associates of two of the September 11 hijackers, a senior White House official told CNN Saturday.
Findings from an inquiry by the House-Senate Joint Intelligence Committee suggest evidence indicates money from the Saudi Arabian government could have made its way to the two hijackers through two Saudi students when they were in California.
There is some evidence that the students received a payment through the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, according to the inquiry.
But sources said there is no conclusive evidence the Saudi government intentionally funded terror activities against the United States. Fifteen of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis. The Saudi government has condemned their actions.
A U.S. government official said it is not unusual for wealthy Saudi families to send money to less affluent Saudi students. In addition, the official said, that money often is sent through the Saudi Embassy.
Adel Al-Jubeir, a foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, told CNN that Princess Haifa Al-Faisal, wife of Saudi Ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is "a very generous woman" who supports many charitable causes.
The princess, however, never sent any money directly to the two hijackers, Al-Jubeir said. An investigation by her office has found the princess sent money to a woman on her charity recipient list and that woman then sent the money to the students.
Al-Faisal does not know who the woman is or why she was on her list, Al-Jubeir said.
"The FBI investigated this matter six months ago [and] the embassy cooperated with them fully," Al-Jubeir said.
He compared the embassy's situation to that of any U.S. bank in which the hijackers might have had an account. The bank, he said, would be no more guilty of aiding the hijackers than is the Saudi embassy.
Congress is preparing a report that suggests the FBI did not aggressively pursue leads concerning the Saudi government and terrorism.
Officials have denied the charge but said they will not comment on details of any ongoing investigation. The FBI issued a statement saying the two Saudi students who, according to sources, received money from the princess were charged with visa fraud. Sources said they are both currently in Saudi Arabia.
"Six months later, what we find surprising is that in Congress, these charges come out," said Al-Jubeir. "We read about it in the media, which leads me to believe that there's a lot of political play here that may not be in line with the facts as we know them, as the FBI knows them, or the facts as Princess Haifa's office has determined."
White House officials traveling with President Bush in Europe acknowledged the FBI and CIA were opposed to making public what they consider highly sensitive information in the case. The officials also said that it would be improper to release information now because of the ongoing FBI investigation.
Al-Jubeir stressed that Saudi Arabia continues to "mercilessly" pursue al Qaeda members and other terrorists.
"It shouldn't be surprising that the president and the secretary of state and all of your senior officials consistently, and on the record, have stated that Saudi Arabia has been most cooperative in this effort," he said.
"The last thing we would do is fund people who would murder us."
Report: Hijackers were befriended
A report in Newsweek magazine provides more details.
Michael Isikoff, who wrote the article, said on CNN's "NewsNight" that one of the students helped the hijackers get an apartment, paid their rent and introduced them around the Muslim community in San Diego, California.
Law enforcement sources told Newsweek the FBI has uncovered financial records showing that the family of Omar Al Bayoumi, a student in San Diego, began receiving payments amounting to about $3,500 a month in early 2000.
According to Newsweek's sources, the money came from an account at Riggs Bank in Washington in Princess Haifa Al-Faisal's name. She is the daughter of the late King Faisal.
After Al Bayoumi left the United States in July 2001, similar payments were being made to another San Diego student, Osama Basnan, Newsweek reported.
According to the magazine's report, Al Bayoumi and Basnan befriended two men who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon -- Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.
Isikoff said the timing of the Riggs Bank payments, which began just a couple months after they arrived in the United States, has raised questions about whether Saudi government money found its way to the two hijackers.
"There has been no explanation for why such a high-ranking official, or the wife of such a high-ranking official, would route money to a seeming nobody in San Diego," he said.
However, the magazine said it is unclear whether any of the money transferred through the Riggs account ever reached the hijackers.
-- Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.