- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

A Saudi national who received cash from the wife of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States has been widely regarded as a Saudi government agent and was identified after September 11 as an "advance man" for al Qaeda.
Law-enforcement authorities said Omar al-Bayoumi, one of two Saudi nationals who indirectly received thousands of dollars from Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has long been suspected as the major contact for al Qaeda terrorists operating out of "sleeper cells" in San Diego.
Al-Bayoumi, 45, was well-known in the Muslim community and, according to authorities, arranged financing for and paid for the apartments of terrorist suspects and used his influence to introduce them to other San Diego Muslims, where they quickly gained acceptance because of al-Bayoumi's influence.
The FBI is investigating checks written on Princess Haifa's bank account to Majida Ibrahim Ahmad, wife of Saudi national Osama Basnan, a close confidant of al-Bayoumi. The checks included monthly payments of $2,000 between November 1999 and May 2002 and at least one for $15,000 in April 1998, although authorities believe the amounts could be much higher.
The cash was reportedly to help defray the cost of treatment for a thyroid condition, but several of the checks were endorsed to Basnan and later diverted to an account maintained by al-Bayoumi, authorities said. The checks began before the arrival in California of two September 11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, identified as being aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, President Bush yesterday praised Saudi Arabia as a "good partner in the war on terrorism," although the White House declined to discuss the investigation into Princess Haifa's financial dealings.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said last night he doubted the Saudi royals had done anything wrong.
"I think it unlikely that Prince Bandar or Her Royal Highness would do anything that would support terrorist activities," Mr. Powell told reporters on a flight to Mexico City. Mr. Powell noted that the FBI and other authorities were investigating and said he would say no more until the probe was complete.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Saudi response to terrorism has been "very strong" and that U.S. government investigators have worked with the Saudis to identify and block financial accounts believed to be tied to terrorists.
"At the same time, I have to say there is always more to be done, and there is much more we need to do together with the Saudis in finding and stopping the funding sources for international terrorism," he said.
In Riyadh, Saudi government officials yesterday said an investigation into Princess Haifa's finances had been completed and "communicated to the relevant U.S. authorities."
The Saudi officials said checks written by Princess Haifa were intended as "humanitarian aid," but were signed over to Basnan. They said the princess was unaware that any money had been diverted to Basnan or al-Bayoumi.
The officials also sought to blame Washington's pro-Israel lobby for trying to smear the royal family, saying "groups hostile to the kingdom and others who have links with the Zionist lobby in Washington are seeking to harshen American public opinion against Saudi Arabia, the Arabs and Muslims."
In a statement last night, the princess said charges that she would give money to terrorists were "outrageous and completely irresponsible."
Also known as Abu Imard, al-Bayoumi left for England last year, where he was detained by British authorities after the September 11 attacks but was later released. The sources said U.S. intelligence officials believe al-Bayoumi has since returned to Saudi Arabia.
Al-Bayoumi arranged for Almihdhar and Alhazmi to rent a San Diego apartment and lived near them, all attending the same local mosque, authorities said. Mohamed Atta, identified as the ringleader of the September 11 attacks, visited with the three men in the summer of 2000, they said.
The FBI yesterday said in a statement the bureau has "aggressively pursued" leads regarding terrorist support and activity in the wake of the September 11 attacks but declined to discuss details of pending investigations. It said al-Bayoumi was charged with visa fraud but left for the United Kingdom before he could be arrested.
"Although he temporarily was detained in the U.K. on that charge, visa fraud is not an extraditable offense, and al-Bayoumi was released" by British authorities, the FBI said.
Basnan also was charged with visa fraud and ordered deported to Saudi Arabia last November.
In July, a Yemeni student at San Diego State University told the FBI that at al-Bayoumi's request, he helped Almihdhar and Alhazmi obtain California driver's licenses and Social Security cards and phoned Florida flight schools to arrange for flying lessons on their behalf.
Mohdar Mohamed Abdoulah, arrested on immigration violations two weeks after the September 11 attacks, later was held as a material witness in the investigation. Prosecutors said a notebook found in his car "contained references to planes falling from the sky, mass killings and hijackings."
San Diego police warned the FBI in 1995 that San Diego County had "within its borders, all the significant Middle East terrorist groups" and there could be "some kind of local operation." They also noted that the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center "had direct ties to San Diego County."
The police said terrorists illegally crossed into the country at San Ysidro, Calif., and used San Diego's Arab population, one of the largest in the United States, to blend in. They also said the area was an ideal flight-training site for would-be hijackers.
In a related matter, Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, yesterday asked the Saudi ambassador to cooperate in an ongoing investigation into the holding of U.S. citizens against their will in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has refused to turn over records subpoenaed by the committee, claiming diplomatic immunity.
Mr. Burton, in a letter, said he did not understand why the documents were being withheld until news stories over the weekend "about funds from your own family that may have ended up in the hands of two men who attempted to kill every man and woman in the Pentagon."
"Obviously, the principles you asserted [in withholding the requested documents] could be used to frustrate U.S. efforts to investigate possible links between your Embassy, your family and the September 11 terrorists," he wrote.
David R. Sands contributed to this report.


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