- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

The White House yesterday called on Saudi Arabia to make a greater effort at tracking Islamic funding of terrorists, but again endorsed the Saudi government as a "good partner" in the war against terrorism.
"The president believes Saudi Arabia has been a good partner in the war against terrorism," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "But even a good partner like Saudi Arabia can do more in the war against terrorism, and that involves the financial front, diplomatic front, etc.
"But I want to reiterate, the president thinks Saudi Arabia has been a good partner, and like many around the world, the president will continue to push nations to do more," he said.
Mr. Fleischer's comments were in response to rising concerns in Congress and elsewhere that the Saudi government has not made a good-faith effort to crack down on terrorist funding, and revelations that Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, indirectly helped finance two September 11 hijackers.
Members of a joint congressional committee get their first look next week at a draft report accusing the FBI and CIA of failing to vigorously pursue suspected links between known terrorists and Saudi Arabian government, with one committee member promising to push for a full inquiry if the accusations are true.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, said yesterday if the report confirms that the FBI and CIA probes were inadequate or improper, the joint Senate and House intelligence committee would "push to get an investigation essential to finding out the truth."
The draft, portions of which were first reported Friday by the New York Times, said the FBI and CIA did not investigate accusations that September 11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi received thousands of dollars in cash from Princess Faisal's Washington bank accounts.
The money, in separate checks and cash payments, went to Majida Ibrahim Ahmad, wife of Saudi national Osama Basnan, and later routed to a Basnan confidant, Omar al-Bayoumi, described by law-enforcement authorities as a suspected Saudi government agent and "advance man" for al Qaeda terrorists in San Diego.
Almihdhar and Alhazmi, aboard American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, lived in a San Diego apartment obtained for them by al Bayoumi.
Saudi government officials have denied any wrongdoing by the princess, saying this week an investigation into Princess Haifa's finances had been completed and "communicated to the relevant U.S. authorities." They said the money was intended as "humanitarian aid," and the princess was unaware any cash had been diverted to Basnan or al-Bayoumi.
However, Basnan told a Saudi-owned British newspaper for yesterday's editions that he did not pass on Princess Haifa's money to terrorists, but used it to help pay for his wife's medical treatment.
Basnan told the London-based, Arabic-language Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that he has casually met al-Bayoumi in a mosque at San Diego but denied meeting the hijackers.
"If the Americans hold accountable every Muslim for the acts and violations of whoever they pray with, no one will be left without questioning," the newspaper quoted him as saying in a Monday interview in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jidda.
Basnan denied passing money to al-Bayoumi.
"Our debts are larger than what we received from Princess Haifa," he said. "We are in a big financial crisis because of the size of our family," which includes six children.
The FBI, in a statement this week, said the bureau "aggressively pursued" leads regarding terrorist support and activity in the wake of the September 11 attacks but declined to discuss details of its pending investigations.
Of the 19 hijackers who crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, 15 were Saudi citizens.
Mr. Hoekstra, who headed a 1998 House subcommittee investigation into suspected Teamsters' corruption, said if the government failed to pursue investigative leads, it might be appropriate for the committee itself to conduct a further inquiry instead of the FBI or other federal agency.
"One lesson I learned from the Teamsters' inquiry was that it is the responsibility of Congress to follow through on its investigations," he said. "I will always regret the decision we made not to proceed after being told the inquiry would jeopardize future prosecutions."
The FBI told the subcommittee at the time if its investigation continued, pending Teamsters' cases would be in jeopardy. The committee backed off, but the union bosses and its top executives were either acquitted or never charged.
At the White House, Mr. Fleischer also denied a report yesterday in The Washington Post saying a National Security Council group recommended a 90-day ultimatum be given to Saudi government officials to ensure they did more to track the funding by Islamic organizations of international terrorists.
He said the NSC, at a working-group level, had not reached the point of making any recommendation, although it had discussed ideas on how to continue the war on terrorism. He said a "broad number of countries" was being considered, but that no specific recommendation had been made or approved.
"You have read in the paper today what may be one person's thoughts," Mr. Fleischer said.


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