- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2003

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A congressional inquiry accuses officials of failing to follow up on suspicions of official Saudi Arabian involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people, Newsweek writes in its latest edition, which hits newsstands today.

A congressional joint intelligence inquiry, set to be released Thursday, claims that the FBI failed to follow through on evidence relating to the al Qaeda network’s presence in the United States, the weekly magazine said.

The report contains new evidence suggesting that Omar al-Bayoumi, a key associate of two of the September 11 hijackers — Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi — may have been a Saudi government agent, unidentified sources told Newsweek.

It documents extensive ties between al-Bayoumi and the hijackers, while claiming the FBI failed to keep tabs on al-Bayoumi though it had learned he was a secret Saudi agent.

Among the evidence was the fact that al-Bayoumi took part in a meeting in January 2001 at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles, from there heading to a restaurant where he met Almihdhar and Alhazmi, whom he took back with him to San Diego.

Almihdhar and Alhazmi later moved into the house of a local professor who was a longtime FBI “asset,” a man who had earlier contact with another hijacker, Hani Hanjour.

Even though the informant was in regular touch with his FBI handler, the bureau never pieced together that he was living with terrorists, the magazine reports.

The Bush administration refused to declassify several key passages from the 900-page report, including a 28-page section outlining Riyadh’s role, removed from the final version, Newsweek says.

The magazine quotes Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat and 2004 presidential hopeful who supervised the inquiry, as maintaining that the U.S. administration was “protecting a foreign government.”

Newsweek cites “furious FBI officials” as saying that the report misstates the evidence.

The bureau checked out al-Bayoumi — now in Saudi Arabia — and concluded he had not given the hijackers “material support.” As for Almihdhar and Alhazmi, “there was nothing there that gave us any suspicion about these guys,” the magazine quotes an FBI official as saying.

Last week, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, told CNN that declassified information in the report would “shed some light, maybe not all the light,” on the attacks.

“I can tell you this, there are a lot of high people in Saudi Arabia, over the years, that have aided and abetted Osama bin Laden and his group,” Mr. Shelby said, adding that the Saudis had done so via charities as well as directly.


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