November 22, 2002
The FBI is investigating whether the Saudi Arabian government – using the
bank account of the wife of a senior Saudi diplomat – sent tens of thousands of
dollars to two Saudi students in the United States who provided assistance to
two of the September 11 hijackers, according to law-enforcement sources.
The bureau, they say, has uncovered financial records showing a steady stream
of payments to the family of one of the students, Omar Al Bayoumi.
The money moved into the family’s bank account beginning in early
2000, just a few months after hijackers Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi
arrived in Los Angeles from an Al Qaeda planning summit in Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia, according to the sources.
Within days of the terrorists’ arrival in the United State, Al Bayoumi befriended
the two men who would eventually hijack American Flight 77, throwing them a
welcoming party in San Diego and guaranteeing their lease on an apartment
next door to his own.
Al Bayoumi also paid $1,500 to cover the first two months of rent for Al
Midhar and Alhazmi, although officials said it is possible that the hijackers later
repaid the money.
Sources familiar with the evidence say the payments – amounting to about
$3,500 a month – came from an account at Washington’s Riggs Bank in the
name of Princess Haifa Al-Faisal, the wife of Saudi Ambassador to the United
States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and the daughter of the late Saudi King Faisal.
After Al Bayoumi left the country in July 2001 – two months before the
September 11 terror attacks – payments for roughly the same amount began
flowing every month to Osama Basnan, a close associate of Al Bayoumi’s who
also befriended the hijackers.
A federal law-enforcement source told NEWSWEEK that Basnan – who was
recently convicted of visa fraud and is awaiting deportation – was a known ‘Al
Qaeda sympathizer’ who “celebrated the heroes of September 11” at a party
after the attacks and openly talked about “what a wonderful, glorious day it
Administration officials stressed repeatedly in interviews that they do not know
the purpose of the payments from Princess Haifa’s account. It is also uncertain
whether the money was given to the hijackers by Al Bayoumi or Basman.
White House sources also raised a number of other cautionary notes, saying
that it was not uncommon for wealthy Saudis to provide financial assistance to
struggling Saudi families in the United States. “The facts are unclear, and
there’s no need to rush to judgment,” said one administration official.
But other sources describe the financial records as ‘explosive’ and say the
information has spurred an intense, behind-the-scenes battle between
congressional leaders and the Bush administration over whether evidence highly
embarrassing to the Saudi government should be publicly disclosed – especially
at a time that the White House is aggressively seeking Saudi support for a
possible war against Iraq.
“This is a matter of the foreign-policy interests of the United States,”
said another administration official, who cited the need to prevent a rift in the
A spokesperson for Princess Haifa said “she will cooperate fully with the United
States.” The princess hasn’t been asked about the payments by any
representatives of the U.S. government, and she wasn’t aware of the
allegations until today, her spokesperson said.
Administration officials expressed concerns that premature disclosure of the
evidence of the financial payments could jeopardize the ongoing FBI probe,
especially the bureau’s efforts to apprehend and develop a case against Al
Upon leaving the United States last year, Al Bayoumi flew to Great Britain
where he enrolled in a graduate-level business program at Birmingham’s Aston
University. He was arrested by New Scotland Yard after September 11 but
adamantly denied any connection to the attacks or knowledge of the hijacker’s
links to Al Qaeda and was released a week later for lack of evidence. He is now
believed to be back in Saudi Arabia.
Law-enforcement officials say they are still intensely investigating his
activities, suspecting that he may have served as an ‘advance man’ for the hijackers.
The leaders of a joint House-Senate Intelligence Committees investigation have
vigorously pushed for the release of a classified report that lays out the
evidence of the Saudi money flow. But Bush administration officials, led by
Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller, have
adamantly refused to declassify the evidence upon which the report is based.
Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Bob Graham declined to discuss
the evidence gathered by the joint inquiry, but he said he was upset over the
Bush administration’s intransigence. “This one stinks of people using classified
information for political purposes,” said Graham.