Saturday, April 16, 2016

With Friends Like the Saudis, Who Needs Enemies?

The specter of possible Saudi Arabian government involvement in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 has reared its head again, thanks to a compelling, if incomplete 60 Minutes piece on Sunday and a subsequent news report this morning from the New York Times

The 60 Minutes item recapped the alleged links between a mysterious Saudi national in San Diego to Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, the two terrorists who resided in San Diego. 

The New York Times noted that the Saudi government has told the Obama administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in 9/11.

According to the Times, Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, told U.S. lawmakers personally during last month that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts.

This threat from the Saudis only further illuminates the growing hostility between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. But as I've been saying for 15 years, with friends like the Saudis, who needs enemies? 

Need I remind you that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis? Osama bin Laden was a Saudi. And the financial and personal connections between several Saudis living in this country at the time of the attack and the hijackers are troubling and have never been fully investigated.

For untenable reasons, the Obama administration strongly opposes the passage of the bill that would allow the Saudi royals to be held liable for 9/11. The administration also indefensibly opposes the declassification of the 28 pages of the Joint Congressional Inquiry report that congressional sources tell me shows how mysterious and moneyed Saudis who lived in the United States and had connections to the the Saudi government may have supported the hijackers.

While the 60 Minutes piece on this subject was accurate, it didn’t come close to telling the whole story. The news magazine neglected to mention several enigmatic, moneyed Saudis in San Diego that I discovered during my reporting for Newsweek, and Saudis in other U.S. cities, too, who could have assisted the terrorists.

The 60 Minutes report focused on Omar al-Bayoumi, who had ties to the Saudi government and lived in San Diego for several years until July 2001. Al-Bayoumi, a gregarious figure who always seemed to have money to burn but never had a job, brought the two future hijackers to San Diego from Los Angeles, threw a party for them, and paid $1,550 in cash to cover their first two months' rent, as we noted in Newsweek in 2002.

And as I learned quickly after beginning my coverage of the 9/11 aftermath, al-Bayoumi was widely considered by those who knew him at San Diego’s largest mosque to be a Saudi government agent long before 9/11.

But there were several lesser-known but equally enigmatic Saudis living in the United States who were also linked to the terrorists and who may have supported them.

They included Saad al-Habeeb, who as I reported when I was with Newsweek purchased a building in El Cajon, Calif., near San Diego, with a $450,000 cashier's check for use as a mosque and community center for San Diego's Kurd Muslims. 
Al-Habeeb’s motivation for this gift has never been explained, but it was given on the condition that al-Bayoumi be set up as the building's maintenance manager and given a private office at the mosque, with a phone and a computer.
Leaders of the Kurd mosque told me at the time that al-Bayoumi was never seen in that building, and al-Habeeb disappeared soon after buying the mosque and presumably returned to Saudi Arabia. No one has ever been able to explain the nature of the relationship between al-Habeeb and al-Bayoumi.
Another San Diego Saudi who had links to the terrorists was Osama Basnan, who as Newsweek reported received monthly checks for several years totaling as much as $73,000 from the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, and his wife, Princess Haifa Faisal.
The checks were sent because Basnan's wife, Majeda Dweikat, reportedly needed thyroid surgery. She then signed many of the checks over to Basnan's friend, Manal Bajadr, who was al-Bayoumi's wife. 
This all could have been innocent. But the money allegedly made its way into the hands of the San Diego-based hijackers, according to the congressional report on 9/11.
Alleged Saudi Support for 9/11 Terrorists in Florida

The list of potential US-based Saudi supporters of the hijackers extended beyond San Diego, though this has not gotten much media attention. Among the most chilling stories is that of Saudi millionaire Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, whose upscale home in Sarasota, Fla., was owned by Anoud al-Hijji’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, an adviser to Prince Fahd bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the nephew of King Fahd.

The FBI's initial investigation of al-Hijji, who abruptly left the United States with his family just weeks before 9/11, leaving behind his home and most of his belongings, concluded that he was visited in his home by several of the 9/11 terrorists, including Muhammad Atta, and one of the 9/11 ringleaders who piloted the American Airlines jet that crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

This was first reported by the Florida Bulldog (formerly the Broward Builldog), a small, nonprofit news organization in South Florida. There’ve been surprisingly few American news organizations that have stayed on the 9/11 trail after nearly 15 years.

But the Bulldog has hounded FBI to not only release the 28 pages, but also to be more forthcoming about its investigations of alleged links between al-Hijji and several other Florida-based Saudis and the hijackers.

Four years ago, the Bulldog filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking records of the FBI’s investigation of al-Hijji. Bulldog Editor Dan Christensen told me this week that the news organization is also pursuing a so-called Mandatory Declassification Review of the 28 pages from the Joint Inquiry.

FBI Discredits its Own 9/11 Investigation in Florida

The FBI’s initial findings about Sarasota were inexplicably not included in either Congress’s Joint Inquiry (on 9/11) or the 9/11 Commission report. And this past year, with very little accompanying publicity, the bureau dismissed its own April 2002 report on Sarasota, saying it was “poorly written and wholly unsubstantiated.”
This came as part of the FBI’s congressionally mandated look at its own investigations of 9/11 and to assess its preparedness "in a rapidly evolving and dangerous world.” The report, titled FBI: Protecting the Homeland in the 21st Century, amounted to a virtual whitewash.

The three men on this 9/11 Review Commission, who were paid by the FBI, held no public hearings and had no subpoena power. The three-member commission, whose leaders included Ed Meese, former attorney general during the Reagan administration, concluded that the 2002 report from the FBI in Florida was not accurate, which contradicted earlier summaries of the Florida investigation by the bureau.

Did Law Enforcement Drop the Ball With 9/11 Investigation?

The biggest roadblock to public awareness of any official Saudi role in 9/11 has of course been the government's refusal to release the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission's report, which President George W. Bush classified in 2003 and which President Obama has refused to release to the public.

Sources tell me that the 28 pages tacitly indict federal law enforcement for not following up on many potential leads after 9/11. But what is undoubtedly not included in the 28 pages are all the names potential US-based Saudi supporters the FBI never contacted. 

I personally interviewed at least a half-dozen people of Saudi origin in San Diego in the weeks and months after 9/11 who had direct links with the terrorists and/or with the mysterious Saudis al-Bayoumi, al-Habeeb, and Basnan. But each of these people said they were never contacted by FBI or any other US law enforcement.