Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Did the Saudi Royals Murder Jamal Khashoggi? And Did They Support the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks?

With all the talk now about the Saudi government's evident involvement in the premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an American resident and journalist with the Washington Post, it's important to remember that while the Saudis have been our so-called ally in the Middle East, they've never really been our friend. 

It's been 17 years since our country was attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists, 15 of whom were Saudis. And yet we still have not gotten to the bottom of 9/11. There are still more questions than answers about who was behind the terrorist attack, and what role the Saudi government played. 

It is obvious that the Saudis have been given a pass by American law enforcement and have not been investigated adequately. 

As a journalist, I've covered the 9/11 attack since that horrible morning of Sept. 11, 2001. In those first few months afterward, I learned that the federal agencies whose job it was to get to the bottom of 9/11 were not doing a thorough-enough job. Not even close.

Bill Gore, the current San Diego County Sheriff, is a nice enough man. He's well-liked and respected in San Diego County and has by most accounts done a good job. 

Gore was in charge of the San Diego office of the FBI after 9/11. It was of course his charge to investigative any and all connections between the three hijackers who lived in San Diego and anyone who could have supported their evil plot.

To this day, Gore has never given me or anyone else a full or acceptable explanation as to why the bureau never interviewed dozens of people who had connections to the hijackers, and why the bureau cut loose Saudi national Omar al-Bayoumi and het him go back to Saudi Arabia.

Several men from the Middle East who were in San Diego and knew the hijackers but had far less suspicious ties to them than Bayoumi were jailed in San Diego for months. 

Multiple sources I interviewed at the time told me that Bayoumi was a known Saudi government asset who was keeping an eye on the young Saudis who were living in San Diego. 

The enigmatic Bayoumi, who was evidently wealthy but never had a job during his years here, brought the two 9/11 terrorists to San Diego and paid their rent. But his role in the elaborate 9/11 attack, and the role of several other wealthy, recondite Saudis who were in San Diego at the time, has never been fully explained, as I reported here for The Daily Beast. 

Since 2002, when former Senator Bob Graham led the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) into the 9/11 attacks, he has insisted that members of the Saudi government played a role.

“There’s no question in my mind that the Saudi government was involved in 9/11,” the Florida Democrat told me for a story I wrote for The Daily Beast. “But there’s still so much we don’t know. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to have lost interest.”

Though a report on the congressional probe (with 28 pages that for many years were censored) was released, after months of political haggling, there was only tepid interest by our federal government in following the 9/11 money trail to Saudi Arabia.

Terrorists could not have pulled off such an ambitious offensive without substantial financial and logistical support, here and abroad. However, countless intelligence leads that might help solve this mystery have clearly been under-investigated or completely overlooked by the FBI, particularly in San Diego as well as in Florida.

During my years covering 9/11 for Newsweek, The Daily Beast, the International Business Times and San Diego Magazine, I’ve interviewed many people with various financial or other connections to the San Diego–based terrorists or to the enigmatic, moneyed San Diego Saudis who knew the hijackers. 
Not one has ever been contacted by bureau agents.

Criticism of the government for under-investigating the Saudi connections to the attack, and how we let it happen in the first place, have come from liberals and conservatives alike for years. 

It was our Congress itself that collectively called the events leading up to the tragedy the “biggest intelligence failure in American history.”

Did we lay off of Saudi Arabia because of the links between the American oil industry and the Saudis? Or was it more because we needed the Saudis as a military ally in the volatile Middle east?

Looking for answers to these questions, it seems logical to start in San Diego, where even the Congressional report suggests the connections to Al Qaeda and the Saudi government were many.

As I've reported over the years, most San Diegans know about Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar and Hani Hanjoor, the three Saudi hijackers who spent time here. 

But less is known about Saad Al-Habeeb, Omar Al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan, three recondite Saudi nationals who’ve been linked to the terrorists and to the Saudi government.

Saad Al-Habeeb

Al-Habeeb, a Saudi national, was called everything from a student to a wealthy international businessman. He remains largely a mystery. But during his weeklong visit to San Diego, Al-Habeeb left his mark by purchasing a building in El Cajon (easty of San Diego) with a $450,000 cashier’s check from Chase Manhattan Bank.

The building was renamed the Masjid Al-Madina Al-Munawara, to be used as a mosque and community center for San Diego’s Kurd Muslims.

Al-Habeeb’s gift was given on the condition that another Saudi, a sociable but enigmatic man named Omar Al-Bayoumi — the friend of the hijackers who had deep ties to the Saudi government — be set up as the building’s maintenance manager. He also was to be given a private office at the mosque, with a phone and a computer.

A half-million-dollar cashier’s check from a mysterious Saudi who had connections to the terrorists and to the Saudi government would seem a glaring red flag, but FBI agents evidently left this clue unchecked.

Santee businessman Richard Fritzer, who sold the El Cajon building to Al-Habeeb, told me at the time that he was never contacted by anyone from the FBI.

“The mosque purchase was described to me as a charitable gift, but I never knew where the money came from or much about Al-Habeeb’s background,” Fritzer said. “I’d obviously like to know if this guy was involved in any way with terrorism. The FBI never called me.”

The then-manager of La Mesa’s Grossmont Escrow, which handled the El Cajon mosque transaction, told me that the FBI never contacted her, either. “No one’s ever asked to look at our records,” said the manager, who requested her name not be used. “It’s somewhat surprising, considering what this was about.”

Erick Ricci, a local civil engineer who also worked on the mosque project, told me at the time that he never heard from the feds. Ricci said all the money for his engineering work on the project was paid to him on behalf of Al-Habeeb and Al-Bayoumi by a San Diego contractor named Aziz Fathy, who is from Egypt.

Ricci used to work with Fathy, he said, and when I spoke to him he told me that he wondered about the nature of the relationship between the Saudis and Fathy, who I was never able to speak to.

Al-Habeeb, who is mentioned only briefly in the congressional 9/11 report and is apparently back in Saudi Arabia now, has said that he made Al-Bayoumi manager of the El Cajon mosque because he was a “good man.”

But the true nature of his relationship with Al-Bayoumi—and their association with the terrorists and the Saudi government—remains a mystery.

Omar Al-Bayoumi

He’s told various stories about what he was doing in the United States, but Al-Bayoumi has been described by some as the front man for the terrorists here. He always maintained that he simply overheard future hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar speaking Arabic in a Los Angeles restaurant and befriended them.

But just hours before that so-called chance meeting, Al-Bayoumi visited the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, where law enforcement officials believe he had a closed-door meeting with Fahad al Thumairy, a member of the consulate’s Islamic & Culture Affairs Section who later was barred from entry to the United States because of alleged links to terrorism.

After meeting with al Thumairy, Al-Bayoumi met the hijackers in Los Angeles, then brought them to San Diego, arranged for them to live at the Parkwood Apartments in Clairemont (near the Islamic Center of San Diego) and reportedly paid $1,550 for the first two months’ rent.

Al-Bayoumi — who, with others here in San Diego, helped Alhazmi and Almihdhar open a bank account, obtain car insurance, get Social Security cards and call flight schools in Florida — also threw a welcoming party for the hijackers, during which he introduced them to the local Muslim community.

Rarely appearing at the Kurd mosque where Al-Habeeb had positioned him, Al-Bayoumi was widely suspected by Muslims here to be a Saudi government agent — long before 9/11.

“He was always checking on the young Saudi students,” Henry Bagadan, a Pakistani businessman who worships at the Islamic Center, told me. “I always thought he was a Saudi spy.”

Al-Bayoumi was taken into custody two weeks after the 9/11 attack, while studying in England. During a search of his apartment the FBI found the names and numbers of two Saudi embassy employees. At one point the FBI suspected he was an associate of the terrorists and that he had strong ties to the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C.

Al-Bayoumi was again interviewed by members of Congress, but again allowed to move on with his life.

San Diego civil rights attorney Randy Hamud, who represented four Middle Eastern students who knew the terrorists, as well as the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker,” told me that the people at the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., told him that they knew Al-Bayoumi well.

But Al-Bayoumi was released after a short detainment, without charge.

“My clients knew the hijackers only casually, yet they spent a long time in jail,” Hamud told me. “Al-Bayoumi brought the hijackers here. He introduced them to one of my clients and to the community, yet Al-Bayoumi is free. 
Clearly, he knows people in high places; he greased the wheels somehow. The Saudis just aren’t being scrutinized, in general, like the others.”

Osama Basnan

Charges of special treatment for Saudi Arabia grew when it was learned the San Diego–connected Saudis and their families were linked to high-ranking Saudi government officials.

Basnan, another San Diego Saudi who was a close friend of Al-Bayoumi, claimed to have written a letter to the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, and his wife, Princess Haifa Faisal, asking for financial help. 

Basnan’s wife, Majeda Dweikat, apparently needed thyroid surgery. As we reported in Newsweek, the Saudi embassy sent Basnan $15,000 and paid the surgical bill.

Princess Haifa apparently began sending monthly checks of between $2,000 and $3,000 to Dweikat in late 1999 or early 2000. Basnan’s wife then signed many of the checks over to Basnan’s friend, Manal Bajadr, who is Al-Bayoumi’s wife. 

The payments from Haifa continued until May 2002 and may have totaled as much as $73,000, say some reports.

During the time he lived here in San Diego, Basnan also reported his passport stolen in Houston, Texas—which confirmed that Basnan was in that city the same day Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah met with President Bush.

Basnan and his wife, Dweikat, admitted they had used false immigration documents to stay in the United States, and were arrested. A federal source told Newsweek that, at a gathering in Clairemont, Basnan had called 9/11 “a wonderful, glorious day” and celebrated the hijackers’ “heroism.”

Despite all of this, Basnan was ultimately allowed to return to Saudi Arabia, and Dweikat was deported to Jordan.

San Diego–based attorney Jeremy Warren told me that Basnan “loved this country” and called Basnan’s persecution a witch hunt.

Interestingly, Warren, who rejected Newsweek’s report that Basnan was celebrating the acts of 9/11, also happened to be on the Saudi government’s payroll. Saudi officials paid Warren to defend two Saudi students in a test-taking scam involving 130 Saudi and other Middle Eastern men who wanted to attend school in the United States.

Warren declined to discuss the payment from Saudi officials with me, but a court document revealed a $50,000 cash payment from the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles to Warren for an attorney-client trust account.

Warren said that Basnan and Al-Bayoumi were not close. But that, too, was clearly not the case.

They were neighbors at the Parkwood Apartments in Clairemont, where the hijackers also lived. Prior to that, Basnan and his wife and Al-Bayoumi and his wife were neighbors in another apartment complex nearby.

Also, Basnan’s wife and Al-Bayoumi’s wife were arrested together for shoplifting at JC Penney’s in Fashion Valley in April 2001.

Getting to the Bottom of 9/11

Another man who certainly could have helped investigators get to the bottom of this mystery is Abdussattar Shaikh, a longtime FBI asset in San Diego who was friends with al-Bayoumi and who invited two of the San Diego-based hijackers to live in his home.

However, Shaikh was not allowed by the FBI or the Bush administration to testify before the 9/11 Commission or the JICI.

“For me, that was the low point of the [JICI] investigation,” Graham told me for the Daily Beast. “Bayoumi introduced the hijackers to Shaikh, who clearly knew a lot, but the FBI, who had Shaikh in protective custody, seemed to care more about protecting their asset than allowing us to find out what he knew about 9/11.”

The San Diego FBI office’s pursuit of the local Saudi connections to 9/11 was lukewarm, at best. When former San Diego FBI chief Gore retired to join the San Diego District Attorney’s office, he didn’t even know where Al-Bayoumi was.

In an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune,conducted before Gore retired from the bureau, he said he believed Al-Bayoumi was still in England.

At that time, several independent sources were already saying that Al-Bayoumi had been back in Saudi Arabia for several months. When Gore’s error was pointed out to another FBI agent here, the agent conceded Gore had erred, adding, “He can’t be expected to know every detail of every investigation.”

No, not every detail. But he should know the whereabouts of the individual who paid the hijackers rent and brought them to San Diego.

Some critics say the United States’ lack of aggressiveness in following the terrorists’ money trail back to Saudi Arabia, to this day, has to do with American business and military interests in that country.

Whatever the case, government spokesmen in Saudi Arabia have emphatically denied over the years that al Qaeda is supported in any way by officials there. 

But some U.S officials, including former Sen. Graham of Florida, continue to emphatically insist that the Saudi government had a role in the 9/11 attack.

My Timeline of Coverage of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks:





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