U.S. investigators are setting out anew to determine whether the connections are innocent coincidences in an Islamic culture that urges charitable support or a pattern of pro-terror money and patronage flowing from the wealthy kingdom that is a longtime U.S. ally, according to government officials familiar with those efforts.
Some of the most sensitive information in a 28-page classified section of the report involves what U.S. agencies are doing currently to investigate Saudi business figures and organizations, the officials said.
The congressional investigators, however, warn the leads they have dug up for the FBI (news - web sites) and CIA (news - web sites) to pursue are at times contradictory or circumstantial. U.S. intelligence and FBI investigators view the evidence of ties to Saudi intelligence as unclear, the officials said.
"On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, 'incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists,'" one passage from the unclassified section of the report states. "On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations."
Top Saudi officials call for the public release of the still-secret sections of the report that deal with possible Saudi terror connections and say it is ridiculous to suggest the royal family would deliberately fund an al-Qaida movement dedicated to its overthrow.
Adel al-Jubeir, a Saudi foreign policy adviser, said his government hasn't seen the classified section of the report but based on the Saudis' own terrorism investigation believes much of the evidence is likely uncorroborated.
"One of the reasons we believe the intelligence community insisted on classification of that section is it could not confirm or agree with what the joint inquiry report says," al-Jubeir said.
Osama bin Laden (news - web sites), a Saudi by birth, was excommunicated from his homeland in the mid-1990s for his advocacy of violence against the United States and his threats to overthrow the Saudi royal family for allowing U.S. troops on Saudi soil during the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites).
FBI officials are seeking to question, anew, Saudi businessman Omar al-Bayoumi, who during his time in San Diego threw a welcoming party for eventual hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi and who put down money for their rent deposit and first month's rent.
Al-Bayoumi left the United States two months before the suicide hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001, and settled in Britain, where Princess Faisal's brother, Prince Turki al-Faisal, was serving as ambassador after a stint as chief of Saudi intelligence.
Several such connections to Saudi government officials have led some in Congress to question if al-Bayoumi was a Saudi intelligence agent — an allegation al-Jubeir denies. Saudi officials say British and U.S. officials questioned al-Bayoumi immediately after the attacks and released him.
A lawyer for three central witnesses in the Sept. 11 investigation said the FBI also may have an interest in videotapes al-Bayoumi took of numerous events at an Islamic center in San Diego, including the party for two hijackers.
Al-Bayoumi "had a video camera at that party. He and his video camera were inseparable," attorney Randall Hamud said in an interview Friday. "In fact, one of my clients even held the camera for a while at that party."
The classified report, as well as other sensitive intelligence gathered by U.S. investigators, focuses on a series of financial transactions and movements by Saudi citizens and royalty.
Key among them are checks Prince Bandar, the U.S. ambassador to the United States, and his wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, made out to a couple who were acquaintances of al-Bayoumi.
Saudi officials say Bandar and al-Faisal transferred tens of thousands of dollars to a Saudi named Osama Basnan and his Jordanian wife, Magda Ibrahim Dweikat.
Al-Jubeir said Bandar gave charitable donations to Basnan to help cover his wife's medical bills starting in 1998 and that al-Faisal separately gave regular monthly payments to Dweikat, who used her maiden name, which would not call attention to her marriage to Basnan.
Al-Jubeir said Saudi investigators traced every payment — which totaled more than $100,000 — and found evidence two or three of the princess' checks to Dweikat were signed over to al-Bayoumi's wife. Saudi officials found no evidence that money was transferred to the hijackers or even used by al-Bayoumi when he assisted the hijackers, he said.
He said the money the prince and princess gave was among millions they've donated to help Saudis living in the United States.
FBI officials obtained information about Basnan, who was charged with visa violations after Sept. 11 and eventually sent back to Saudi Arabia, "clearly indicating that Basnan is an extremist and bin Laden supporter," the congressional report concludes.
In a classified section of the report, congressional investigators also trace his movements after Sept. 11, raising the possibility he went to Houston to meet with a Saudi figure with intelligence ties who had come with royal family members when they met with President Bush (news - web sites) in Texas.
Among other connections, the report states that a U.S.-based imam who had been on the FBI's radar before Sept. 11 served as a spiritual adviser for two of the hijackers and his mosques may have facilitated the hijackers on both coasts.
The congressional report says the FBI dropped pre-Sept inquiries about the imam, which it does not identify, "despite the imam's contacts with other subjects of counterterrorism interest and reports concerning the imam's connection to suspect organizations."