Washington, July 22: A Saudi citizen who provided help to two of the September 11 hijackers may have been an agent for the Riyadh government, a Congressional report will highlight this week.
The explosive allegation in the report, which is understood to be highly critical of the FBI, is likely to reignite the controversy over Saudi Arabia’s links with al Qaida and has already led to accusations that the Bush administration is covering up for the House of Saud.
According to Newsweek magazine, the 900-page report will document extensive ties between Omar al-Bayoumi and the two hijackers after they arrived in San Diego in 2000.
Al-Bayoumi, who will be identified as a possible Saudi government agent, assisted Khalid al-Mindhar and Nawaf al-Hamzi, who were among the five al Qaida operatives who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and flew it into the Pentagon.
Any evidence that Bayoumi was a Saudi agent would be explosive, transforming the September 11 investigation into an inquiry into possible state-sponsored terrorism.
The White House has resisted calls for the whole report to be published, insisting that a 28-page section dealing with the Saudis and other foreign governments be kept secret.
“They are protecting a foreign government,” said Senator Bob Graham, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination and oversaw the inquiry, conducted jointly by the Senate and House of Representative’s intelligence committees.
Robert Mueller, who took over as FBI director just before September 11, has already been criticised because his agents did not investigate al-Mindhar and al-Hamzi even though they were living in the house of an FBI informant.
The report is also expected to criticise the Pentagon for failing to carry out air strikes against al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan before September 11 and the CIA for not telling the FBI about the presence of al-Mindhar and al-Hamzi at a meeting of terrorists in Malaysia. It is the FBI, however, which is due to get the harshest verdict. The FBI’s informant also had contact with Hani Hanjour, another hijacker, but the bureau did not discover he was in contact with al Qaida operatives despite his regular conversations with his handler.
One congressional investigator described the report as “a scathing indictment of the FBI as an agency that doesn’t have a clue about terrorism”. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were Saudis but President George W Bush has consistently sought to play down Saudi Arabia’s links to terrorism.