Saudi denies US link to attacks

DUBAI - Saudi citizen Omar al-Bayoumi yesterday denied he was linked to the September 11 attacks on the United States and said he was ready to undergo fresh interrogation by US officials if they came to Saudi Arabia.

US Attorney-General John Ashcroft told ABC television that US authorities planned to interview Bayoumi again over two of the suicide plane hijackers, who US officials say he knew while living in the US.

"I sent a letter to [Saudi Interior Minister] Prince Nayef ... saying I was innocent of [any link to September 11]," Bayoumi told Dubai-based Al Arabiya television.

"And now I am ready to answer any question in this regard with the presence of CIA or FBI investigators and Saudi investigators on Saudi land."

His name re-emerged in a US congressional report released last month that raised suspicions but reached no definite conclusion about whether Bayoumi was connected to the Saudi Government.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said last week that the report "wrongly" accused the kingdom of complicity in the September 11 raids, but US officials were welcome to talk again to Bayoumi.

Normally close US-Saudi relations hit their lowest ebb after the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Bayoumi said after the attacks he was questioned in Britain for seven days and that US officials were present.

Officials searched his computers and personal files and took samples of his saliva for DNA testing, but released him when no evidence was found linking him to the hijacking plot.

"They told me I was innocent of any link whatsoever," Bayoumi told Al Arabiya from the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah, where he is staying.

He said that from a set of pictures during the interrogation he had identified two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, whom he had met in the US.

"I was on my way to Los Angeles with a friend to renew my passport ... On our way back we stopped at a restaurant and heard two men talking.

" I thought they were from a Gulf country and they told me they were from Saudi Arabia.

"They lived near my house [in the US] for two or three weeks, then later they moved to another place," Bayoumi said.

During the September attacks he was studying at a university in London, he said.

Ashcroft said officials wanted to question Bayoumi again in the light of new information, but did not elaborate.

The congressional report says Bayoumi gave two of the hijackers "considerable assistance" when they moved to San Diego.

The hijackers stayed at Bayoumi's apartment for several days.

He co-signed their lease and paid their first month's rent and security deposit.

The report said Bayoumi's employer was the Saudi Civil Aviation authority.

"Despite the fact that he was a student, al-Bayoumi had access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia.

"For example, an FBI source identified al-Bayoumi as the person who delivered US$400,000 [$696,500] from Saudi Arabia for a Kurdish mosque in San Diego."

One of the FBI's best sources in San Diego thought Bayoumi must be an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power.

The report said that while those findings could suggest evidence of support for the hijackers, it was also possible further investigation could reveal "legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations".

- REUTERS

Herald Feature: The Sept 11 attacks

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