Senator says Saudis shielded from links to Sept 11 attacks

WASHINGTON - US Senator Bob Graham, intelligence committee chairman in the run-up to the Iraq war, says the Bush administration has "taken every step" to shield Saudi Arabia from links to the September 11 attacks.

The Florida Democrat in 2002 helped launch a joint inquiry with the House Intelligence Committee that produced a report on intelligence failures related to the September 11 attacks.

He told NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday that his new book, "Intelligence Matters," makes the case on "the extent to which Saudi Arabia was a key part of making 9/11 happen."

"Yet this administration has taken every step to obfuscate, avoid and cover up Saudi Arabia's actions," he added.

Saudi officials have repeatedly denied ties to the September 11 hijackers, and publicised their efforts to combat al Qaeda.

President George W. Bush's presidential re-election campaign called the former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman's allegations baseless.

Excerpts from Graham's book, which goes on sale on Tuesday, showed that at least two of the hijackers had support from Omar al-Bayoumi, whom the senator called a Saudi government spy and said was a "ghost employee" of a Saudi contracting firm, Erean.

The owner of the firm, Graham said, was thought to be a supporter of Osama bin Laden.

Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry called for an immediate investigation into Graham's allegations.

"If the White House and the FBI did in fact block an investigation into the ties between the Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers, then this would be a massive abuse of power," Kerry said in a statement.

The Bush campaign dismissed the issue.

"John Kerry is flailing about making baseless attacks founded on the assertions of a failed presidential candidate," Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Graham dropped out of the Democratic presidential race in October 2003.

The U.S.-Saudi alliance has been strained since the devastating September 11, 2001, hijack attacks by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group. Most of the hijackers were Saudis.

US officials say efforts by the oil-rich kingdom on fighting al Qaeda have increased dramatically.

- REUTERS

Herald Feature: September 11

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