Who Got Saudi Money?

  • Share
  • Read Later
You're not alone if you've stopped keeping track of the 9/11 investigation — the FBI's largest ever, as we've been told. But last week Washington insiders found a single thread in the giant investigation tapestry and began pulling — and in doing so created what could become a diplomatic mess with a key ally, just as the U.S. is trying to maintain support for its hard line on Iraq.

The hubbub began when congressional investigators leaked word that prominent Saudis — including Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.--may have given money to associates of two 9/11 hijackers. The connection was tenuous but intriguing. Sources close to the case told TIME that beginning in January 1999 monthly payments of $2,000 were made from Princess Haifa's checking account to Majida Dwaikat, wife of Osama Bassnan. A Saudi national, Bassnan was living in San Diego last year and has been linked to Omar al Bayoumi, a Saudi student who befriended two men who wound up helping crash Flight 77 into the Pentagon. The sources also say that the ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, gave $15,000 to Bassnan.

Why? Charity, the Saudis say. In 1998 Bassnan wrote to the Saudi embassy in Washington pleading for assistance for his four kids and his ailing wife. A spokesman for Princess Haifa says "she had no knowledge that funds she gave away for charity may have been passed on to others." It's quite common for Saudi royals to give away large sums to countrymen who ask. What's more, agents haven't turned up evidence that Bassnan knew about the 9/11 plot, and the FBI has concluded that Bayoumi was not a witting accomplice.

Still, Bassnan was charged with visa fraud and deported on Nov. 17, and the FBI hasn't closed the investigation into his and Bayoumi's finances. The princess has her accountant scrutinizing all the checks from the account in question; no doubt she and her husband will think twice the next time someone begs their generosity.