Just days after the 9/11 attacks, the FBI allowed a nephew of Osama bin Laden under prior investigation for terrorism to leave the U.S. on a Saudi Arabian-chartered jet without questioning, a new book on the bin Ladens reveals.
Another bin Laden nephew living in the U.S. was protected from terrorism prosecution after the Saudi embassy stepped in and gave him diplomatic immunity.
The revelations by the Pulitzer-winning author, a former Washington Post editor, are sure to fuel suspicions the Saudi Arabian government has escaped rigorous investigation into the role it has played in terrorism, including any relevant information it had about the 9/11 operation.
Omar bin Laden was one of several members of the bin Laden family whom FBI agents were ordered to personally escort to safety and help evacuate from the country, along with dozens of well-connected members of the Saudi royal family – none of whom were subjected to “serious interviews or interrogations,” former senior FBI official Dale Watson has acknowledged, even though most of the hijackers were Saudis. Watson fielded calls directly from the Saudi embassy while helping coordinate the post-9/11 evacuation.
Omar was the only passenger known to have been the subject of an FBI investigation before 9/11, says Steve Coll, author of “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century.” Yet agents did not question him at all about the attacks before, during or after he boarded a specially chartered evacuation flight at Washington Dulles International Airport on Sept. 19, 2001.
“Of all the passengers on the bin Laden flight, Omar is the only one known to have even a possible connection to Islamist preaching and organizing,” Coll wrote. “And yet, oddly, Omar may have been one of the few passengers on the charter who was not interviewed by the FBI.”
(His flight flew on to Boston to pick up more bin Laden relatives. Curiously, despite the worldwide air travel chaos that day – Sept. 19 – al-Qaida operative Aafia Siddiqui also managed to get tickets leaving the country through Logan airport, the final departure point for the bin Laden flight. Siddiqui, who received wire transfers from the Saudi embassy, is now in custody after trying to shoot a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.)
Omar along with his brother Abdullah bin Laden – who ran the U.S. branch of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth for the Saudi government – were suspected of supporting terrorism by the FBI, and agents had compiled thick files on both of them at the bureau. Records show Abdullah had sold his Washington-area home months before 9/11, and apparently left the country before the attacks.
WAMY’s Alexandria, Va., offices were raided after 9/11, but the investigation was halted after the Saudi embassy claimed Abdullah as an attache. Coll says FBI agents interviewing Abdullah immediately backed off after Abdullah produced diplomatic credentials protecting him from U.S. prosecution.
Whether Omar bin Laden also maintained diplomatic immunity, Coll did not say.
Since 1992, WAMY has sponsored jihad training camps for Muslim boys in Texas, New York, Florida, California and Washington state, among other states. According to investigative reporter Paul Sperry, author of “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington,” WAMY publishes a booklet, “Islamic Camps: Objectives, Program Outlines and Preparatory Steps,” which teaches children ages 14 to 18 to not be “miserly with your blood” in fighting the infidels in jihad.
WAMY is regulated by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs. “Islamic Views,” an Arabic language book written by WAMY and printed by the Saudi government, says Islam “is a religion of jihad” and that Muslims must “teach our children to love taking revenge on the Jews and the oppressors.”
An FBI case file marked “secret” describes WAMY, still operating inside the Beltway, as a “suspected terrorist organization.”
The bin Laden brothers stayed at Abdullah’s contemporary half-million-dollar home in Falls Church, Va., which Abdullah sold in 2001. (A few years earlier, the Walnut Hills Homeowners Association had filed a lien against Abdullah’s property for $865 in unpaid dues, according to court records obtained by Sperry.)
“The FBI conducted a slapdash investigation of these Saudi flights,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, the public-interest watchdog group which last year successfully sued to declassify parts of the FBI files regarding the evacuation. “We’ll never know how many investigative leads were lost due to the FBI’s lack of diligence.”
Coll confirms that the flights – which departed just days after then-Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar met with President Bush on the Truman Balcony – were cleared by the White House, which critics say subsequently throttled investigations involving Saudis. Among other things, it:
- Allowed the Saudi religious minister to leave the country (also on Sept. 19, 2001) and escape further questioning after feigning a seizure as FBI agents asked why he was staying at the same Dulles airport-area hotel as the Saudi hijackers the night before they attacked the Pentagon.
- Censored 28 full pages, back-to-back, contained in the unclassified report of the congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks that allegedly detail “incontrovertible evidence” of complicity in the attacks by Saudi government officials.
- Revoked a warrant for the arrest of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki – a Falls Church, Va., radical imam who prepared at least two of the Saudi hijackers for martrydom – and let him flee the U.S. on a Saudi airline after 9/11, as first reported by Sperry in “Infiltration.”
- Censored snippets of conversation embarrassing to the Saudi government – including references to Saudi clerics and Saudi police praising the 9/11 attacks – in a transcript of a bin Laden video about the 9/11 operation that the Pentagon released to the media in December 2001.
- Helped dismiss the 9/11 class-action lawsuit against Saudi officials.
- Removed a press release from Treasury’s website blacklisting a Saudi charity tied to the royal family’s banker, Khalid Bin Mahfouz.
- Left off the U.S. sanctions list two Saudi-controlled charities used by bin Laden to finance terrorism – the Muslim World League and the International Islamic Relief Organization – to avoid embarrassing the Saudis.
- Orchestrated with the Saudi embassy the visit to Ground Zero and $10 million charitable offering by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (which then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani ultimately rebuffed after learning the prince blamed the attacks on U.S. foreign policy).
- Repatriated the 138 Saudi terrorist detainees held at Gitmo, tranferring them on Saudi jumbo jets in what some say amounts to another evacuation program.
“No doubt the Saudis got a pass,” Fitton told WND. “Saudi support for the bin Laden network has not been sufficiently examined.”
The FBI says the post-9/11 coast-to-coast Saudi airlift was ordered at the highest levels by the White House under pressure from the Saudi ambassador. It’s not clear if Bush personally gave the order, or whether it came through the White House chief of staff’s office.
Bush told the 9/11 Commission (in an unsworn statement) that he had no knowledge of the Saudi evacuation “until it surfaced much later in the media,” the panel’s final report says.
However, the aircraft that evacuated the bin Ladens, a 727 operated by Ryan International, has been chartered frequently by the White House for the press corps traveling with Bush.
At the time of the evacuation, Bush had been briefed by U.S. intelligence that 15 Saudi citizens were responsible for the hijackings.
In fact, preliminary reports had already fingered the Saudis by the time Bush met with Saudi ambassador Bandar on the Truman Balcony on Sept. 13, 2001. An archived White House photo (unavailable online) of the meeting shows Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also in attendance. Bush and Bandar, a close family friend, are seen smiling and sharing cigars.
“My theory is Prince Bandar asked Bush (to evacuate the bin Ladens), and Bush told (then-chief of staff) Andy Card to make it happen,” said Christopher J. Farrell, the Judicial Watch investigator who originally petitioned the government for the list of bin Laden passengers, under the Freedom of Information Act.
FBI officials say Bandar, who in 2002 called the bin Laden family “truly a Saudi success story,” demanded the chartered Saudi planes take off without the FBI even knowing the names of the all the bin Laden and Saudi passengers traveling aboard the planes. While FBI agents managed to identify the passengers, they did not have time to conduct full-blown investigations before their departures.
Months before the 9/11 attacks, Bandar’s wife made monthly tranfers totalling more than $130,000 to the wives of two Saudi agents who acted as advance men for the Saudi hijackers in San Diego. The agents coordinated their efforts with the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, where the hijackers first entered the U.S.
Coll confirms that on the day the attacks, as well as the day before, Osama bin Laden’s half-brother, Shafiq bin Laden, was attending a Carlyle Group investors’ conference at the Ritz Carlton in Washington (near DuPont Circle, across the Potomac from the Pentagon) – an event also attended by Bush’s father and Shafiq’s close friend James Baker.
The Bin Laden family’s investment in Carlyle at the time was about $2 million, Coll says, but it had cashed out larger investments before 9/11. (Bandar had over the years also parked about $60 million in Saudi funds with Carlyle.)
In 1998, three months after bin Laden bombed the U.S. embassies in Africa, George H.W. Bush personally traveled to Saudi Arabia to speak at Caryle events designed to raise money from Saudi investors. He met with the bin Ladens at the time, Coll says, and wrote them “gracious thank you notes for their hospitality.”