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Early 1980: Osama Bin Laden, with Saudi Backing, Supports Afghan Rebels
Osama bin Laden begins providing financial, organizational, and engineering aid for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, with the advice and support of the Saudi royal family. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001] Some, including Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, believe he was handpicked for the job by Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabia’s Secret Service. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001; Sunday Times (London), 8/25/2002] The Pakistani ISI want a Saudi prince as a public demonstration of the commitment of the Saudi royal family and as a way to ensure royal funds for the anti-Soviet forces. The agency fails to get royalty, but bin Laden, with his family’s influential ties, is good enough for the ISI. [Miami Herald, 9/24/2001] (Clarke will argue later that the Saudis and other Muslim governments used the Afghan war in an attempt to get rid of their own misfits and troublemakers.) This multinational force later coalesces into al-Qaeda. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 52]
1983: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar Emerges as Most Powerful ISI Client
Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar emerges as the most powerful of ISI’s mujaheddin clients, just as Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) and CIA Director William Casey, along with Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, are pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of new and more lethal supplies into ISI warehouses.” Hekmatyar is among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan Islamic warlords. [Coll, 2004, pp. 119] He receives about half of all the CIA’s covert weapons directed at Afghanistan despite being a known major drug trafficker (see 1982-1991). He develops close ties with bin Laden by 1984 while continuing to recieve large amounts of assistance from the CIA and ISI (see 1984).
Summer 1991: Bin Laden Leaves Saudi Arabia
Bin Laden, recently returned to Saudi Arabia, has been placed under house arrest for his opposition to the continued presence of US soldiers on Saudi soil. [PBS Frontline, 2001] Controversial author Gerald Posner claims that a classified US intelligence report describes a secret deal between bin Laden and Saudi intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal at this time. Although bin Laden has become an enemy of the Saudi state, he is nonetheless too popular for his role with the mujaheddin in Afghanistan to be easily imprisoned or killed. According to Posner, bin Laden is allowed to leave Saudi Arabia with his money and supporters, but the Saudi government will publicly disown him. Privately, the Saudis will continue to fund his supporters with the understanding that they will never be used against Saudi Arabia. The wrath of the fundamentalist movement is thus directed away from the vulnerable Saudis. [Posner, 2003, pp. 40-42] Posner alleges the Saudis “effectively had [bin Laden] on their payroll since the start of the decade.” [Time, 8/31/2003] This deal is reaffirmed in 1996 and 1998. Bin Laden leaves Saudi Arabia in the summer of 1991, returning first to Afghanistan. [Coll, 2004, pp. 229-31, 601-02] After staying there a few months, he moves again, settling into Sudan with hundreds of ex-mujaheddin supporters (see 1992-1996). [PBS Frontline, 2001]
June 1993: Saudis Urge US to Lead in Military Assistance to Bosnian Muslims
Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al Faisal urges President Bill Clinton to take the lead in military assistance to Bosnia. Richard Holbrooke, US ambassador to Germany at the time, draws up plans for covert assistance. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 195]
1994: Bin Laden Front Establishes Secure Communications through Denver Using US Army Lines
The London-based Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC) establishes a secure system for communications between Saudi Arabia and London for Osama bin Laden. The system is set up by Denver resident Lujain al-Imam, wife of London-based Islamic activist Mohammad al-Massari, at his request. The calls are routed from Saudi Arabia to Britain through Denver, Colorado, using toll-free lines established for US servicemen during the Gulf War, in order to stop the Saudi government from intercepting the messages. After the system is set up, bin Laden calls al-Massari to thank him. It is not known how long the phone system is used. However, in late 2001 al-Imam will say that some of the people involved in setting up the system are still in the Denver area, but she will not name them. [Scripps Howard News Service, 11/12/2001] The ARC is widely considered bin Laden’s publicity office. ARC head Khalid al-Fawwaz will be indicted for his involvement in the US embassy bombings in 1998 (see August 7, 1998 and August 21, 2001). Denver-based radical publisher Homaidan al-Turki begins to be investigated over suspicions he is involved in terrorism in 1995, although it is unclear whether this is related to the Saudi Arabia-Britain phone lines. [Associated Press, 8/31/2006]
Shortly After April 9, 1994: Bin Laden Family Publicly Disowns Osama
Shortly after the Saudi government publicly disowns bin Laden (while privately continuing to support him) (see April 9, 1994), the bin Laden family follows suits and publicly disowns him as well. Bakr bin Laden, the chairman of the Saudi Binladin Group, the main bin Laden family company, signs a two-sentence statement. Osama bin Laden has 25 brothers, 29 sisters, and more in-laws, aunts, uncles, and so forth. Der Spiegel will later report that in the years bin Laden lives in Sudan, Saudi intelligence minister “Prince Turki sent Osama’s mother, Hamida, and his brother Bakr to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, several times to convince Osama to abandon his terrorist activities. The visits were so frequent that Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, believed at the time that Osama was a Saudi spy.” Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will say, “I tracked the bin Ladens for years. Many family members claimed that Osama was no longer one of them. It’s an easy thing to say, but blood is usually thicker than water.” Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA unit specializing in hunting bin Laden, doubts that the entire bin Laden family has severed ties with Osama. In a 2005 interview he will say, “I haven’t seen anything in the last 10 years that’s convinced me that would be the case.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005]
1995-2001: Persian Gulf Elite Go Hunting with Bin Laden in Afghanistan
Sheik Mohammed ibn Rashid al Maktum, who is said to go falcon hunting with bin Laden, will later rule the emirate that owns DP World, the UAE company attempting to purchase a number of US ports in 2006.Sheik Mohammed ibn Rashid al Maktum, who is said to go falcon hunting with bin Laden, will later rule the emirate that owns DP World, the UAE company attempting to purchase a number of US ports in 2006. [Source: UAE Government]After the Taliban takes control of the area around Kandahar, Afghanistan, in September 1994, prominent Persian Gulf state officials and businessmen, including high-ranking United Arab Emirates and Saudi government ministers, such as Saudi intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, frequently secretly fly into Kandahar on state and private jets for hunting expeditions. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] General Wayne Downing, Bush’s former national director for combating terrorism, says: “They would go out and see Osama, spend some time with him, talk with him, you know, live out in the tents, eat the simple food, engage in falconing, some other pursuits, ride horses.” [MSNBC, 9/5/2003] One noted visitor is Sheik Mohammed ibn Rashid al Maktum, United Arab Emirates Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai. While there, some develop ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and give them money. Both bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar sometimes participate in these hunting trips. Former US and Afghan officials suspect that the dignitaries’ outbound jets may also have smuggled out al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] On one occasion, the US will decide not to attack bin Laden with a missile because he’s falconing with important members of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family (see February 11, 1999).
May 1996: Saudis and Al-Qaeda Allegedly Strike a Secret Deal
French intelligence secretly monitors a meeting of Saudi billionaires at the Hotel Royale Monceau in Paris this month with the financial representative of al-Qaeda. “The Saudis, including a key Saudi prince joined by Muslim and non-Muslim gun traffickers, [meet] to determine who would pay how much to Osama. This [is] not so much an act of support but of protection—a payoff to keep the mad bomber away from Saudi Arabia.” [Palast, 2002, pp. 100] Participants also agree that bin Laden should be rewarded for promoting Wahhabism (an austere form of Islam that requires literal interpretation of the Koran) in Chechnya, Kashmir, Bosnia, and other places. [Fifth Estate, 10/29/2003 pdf file] This extends an alleged secret deal first made between the Saudi government and bin Laden in 1991. Later, 9/11 victims’ relatives will rely on the “nonpublished French intelligence report” of this meeting in their lawsuit against important Saudis. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 8/16/2002] According to French terrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard and/or reporter Greg Palast, there are about 20 people at the meeting, including Saudi intelligence head Prince Turki al-Faisal, an unnamed brother of bin Laden and an unnamed representative from the Saudi Defense Ministry. [Fifth Estate, 10/29/2003 pdf file; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] Palast claims that Saudi businessman Abdullah Taha Bakhsh attends the meeting. Bakhsh also saved Bush Jr.‘s Harken Oil from bankruptcy around 1990. Palast claims the notorious Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi also attends the meeting. [Democracy Now!, 3/4/2003; Santa Fe New Mexican, 3/20/2003] In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, Slate has claimed that Khashoggi is a “shadowy international arms merchant” who is “connected to every scandal of the past 40 years.” Amongst other things, he was a major investor in BCCI and a key player in the Iran-Contra affair. [Slate, 12/4/00, Slate, 11/14/01, Slate, 3/12/03] [Slate, 12/4/2000; Slate, 11/14/2001; Slate, 3/12/2003] Palast, noting that the French monitored the meeting, asks, “Since US intelligence was thus likely informed, the question becomes why didn’t the government immediately move against the Saudis?” [Palast, 2002, pp. 100]
1997: Future Hijackers Supposedly Watchlisted in Saudi Arabia for Failed Gunrunning Plot
Prince Turki al Faisal, Saudi intelligence minister until shortly before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001), will later claim that al-Qaeda attempts to smuggle weapons into Saudi Arabia to mount attacks on police stations. The plot is uncovered and prevented by Saudi intelligence, and two of the unsuccessful gunrunners, future hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, are watchlisted. [Salon, 10/18/2003; Wright, 2006, pp. 266, 310-311, 448] However, Almihdhar and Alhazmi continue to move in and out of Saudi Arabia unchecked and will obtain US visas there in April 1999 (see 1993-1999 and April 3-7, 1999). The US is supposedly informed of Almihdhar and Alhazmi’s al-Qaeda connection by the end of 1999 (see Late 1999). Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an associate of Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000), is implicated in a plot to smuggle four Russian antitank missiles into Saudi Arabia around the same time, although it is unclear whether this is the same plot or a different one. The Saudi authorities uncover this plot and the US is apparently informed of the missile seizure in June 1998. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3, 491]
Spring 1998: Bin Laden’s Stepmother Visits Afghanistan
Sources who know bin Laden claim his stepmother, Al-Khalifa bin Laden, has the first of two meetings with her stepson in Afghanistan during this period. This trip was arranged by Prince Turki al-Faisal, then the head of Saudi intelligence. Turki was in charge of the “Afghanistan file” for Saudi Arabia, and had long-standing ties to bin Laden and the Taliban since 1980. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001]
May 1998: CIA Director Prefers Saudi Plan to Bribe Taliban over Direct Action against Bin Laden
According to author James Risen, CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA officials travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler of the country. Tenet wants Abdullah to address the problem of bin Laden. He requests that bin Laden not be given to the US to be put on trial but that he be given to the Saudis instead. Abdullah agrees as long as it can be a secret arrangement. Tenet sends a memo to National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, recommending that the CIA allow the Saudis to essentially bribe the Taliban to turn him over. Around the same time, Tenet cancels the CIA’s own operation to get bin Laden (see May 29, 1998). Prince Turki al-Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence, does go to Afghanistan in June and/or July of 1998 to make a secret deal, though with whom he meets and what is agreed upon is highly disputed (see June 1998 and July 1998). But it becomes clear after the failed US missile attack on bin Laden in August 1998 (see August 20, 1998) that the Taliban has no intention of turning bin Laden over to anyone. Risen later comments, “By then, the CIA’s capture plan was dead, and the CIA had no other serious alternatives in the works.… It is possible that the crown prince’s offer of assistance simply provided Tenet and other top CIA officials an easy way out of a covert action plan that they had come to believe represented far too big of a gamble.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
June 1998: Taliban and Saudis Discuss Bin Laden
Relations between Taliban head Mullah Omar and bin Laden grow tense, and Omar discusses a secret deal with the Saudis, who have urged the Taliban to expel bin Laden from Afghanistan. Head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal travels to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and brokers the deal. According to Turki, he seeks to have the Taliban turn bin Laden over to Saudi custody. Omar agrees in principle, but requests that the parties establish a joint commission to work out how bin Laden would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law. [Coll, 2004, pp. 400-02] Note that some reports of a meeting around this time—and the deal discussed—vary dramtically from Turki’s version (see May 1996 and July 1998). If this version is correct, before a deal can be reached, the US strikes Afghanistan in August in retaliation for the US African embassy bombings (see August 20, 1998), driving Omar and bin Laden back together. Turki later states that “the Taliban attitude changed 180 degrees,” and that Omar is “absolutely rude” to him when he visits again in September (see Mid-September 1998). [Guardian, 11/5/2001; London Times, 8/3/2002]
July 1998: Taliban and Saudis Meet and Purportedly Make a Deal
Taliban officials allegedly meet with Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence, to continue talks concerning the Taliban’s ouster of bin Laden from Afghanistan. Reports on the location of this meeting, and the deal under discussion differ. According to some reports, including documents exposed in a later lawsuit, this meeting takes place in Kandahar. Those present include Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, Taliban leaders, senior officers from the ISI, and bin Laden. According to these reports, Saudi Arabia agrees to give the Taliban and Pakistan “several hundred millions” of dollars, and in return, bin Laden promises no attacks against Saudi Arabia. The Saudis also agree to ensure that requests for the extradition of al-Qaeda members will be blocked and promise to block demands by other countries to close down bin Laden’s Afghan training camps. Saudi Arabia had previously given money to the Taliban and bribe money to bin Laden, but this ups the ante. [Sunday Times (London), 8/25/2002] A few weeks after the meeting, Prince Turki sends 400 new pickup trucks to the Taliban. At least $200 million follow. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001; New York Post, 8/25/2002] Controversial author Gerald Posner gives a similar account said to come from high US government officials, and adds that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida also attends the meeting. [Posner, 2003, pp. 189-90] Note that reports of this meeting seemingly contradict reports of a meeting the month before between Turki and the Taliban, in which the Taliban agreed to get rid of bin Laden (see June 1998).
Mid-September 1998: Taliban Supposedly Rejects Secret Deal to Hand Bin Laden to Saudis
According to Saudi intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, he participates in a second meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Omar at this time. Supposedly, earlier in the year Omar made a secret deal with Turki to hand bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia (see June 1998) and Turki is now ready to finalize the deal. ISI Director Gen. Naseem Rana is at the meeting as well. But in the wake of the US missile bombing of Afghanistan (August 20, 1998), Omar yells at Turki and denies ever having made a deal. Turki leaves empty handed. [Wright, 2006, pp. 244] However, other reports stand in complete contrast to this, suggesting that earlier in the year Turki colluded with the ISI to support bin Laden, not capture him (see May 1996 and July 1998).
November 1998: Americans and Saudis Possibly Attempt to Poison Bin Laden
According to the 1999 book The New Jackals by journalist Simon Reeve, bin Laden is nearly poisoned to death this month. The operation “involved American technology and know-how in concert with Saudi finance and manpower, thus avoiding any difficult questions in the US Congress about state-sponsored assassinations. The attack involved an assassin called Siddiq Ahmed who was paid $267,000 to poison bin Laden. It was only partially successful, causing acute kidney failure.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 204] Apparently, different Saudi factions have vastly different attitudes towards bin Laden, because the same book claims that around this same time, Prince Turki bin Faisal, the Saudi intelligence minister, may have met with senior Taliban leaders to extract guarantees of support for bin Laden, to ensure the Taliban would not hand bin Laden over to the US. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 191] No post-9/11 investigations will mention this alleged poisoning incident.
Late 1999: Saudis Claim to Add Two 9/11 Hijackers to Watch List and Inform CIA
Prince Turki al Faisal, Saudi intelligence minister until shortly before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001), will later claim that around this time its external intelligence agency tells the CIA that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar have been put on a Saudi terror watch list. Saeed Badeeb, Turki’s chief analyst, and Nawaf Obaid, a security consultant to the Saudi government, support Turki’s account though Turki himself will later back away from it after becoming the Saudi ambassador to the US (see August 21, 2005). In 2003, Prince Turki says, “What we told [the CIA] was these people were on our watch list from previous activities of al-Qaeda, in both the  embassy bombings and attempts to smuggle arms into the kingdom in 1997,” (see 1997 and October 4, 2001). However, the CIA strongly denies any such warning, although it begins following Almihdhar and Alhazmi around this time (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000). [Associated Press, 10/16/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003; Wright, 2006, pp. 310-311, 448] The US will not put Almihdhar and Alhazmi on its watch list until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001).
July 4-14, 2001: Bin Laden Reportedly Receives Lifesaving Treatment in Dubai, Said to Meet with CIA While There
Bin Laden, America’s most wanted criminal with a $5 million bounty on his head, supposedly receives lifesaving treatment for renal failure from American specialist Dr. Terry Callaway at the American hospital in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He is possibly accompanied by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri (who is said to be bin Laden’s personal physician as well as al-Qaeda’s second-in-command), plus several bodyguards. Callaway supposedly treated bin Laden in 1996 and 1998, also in Dubai. Callaway later refuses to answer any questions on this matter. [Le Figaro (Paris), 10/31/2001; Agence France-Presse, 11/1/2001; London Times, 11/1/2001] During his stay, bin Laden is visited by “several members of his family and Saudi personalities,” including Prince Turki al-Faisal, then head of Saudi intelligence. [Guardian, 11/1/2001] On July 12, bin Laden reportedly meets with CIA agent Larry Mitchell in the hospital. Mitchell apparently lives in Dubai as an Arab specialist under the cover of being a consular agent. The CIA, the Dubai hospital, and even bin Laden deny the story. The two news organizations that broke the story, Le Figaro and Radio France International, stand by their reporting. [Le Figaro (Paris), 10/31/2001; Radio France International, 11/1/2001] The explosive story is widely reported in Europe, but there are only two, small wire service stories on it in the US. [United Press International, 11/1/2001; Reuters, 11/10/2001] The Guardian claims that the story originated from French intelligence, “which is keen to reveal the ambiguous role of the CIA, and to restrain Washington from extending the war to Iraq and elsewhere.” The Guardian adds that during his stay bin Laden is also visited by a second CIA officer. [Guardian, 11/1/2001] In 2003, reporter Richard Labeviere will provide additional details of what he claims happened in a book entitled “The Corridors of Terror.” He claims he learned about the meeting from a contact in the Dubai hospital. He claims the event was confirmed in detail by a Gulf prince who presented himself as an adviser to the Emir of Bahrain. This prince claimed the meeting was arranged by Prince Turki al-Faisal. The prince said, “By organizing this meeting…Turki thought he could start direct negotiations between [bin Laden] and the CIA on one fundamental point: that bin Laden and his supporters end their hostilities against American interests.” In exchange, the CIA and Saudis would allow bin Laden to return to Saudi Arabia and live freely there. The meeting is said to be a failure. [Reuters, 11/14/2003] On July 15, Larry Mitchell reportedly returns to CIA headquarters to report on his meeting with bin Laden. [Radio France International, 11/1/2001] French terrorism expert Antoine Sfeir says the story of this meeting has been verified and is not surprising: It “is nothing extraordinary. Bin Laden maintained contacts with the CIA up to 1998. These contacts have not ceased since bin Laden settled in Afghanistan. Up to the last moment, CIA agents hoped that bin Laden would return to the fold of the US, as was the case before 1989.” [Le Figaro (Paris), 11/1/2001] A CIA spokesman calls the entire account of bin Laden’s stay at Dubai “sheer fantasy.” [Reuters, 11/14/2003]
August 31, 2001: Head of Saudi Arabia’s Intelligence Service Is Replaced
Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service for 24 years, is replaced. No explanation is given. He is replaced by Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, his nephew and the king’s brother, who has “no background in intelligence whatsoever.” [Agence France-Presse, 8/31/2001; Wall Street Journal, 10/22/2001; Seattle Times, 10/29/2001] The Wall Street Journal later reports: “The timing of Turki’s removal—August 31—and his Taliban connection raise the question: Did the Saudi regime know that bin Laden was planning his attack against the US? The current view among Saudi-watchers is probably not, but that the House of Saud might have heard rumors that something was planned, although they did not know what or when. (An interesting and possibly significant detail: Prince Sultan, the defense minister, had been due to visit Japan in early September, but canceled his trip for no apparent reason less than two days before an alleged planned departure.)” [Wall Street Journal, 10/22/2001] It will later come out that Turki’s removal takes place during a time of great turmoil in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, though it is not known if there is a connection (see August 27, 2001, August 29-September 6, 2001, and September 6, 2001). Turki is later sued in August 2002 for his role in 9/11 (see August 15, 2002), and is later appointed ambassador to Britain (see October 18, 2002) and then ambassador to the US (see August 21, 2005).
March 31, 2002: Al-Qaeda Leader Zubaida Allegedly Incriminates Saudi Princes
Author Gerald Posner, controversial for his books dismissing JFK assassination and other conspiracy theories, claims a remarkable interrogation of al-Qaeda prisoner Abu Zubaida begins at this time. Zubaida, arrested three days earlier (see March 28, 2002), is tricked into thinking the US has handed him to the Saudis for a more brutal interrogation, but in fact “the Saudis” are still American agents. Zubaida expresses great relief at this and, under the influence of the “truth serum” sodium pentothal, tells his interrogators to call Prince Ahmed bin Salman, a nephew of the Saudi king. He provides telephone numbers from memory and says, “He will tell you what to do.” He proceeds to give more information and phone numbers, claiming ties with higher ups in both the Saudi and Pakistani governments. He also names:
- Pakistani air force chief Mushaf Ali Mir, said to be closely tied to the fundamentalists in the ISI.
- Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal.
- Prince Sultan bin Faisal, another nephew of the Saudi King.
- Prince Fahd bin Turki, another member of the Saudi royalty. According to Posner, Zubaida claims that all of these people were intermediaries he dealt with in the frequent transfer of money to al-Qaeda. The phone numbers and other details are consistent with information already known by US intelligence. According to Zubaida, he was present in a meeting in 1996 where the Pakistanis and the Saudis struck a deal with bin Laden (see 1996), promising him protection, arms, and supplies in exchange for not being the targets of future terror attacks. He claimed both governments were told the US would be attacked on 9/11, but not given the details of how the attack would work. Within months, all of the people named by Zubaida die mysteriously except for Prince Turki, who is made an ambassador, giving him diplomatic immunity. [Posner, 2003, pp. 186-94] Posner says he learned this story from two unnamed US government sources who gave similar, independent accounts. One is from the CIA and the other is a senior Bush administration official “inside the executive branch.” [Salon, 10/18/2003] With the notable exception of a prominent Time magazine article [Time, 8/31/2003] , few news outlets cover the story [MSNBC, 9/5/2003; Asia Times, 9/17/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003] , and some that do cover it only in the form of book reviews. [Washington Post, 9/10/2003; New York Times, 10/12/2003; New York Times, 10/29/2003] Some experts put forth the theory that the story could be made up by neoconservatives interested in starting a war with Saudi Arabia. It is also possible Zubaida mixed facts with lies, as he was found to lie to interrogators on many other occasions. [Salon, 10/18/2003] There is also speculation that the gist of the story may be true, but that Zubaida’s Saudi and Pakistani contacts may have been pinned on dead men to protect the actual guilty parties. [Asia Times, 9/17/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003] New York Times reporter James Risen will essentially repeat and confirm Posner’s account in his 2006 book State of War. He will add, “In addition to the incidents described by Posner, a senior former American government official said that the United States has obtained other evidence that suggests connections between al-Qaeda operatives and telephone numbers associated with Saudi officials.” Risen further points out, “There is no evidence that a thorough examination of [Zubaida’s] claims of ties to powerful Saudis was ever conducted.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 187]
April 23, 2002: Spain Arrests Al-Qaeda Financier
Spanish authorities arrest Syrian-born Spanish businessman Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, alleging that he is a key al-Qaeda financier. [Chicago Tribune, 5/6/2002] An accountant, Zouaydi is considered to be the “big financier” behind the al-Qaeda network in Europe, according to French investigator Jean-Charles Brisard. From 1996 to 2001, Zouaydi lived in Saudi Arabia and funneled money into a series of companies set up to accept donations. (The source of the donations is unknown.) Around $1 million was then forwarded to al-Qaeda agents throughout Europe, especially to Germany. Mohamed Atta’s Hamburg apartment telephone number was saved in the cell phone memory of one of Zouaydi’s associates. [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2002] Zouaydi also allegedly sent money to Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian-born businessman who has admitted knowing Atta and others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Before 9/11, Spanish intelligence monitored Darkazanli several times as he traveled to Spain and met with Zouaydi and others (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). [Chicago Tribune, 5/6/2002] One of Zouaydi’s employees in Spain visited the WTC in 1997. While there, he extensively videotaped the buildings. Perhaps only coincidentally, while in Saudi Arabia, Zouaydi “was an accountant for the al-Faisal branch of the Saudi royal family, including Prince Mohammed al-Faisal al-Saud and Prince Turki al-Faisal.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2002]
July 22, 2002-February 20, 2003: Saudi Princes and Pakistani General Later Implicated in 9/11 Plot Die Mysteriously
Three prominent members of the Saudi royal family die in mysterious circumstances. Prince Ahmed bin Salman, a nephew of the Saudi king, prominent businessman, and owner of the winning 2002 Kentucky Derby horse, is said to die of a heart attack at the age of 43. The next day, Prince Sultan bin Faisal, another nephew of the king, dies driving to Prince Ahmed’s funeral. A week later, Prince Fahd bin Turki supposedly “dies of thirst” in the Arabian desert. Seven months later, on February 20, 2003, Pakistan’s air force chief, Mushaf Ali Mir, dies in a plane crash in clear weather, along with his wife and closest confidants. Controversial author Gerald Posner implies that all of these events are linked together and the deaths are not accidental, but have occurred because of the testimony of captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida in March 2002 (see March 31, 2002). The deaths all occurred not long after the respective governments were told of Zubaida’s confessions. Only one other key figure named by Zubaida remains alive: Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal. Posner says, “He’s the J. Edgar Hoover of Saudi Arabia,” too powerful and aware of too many secrets to be killed off. Prince Turki lost his intelligence minister job ten days before 9/11, and is later made Saudi ambassador to Britain, giving him diplomatic immunity from any criminal prosecution. [Posner, 2003, pp. 190-94; Time, 8/31/2003]
August 15, 2002: 9/11 Victims’ Relatives File Lawsuit Against Alleged Saudi Al-Qaeda Financiers
More than 600 relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks file a 15-count, $1 trillion lawsuit against various parties they accuse of financing al-Qaeda and Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime. The number of plaintiffs will quickly increase to 2,500 after the suit is widely publicized. Up to 10,000 were eligible to join this suit. The lawsuit does not allege that Saudi defendants directly participated in the 9/11 attacks, or approved them. Instead, it is alleged they helped fund and sustain al-Qaeda, which enabled the attacks to occur. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002; Newsweek, 9/13/2002] Defendants named include:
- The Saudi Binladin Group, the conglomerate owned by the bin Laden family. [CNN, 8/15/2002]
- The National Commercial Bank, one of the largest banks in Saudi Arabia. [Associated Press, 8/15/2002]
- The government of Sudan, for letting bin Laden live in that country until 1996. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
- The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
- The SAAR Foundation. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
- Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., which the plaintiffs contend is the primary bank for a number of charities that funnel money to terrorists. (This bank will later be dismissed from the suit (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
- The Benevolence International Foundation. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
- The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and its parent organization, the Muslim World League (MWL). The suit claims that the IIRO gave more than $60 million to the Taliban. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
- Khalid bin Mahfouz, one-time prominent investor in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) who had to pay a $225 million fine following the collapse of that bank. It is claimed he later operated a bank that funneled millions of dollars to charities controlled by al-Qaeda. (Mahfouz denies supporting terrorism and has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
- Mohammed al Faisal al Saud, a Saudi prince. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
- Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
- Prince Turki al-Faisal, former chief of Saudi intelligence. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002] “The attorneys and investigators were able to obtain, through French intelligence, the translation of a secretly recorded meeting between representatives of bin Laden and three Saudi princes in which they sought to pay him hush money to keep him from attacking their enterprises in Saudi Arabia.” [CNN, 8/15/2002] The plaintiffs also accuse the US government of failing to pursue such institutions thoroughly enough because of lucrative oil interests. [BBC, 8/15/2002] Ron Motley, the lead lawyer in the suit, says the case is being aided by intelligence services from France and four other foreign governments, but no help has come from the Justice Department. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 8/16/2002] The plaintiffs acknowledge the chance of ever winning any money is slim, but hope the lawsuit will help bring to light the role of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks. [BBC, 8/15/2002] A number of rich Saudis respond by threatening to withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars in US investments if the lawsuit goes forward (see August 20, 2002). More defendants will be added to the suit later in the year (see November 22, 2002). [Daily Telegraph, 8/20/2002]
October 18, 2002: Saudi Acquaintance of Bin Laden Given Immunity by Becoming Ambassador to Britain
Saudi Arabia announces that Turki al-Faisal will be its next ambassador to Britain. Turki is a controversial figure because of his long-standing relationship to bin Laden. He has also been named in a lawsuit (see August 15, 2002) by 9/11 victims’ relatives against Saudi Arabians for their support of al-Qaeda before 9/11. It is later noted that his ambassador position could give him diplomatic immunity from the lawsuit. [New York Times, 12/30/2002] Turki’s predecessor as ambassador was recalled after it was revealed he had written poems praising suicide bombers. [Observer, 3/2/2003] Articles reporting on his new posting suggest that Turki last met bin Laden in the early 1990s, before bin Laden became wanted by the US for his anti-American militancy. [London Times, 10/18/2002; Guardian, 10/19/2002] However, these reports fail to mention other reported contacts with bin Laden, including a possible secret meeting in 1998 (see July 1998).
January 22, 2003: House of 9/11 Suspect Finally Searched by FBI
The FBI conducts a very public search of a Miami, Florida, house belonging to Mohammed Almasri and his Saudi family. Having lived in Miami since July 2000, on September 9, 2001, they said they were returning to Saudi Arabia, hurriedly put their luggage in a van, and sped away, according to neighbors. A son named Turki Almasri was enrolled at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida, where hijackers Atta and Marwan Alshehhi also studied. [Washington Post, 1/23/2003; Palm Beach Post, 1/23/2003] Neighbors repeatedly called the FBI after 9/11 to report their suspicions, but the FBI only began to search the house in October 2002. The house had remained abandoned, but not sold, since they left just before 9/11. [Palm Beach Post, 1/22/2003; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/22/2003; Washington Post, 1/23/2003; Palm Beach Post, 1/23/2003] The FBI returned for more thorough searches in January 2003, with some agents dressed in white biohazard suits. [Washington Post, 1/23/2003] US Representative Robert Wexler (D), later says, “This scenario is screaming out one question: Where was the FBI for 15 months?” The FBI determines there is no terrorism connection, and apologizes to the family. [United Press International, 1/24/2003] An editorial notes the “ineptitude” of the FBI in not reaching family members over the telephone, as reporters were easily able to do. [Palm Beach Post, 2/1/2003]
November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005: Some Defendants Are Dismissed in Saudi 9/11 Lawsuit
Saudi Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz.Saudi Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. [Source: Public domain]In a series of rulings, a number of defendants are removed from a 9/11 lawsuit filed in August 2002 (see August 15, 2002). The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 9/11 victims’ relatives, accuses a number of individuals and organizations of funding and supporting al-Qaeda and thus helping the 9/11 attacks to occur. A number of Saudi princes are dropped because they work for the Saudi government. One judge writes in a ruling, “Whatever their actions, they were performed in their official (government) capacities.” According to the court ruling, only the US president, not the courts, has the authority to label a foreign nation as a terrorist supporter. Judges rule that the plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient facts to overcome the kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s immunity. Saudi defense minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal, and Prince Mohammed Al-Faisal Al-Saud, among others, are dismissed from the lawsuit, but the lawsuit is allowed to proceed against many more defendants, including the Saudi Binladin Group, the multibillion dollar bin Laden family company. [Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Charleston Post and Courier, 11/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/19/2005; New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005] A judge writes in a ruling that “the Saudi Binladin Group maintained close relationships with Osama bin Laden at certain times” and that it remains “unclear” whether these ties continued since bin Laden became involved in terrorism. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) is allowed to remain as a defendant, even though this charity has considerable ties to the Saudi government. [New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005] Some of the Saudi princes, such as Prince Sultan and Prince Salman, are represented in the case by the prestigious Dallas-based law firm of Baker Botts. James Baker, former Secretary of State and close associate of the Bush family, is one of the senior partners of the law firm. [Newsweek, 4/16/2003; New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005]
December 21, 2004: London-based Militant Is Designated a Terrorist, but He Remains Free
The US and UN designate Saad al-Fagih a global terrorist, but Britain, where he lives, takes no effective action against him. Al-Fagih helped supply bin Laden with a satellite telephone used in the 1998 embassy bombings (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Britain seizes the assets of al-Fagih and his organization, the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. [US Department of the Treasury, 12/21/2004; BBC, 12/24/2004] However, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal will later complain that the total seized is only ”£20 or something” (note: equivalent of about $39) and that the British government allows al-Fagih to continue to operate openly from London, despite being a specially designated global terrorist (see August 10, 2005). [London Times, 8/10/2005] Britain has long been suspected of harboring Islamic militants in return for them promising not to attack the UK (see August 22, 1998).
August 10, 2005: Saudi Ambassador Criticizes Britain over Failure to Tackle Militants
The outgoing Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, criticizes the Blair government over its lack of response to terrorism and says that MI5 is hampering efforts to clamp down. Prince Turki describes his experience: “When you call somebody, he says it is the other guy. If you talk to the security people, they say it is the politicians’ fault. If you talk to the politicians, they say it is the Crown Prosecution Service. If you call the Crown Prosecution service, they say, no, it is MI5. So we have been in this runaround…” Turki particularly criticizes the government’s failure to act against Saad al-Fagih of the movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia and Mohammed al-Massari. Al-Fagih is accused of being involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see August 7, 1998) and a plot to assassinate King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. [London Times, 8/10/2005]
August 21, 2005: New Saudi Ambassador to US Has Controversial Past
Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US since 1983, steps down and is replaced by Prince Turki al-Faisal. It is said that Prince Bandar had been suffering health problems and is not close to the new Saudi King Abdullah (see August 1, 2005). Prince Turki was Saudi intelligence minister from the late 1970s until about one week before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001). Then he served three years as Saudi ambassador to Britain. Prince Turki has had a controversial past. He was considered a mentor to bin Laden, and encouraged him to represent Saudi Arabia in the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union. There are allegations that Prince Turki took part in a series of secret meetings between bin Laden and the Saudis over a period of many years (see Summer 1991; May 1996; Spring 1998; June 1998; July 1998; July 4-14, 2001). There are also allegations that he went falcon hunting in Afghanistan with bin Laden during much of the 1990s (see 1995-2001). In the wake of his appointment as ambassador, US officials try to downplay his past. One unnamed US official says, “Yes, he knew members of al-Qaeda. Yes, he talked to the Taliban. At times he delivered messages to us and from us regarding Osama bin Laden and others. Yes, he had links that in this day and age would be considered problematic, but at the time we used those links.” The official adds that Prince Turki seems to have “gotten out of that business” since 2001 and “he understands that times have changed.” He was sued in 2002 by a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda, but his name was dropped from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see August 15, 2002). [New York Times, 7/21/2005]
(Late 2006): Prince Bandar Meets with Elliot Abrams Several Times
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington and now King Abdullah’s national security adviser, makes several trips to Washington and holds meetings with Elliot Abrams, the senior Middle East official on the National Security Council. It has been suggested that the visits relate to the White House’s new Mideast policy “redirection,” aimed at undercutting Iranian influence in the region (see Late 2006). Bandar’s actions reportedly upsets Prince Turki bin Faisal, the current Saudi ambassador to the US, prompting him to quit his post (see December 11, 2006). [Daily Telegraph, 1/10/2007]
December 11, 2006: Prince Turki al-Faisal Resigns as Saudi Ambassador to the US
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Prince Turki bin Faisal, abruptly resigns and flies back to Saudi Arabia. His staff is reportedly shocked by his sudden departure. The explanation provided to the public is that he wants to spend more time with his family. [Washington Post, 12/10/2006] But insiders say Turki left because he was angry about dealings taking place behind his back between the previous Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar, and top White House officials (see Late November 2006 and (Late 2006)). [Daily Telegraph, 1/10/2007; New Yorker, 3/5/2007]