The Saudi Money Trail
By Michael Isikoff And Evan Thomas
Dec. 2 issue — When the two Qaeda operatives arrived at Los Angeles International Airport around New Year’s 2000, they were warmly welcomed. Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar would help hijack American Airlines Flight 77 and crash it into the Pentagon a year and a half later, but that January in Los Angeles, they were just a couple of young Saudi men who barely spoke English and needed a place to stay.
AT THE AIRPORT, THEY were swept up by a gregarious fellow Saudi, Omar al-Bayoumi, who had been living in the United States for several years. Al-Bayoumi drove the two men to San Diego, threw a welcoming party and arranged for the visitors to get an apartment next to his. He guaranteed the lease, and plunked down $1,550 in cash to cover the first two months’ rent. His hospitality did not end there.
Al-Bayoumi also aided Alhazmi and Almihdhar as they opened a bank account, and recruited a friend to help them obtain Social Security cards and call flight schools in Florida to arrange flying lessons, according to law-enforcement officials. Two months before 9-11, al-Bayoumi moved to England; several months later, he disappeared. He is believed to be somewhere in Saudi Arabia.
Who is al-Bayoumi? At various times, the affable father of four told people that he was getting his doctorate at San Diego State, though the school has no record he ever attended. He told others that he was a pilot for the Saudi national airline. He apparently did work for Dallah Avco, an aviation-services company with extensive contracts with the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation, headed by Prince Sultan, the father of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar. According to informed sources, some federal investigators suspect that al-Bayoumi could have been an advance man for the 9-11 hijackers, sent by Al Qaeda to assist the plot that ultimately claimed 3,000 lives.
The Feds’ interest in al-Bayoumi has been heightened by a money trail that could be perfectly innocent, but is nonetheless intriguing—and could ultimately expose the Saudi government to some of the blame for 9-11 and seriously strain U.S.-Saudi ties. It is too soon to say where the trail will wind up, but it begins with a very surprising name on a Washington bank account.
About two months after al-Bayoumi began aiding Alhazmi and Almihdhar, NEWSWEEK has learned, al-Bayoumi’s wife began receiving regular stipends, often monthly and usually around $2,000, totaling tens of thousands of dollars. The money came in the form of cashier’s checks, purchased from Washington’s Riggs Bank by Princess Haifa bint Faisal, the daughter of the late King Faisal and wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi envoy who is a prominent Washington figure and personal friend of the Bush family. The checks were sent to a woman named Majeda Ibrahin Dweikat, who in turn signed over many of them to al-Bayoumi’s wife (and her friend), Manal Ahmed Bagader. The Feds want to know: Was this well-meaning charity gone awry? Or some elaborate money-laundering scheme? A scam? Or just a coincidence?
A spokesperson for Princess Haifa told NEWSWEEK that she had no idea the money was going to the al-Bayoumi family or that it might in any way be used for some nefarious purpose. Saudi officials and members of the royal family routinely give money to supplicants who need medical or financial help and write the embassy. Dweikat’s husband, Osama Basnan, had first pleaded to the Saudi Embassy for help in 1998, saying that he needed money to treat his wife’s thyroid condition. At the time, Prince Bandar wrote Basnan a $15,000 check. The monthly payments to his wife, Majeda, began in January 1999 and ended only last summer. Until she was contacted late last week by NEWSWEEK, Princess Haifa was unaware that the payments are being investigated by U.S. authorities, according to the spokesperson.
Continued at http://www.msnbc.com/news/839269.asp?vts=112420021540