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Archive for Sunday, November 24, 2002

White House defends FBI probe

Agent’s task of investigating Saudi links to 9-11 ‘difficult’

November 24, 2002

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— The White House on Saturday defended the FBI's handling of a diplomatically sensitive investigation into reports that Saudi Arabia provided money that helped support two of the 9-11 hijackers.

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy said the allegations that the wife of the Saudi ambassador supported terrorists are "untrue and irresponsible."

Nail al-Jubeir, the spokesman, said Princess Haifa al-Faisal is fully cooperating with the FBI.

"She wants her name cleared," al-Jubeir said.

In its defense of the FBI, the Bush administration also denied another contention of some lawmakers - that the bureau has not done enough to examine fully the financing of the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi citizens.

Questions about the investigation could become troublesome for the Bush administration, which is seeking the Saudis' help for a possible military campaign against their neighbor, Iraq. Saudi Arabia has been noncommittal, torn between its friendship with the United States and anti-war sentiment among the Arabs.

Members of the House and Senate intelligence committees expressed misgivings about the FBI investigation. Lawmakers believe the bureau has not examined vigorously the prospect that the Saudi government might have given money to two men who provided financial help to hijackers Khalif al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.

A congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the issue is part of a broader concern that the FBI has done too little overall to determine how last year's attacks were paid for and by whom.

Dan Bartlett, an administration spokesman, said the FBI has been investigating the Saudi link.

"As anyone who knows this issue will tell you, it's very difficult to track financing of terrorist networks, because most of it is done in cash," he said. "I don't agree with the assessment it's not been aggressively pursued."

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