A Piece Of History — Part 3
Could there be more to the story?
The 28 pages also raise questions about another possible link between Bandar and the attacks: the prince’s relationship with a Saudi national named Osama Bassnan, who was living in the United States on 9/11 and was investigated to determine if he helped two of the 9/11 hijackers. The declassified pages reveal previously undisclosed amounts of money that Bandar and his wife sent to the man’s family.
Bassnan, a former employee of the Saudi government’s Educational Mission in Washington, according to a 9/11 Commission document that cited information obtained by the FBI, lived across the street from two of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego: Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar. Hazmi and Mihdhar were on the plane that crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.
According to the same 9/11 Commission document, Bassnan admitted to an FBI asset that he met Hazmi and Mihdhar while the hijackers were in San Diego, then denied this in a subsequent conversation. There was some evidence that Bassnan may have had closer ties to the hijackers, though the FBI was not able to corroborate it.
Bassnan’s wife, meanwhile, received tens of thousands of dollars in monthly stipends from a Saudi charity run by Bandar’s wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal. Bassnan’s wife was allegedly receiving the money as an allowance for “nursing services,” according to the 28 pages. The inquiry indicated it doubted that was what the payments were really for, though Bassnan repeatedly spoke of his wife’s “health problems” during interviews with investigators.
In a search of the Bassnan residence, the FBI found “copies of 31 cashiers checks totaling $74,000, during the period February 22, 1999, to May 30, 2002,” the 28 pages state.
On at least one occasion, Bassnan received a check for $15,000 directly from Bandar’s account, according to an FBI document cited in the pages. Bassnan’s wife also received at least one check directly from Bandar himself.
A former employee at the Saudi Embassy said that such financial arrangements were not unusual.
“It is very common for the government to help Saudi citizens, certainly in terms of providing medical assistance or support while they are abroad,” said Fahad Nazer, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute and a political analyst at the Saudi Embassy while Bandar was the ambassador.
Bandar was known to give “a lot of money to charity,” according to Riedel and “was pretty notorious for lavish spending.”
“He gave some of the best parties Washington probably has ever had,” Riedel said.
The 9/11 Commission report, which does not mention the details of the donations, looked at whether the money from Bandar and his wife’s charity was passed on to the hijackers but found “no evidence” that it had.
Still, the FBI determined that at least some of the checks meant for Bassnan’s wife changed hands and were given to the wife of another Saudi man living in the United States, Omar al Bayoumi, who had direct ties to Hazmi and Mihdhar. Bayoumi helped the hijackers settle in San Diego when they arrived in the country around early 2000 by finding them an apartment and even co-signing their lease.
“Bayoumi’s wife attempted to deposit three of the checks from Bandar’s wife, which were payable to Bassnan’s wife, into her own accounts,” according to a passage from the 28 pages.
Despite Bayoumi’s association with the hijackers, the FBI determined in 2004 that Bayoumi did not have “advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks” or “knowledge of al-Hazmi’s and/or al-Mihdhar’s status as al Qaeda operatives” or that “the assistance provided by al-Bayoumi to al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar was wittingly.”
Could there be more to the story?
The allegations against Bandar and the other Saudi nationals in the 2002 Joint Inquiry were not meant to be “final determinations” on connections to the Saudi government, according to the report, which states it is “possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.”
The 9/11 Commission report, which found no evidence of Saudi involvement in the plot, is viewed by the US government as the definitive investigation of the attacks.
“I don’t see on the basis of anything we have now that we should change those judgments,” Riedel said, referring to the 28 pages and Bandar’s mention in them.