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Ex-Saudi intelligence chief defends princess

Alabama senator wants U.S. to 'follow the money'

Turki al-Faisal
Turki al-Faisal

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A former chief of Saudi intelligence and brother of a Saudi princess Monday evening defended his sister against reports she may have been the source of funds that ended up in the hands of two of the September 11 hijackers.

Earlier, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he is "suspicious" about Saudi charities' ties to terrorist organizations and said U.S. authorities need to find "what kind of ally we have here."

"Let's follow the money," Shelby told CNN. "If we follow the money, we're going to get to the truth, and I think the truth will not be very nice."

Turki al-Faisal, a former chief of Saudi intelligence and brother of Princess Haifa al-Faisal, appeared Monday on CNN's "Connie Chung Tonight" and said his sister believes she was helping someone who was sick and was in need.

"Any allegations about money from my sister reaching the hijackers is allegation and half-truths and totally untrue," al-Faisal said.

Top lawmakers from both parties have sharply criticized Saudi Arabia and questioned the nature of the U.S.-Saudi relationship since the disclosure last week that investigators are looking into whether money from the princess, the wife of Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar, reached suicide hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi via two Saudi students in California.

Investigators say Almihdhar and Alhazmi were part of the al Qaeda crew that crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, killing 184 people in the building and aboard the plane. But U.S. and Saudi officials insisted that the princess did not intentionally provide money to al Qaeda members.

"My sister believes that what she did was to help someone who as in need," al-Faisal said, "someone who was ill and who wanted money to help reach a cure for her illness."

Adel al-Jubeir, the international policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah -- who effectively rules the oil-rich monarchy on behalf of his ailing brother, King Fahd -- told CNN Monday that the Saudis are keeping a closer eye on where donations from their citizens go.

"We have realized over the years that people have now taken advantage of our charity, of our generosity -- of our naiveté, if you want to call it that, of our innocence. But those days are coming to an end," al-Jubeir said. "I believe most Saudi donors are now aware that they need to be more diligent in how they give money and who they give money to, and they need to be very careful about just writing checks or giving cash to people."

U.S. politics blamed

An inquiry by the joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee has suggested there is evidence that money from the Saudi government made its way to Almihdhar and Alhazmi via Omar Al Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. Basnan's wife had asked the princess for financial help, signing checks she received over to her husband and Bayoumi, al-Jubeir said Sunday.

"What happened as far as this particular instance or instances with the Saudi ambassador and his wife, I'm not sure," Shelby said. "But we should pursue the money trail -- get the FBI, get the accountants, follow the bank. If we follow through the banks, everything that we can regarding this, we'll get to the truth."

The students named in the investigation are back in Saudi Arabia. Al-Jubeir said both had been charged with visa violations during their stay in the United States and were questioned and released by the FBI.

"If there was a thread of evidence [linking the students to terrorism], do you think the FBI would have let them go?" he said.

Saudi Arabia has been stung by the fact that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, including Alhazmi and Almihdhar, and by deepening U.S. concerns about its citizens' support for militant Islamic fundamentalists. Al-Jubeir blamed the current controversy on U.S. domestic politics, saying Riyadh has cooperated extensively with Washington in the war on terrorism.

Al-Faisal told Chung it is ridiculous to think any member of the Saudi royal family would knowingly give money to al Qaeda.

"Al Qaeda is targeting the kingdom. Al Qaeda has done terrorist operations in the kingdom," he said. "They are declared enemies of the kingdom. No one in their right mind would contribute to that."

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