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Saudis deny lawsuit claims of payoffs to al Qaeda

'Why would we pay money to people whose objective is to kill us?'

Al-Jubeir: "We can be a lot of things, but we're not foolish."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A top Saudi official Tuesday called allegations that the Saudi government paid protection money to al Qaeda "nonsense."

Speaking to CNN, Adel Al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Arabia's crown prince, denied claims that Saudi royals ever paid money to al Qaeda or the Taliban.

A $1 trillion lawsuit filed by families of victims of the September 11 attacks says members of the Saudi royal family paid protection money to Osama bin Laden's group to keep it from carrying out terror attacks in Saudi Arabia.

The lawsuit claims the money was paid soon after the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen. The suit does not specify the amount of money involved in the payoff.

The 15-count suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by more than 900 family members, plus some firefighters and rescue workers. One of the lawyers who filed the suit is Allen Gerson, one of the attorneys who negotiated a $2.7 billion settlement between the Libyan government and families of 270 people killed when Pam Am Flight 103 was blown up over Scotland in 1988.

"A group of prominent Saudis met in Paris, where they conspired to pay off Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda group to ensure that al Qaeda would never attack within the borders of the Saudi Kingdom again," the suit claims.

"This protection money served to safeguard Saudi Arabia, but also enlarge the power of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. This plot served to embolden the terrorist leader and his ambition," the suit alleges.

Saudi officials have long denied any connection to terrorism, and are a U.S. ally in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia's Cabinet has accused some Western news media outlets of a smear campaign.

"We can be a lot of things, but we're not foolish," Al-Jubeir said. "Why would we pay money to people whose objective is to kill us and murder our people? ... They have tried to drive a wedge between us. They have tried to undermine our relationship with the U.S."

U.S. officials said they cannot verify the suit's claims.

Allegations of Saudi terror connections have become more numerous since the September 11 attacks, especially because 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, and bin Laden himself is a Saudi native.

Tuesday, President Bush met with Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, at his Texas ranch. Bush was expected to make a case that Iraq's neighbors would be better off if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were ousted. (Full story)

The Saudi government has said it opposes military action against Iraq.

1996 report cited

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month, cites an unpublished 1996 French intelligence report that claims "a group of Saudi princes and business leaders met in Paris and agreed to continue contributing, sponsoring, aiding and abetting Osama bin Laden's terrorist network."

The suit is unclear if that is the same meeting where the Saudis allegedly paid the protection money to keep attacks of its soil.

In another allegation, the suit charges that in July 1998, Saudi representatives met with Taliban officials, senior Pakistani intelligence officers and bin Laden representatives in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

According to the lawsuit, bin Laden and his followers agreed they "would not use the infrastructure in Afghanistan to subvert the Saudi government." In return, Saudi officials agreed they would "make sure" that extradition demands for terrorists like bin Laden would never be met, the suit claims.

Among those in the meeting was Prince Turki, then chief of Saudi intelligence, according to the suit. He allegedly pledged Saudi Arabia would "provide oil and generous financial assistance to both the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan," the suit claims.

"Royal denials notwithstanding, Saudi Arabian money has for years been funneled to encourage radical anti-Americanism as well as to fund the al Qaeda terrorists. Saudi Arabian money has financed terror while its citizens have promoted and executed it," the suit claims.




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