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Officials told to ‘back off’ on Saudis before September 11
by Greg Palast and David Pallister
FBI and military intelligence officials in Washington say they were prevented for political reasons from carrying out full investigations into members of the Bin Laden family in the US before the terrorist attacks of September 11.
US intelligence agencies have come under criticism for their wholesale failure to predict the catastrophe at the World Trade Centre. But some are complaining that their hands were tied.
FBI documents shown on BBC Newsnight last night and obtained by the Guardian show that they had earlier sought to investigate two of Osama bin Laden’s relatives in Washington and a Muslim organisation, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), with which they were linked.
The FBI file, marked Secret and coded 199, which means a case involving national security, records that Abdullah bin Laden, who lived in Washington, had originally had a file opened on him “because of his relationship with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth – a suspected terrorist organisation”.
WAMY members deny they have been involved with terrorist activities, and WAMY has not been placed on the latest list of terrorist organisations whose assets are being frozen.
Abdullah, who lived with his brother Omar at the time in Falls Church, a town just outside Washington, was the US director of WAMY, whose offices were in a basement nearby.
But the FBI files were closed in 1996 apparently before any conclusions could be reached on either the Bin Laden brothers or the organisation itself. High-placed intelligence sources in Washington told the Guardian this week: “There were always constraints on investigating the Saudis”.
They said the restrictions became worse after the Bush administration took over this year. The intelligence agencies had been told to “back off” from investigations involving other members of the Bin Laden family, the Saudi royals, and possible Saudi links to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan.
“There were particular investigations that were effectively killed.”
Only after the September 11 attacks was the stance of political and commercial closeness reversed towards the other members of the large Bin Laden clan, who have classed Osama bin Laden as their “black sheep”.
Yesterday, the head of the Saudi-based WAMY’s London office, Nouredine Miladi, said the charity was totally against Bin Laden’s violent methods. “We seek social change through education and cooperation, not force.”
He said Abdullah bin Laden had ceased to run WAMY’s US operation a year ago.
Neither Abdullah nor Omar bin Laden could be contacted in Saudi Arabia for comment.
WAMY was founded in 1972 in a Saudi effort to prevent the “corrupting” ideas of the west ern world influencing young Muslims. With official backing it grew to embrace 450 youth and student organisations with 34 offices worldwide.
Its aim was to encourage “concerned Muslims to take up the challenge by arming the youth with sound understanding of Islam, guarding them against destructive ideologies, and instilling in them level-headed wisdom”.
In Britain it has 20 associated organisations, many highly respectable.
But as long as 10 years ago it was named as a discreet channel for public and private Saudi donations to hardline Islamic organisations. One of the recipients of its largesse has been the militant Students Islamic Movement of India, which has lent support to Pakistani-backed terrorists in Kashmir and seeks to set up an Islamic state in India.
Since September 11 WAMY has been investigated in the US along with a number of other Muslim charities. There have been several grand jury investigations but no findings have been made against any of them.
Current FBI interest in WAMY is shown in their agents’ interrogation of a radiologist from San Antonio, Texas, Dr Al Badr al-Hazmi, who was arrested on September 12 and released without charge two weeks later. He had the same surname as two of the plane hijackers.
He was also questioned about his contacts with Abdullah bin Laden at the US WAMY office.
Mr Al-Hazmi said that he had made phone calls to Abdullah bin Laden in 1999 trying to obtain books and videotapes about Islamic teachings for the Islamic Centre of San Antonio.
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2001 Project Censored Award Winner