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The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism


March 13, 2015
Daniel Lazare / Consortium News & Jason Burke / The Guardian & Spencer Ackerman / The Guardian

Saudi Arabia, working mostly through Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu, is trying to enlist the US on the Sunni side of a regional war against Iran and the Shiites. But that alliance is complicated by Saudi princes who support al-Qaeda and other Sunni terrorists, as Daniel Lazare explains. Meanwhile, Zacarias Moussaoui, who was sentenced to life for his role in the 9/11 attacks, has claimed that al-Qaida received donations from some of the most senior members of Saudi Arabia's royal family.

https://consortiumnews.com/2015/03/11/the-secret-saudi-ties-to-terrorism/

The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism
Daniel Lazare / Consortium News

(March 11, 2015) -- The US-Saudi alliance is coming under unprecedented strain. Everything seems to be going wrong. Up in arms over growing Shi'ite resistance in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen, the ultra-Sunnis in Riyadh are alarmed that Obama continues to press ahead with arms negotiations in Teheran, from its viewpoint the center of the Shi'ite conspiracy.

Saudis want the US to overthrow Syria's Assad in return for its cooperation in the fight against ISIS, yet Washington is signaling that it wouldn't mind if the Baathists remain in power in Damascus a while longer.

Similarities between Saudi methods and those of the Islamic State -- both have a peculiar fondness for beheadings -- are harder and harder to ignore. But with Saudi executions now running at triple the 2014 rate according to Amnesty International, the Saudis are pressing on regardless.

Even the kingdom's decision to award a $200,000 prize to an Indian tele-preacher named Zakir Naik for "services to Islam" seems like a deliberate thumb in the eye of the United States. Naik, who has been banned from entering Canada or the U.K., is a Salafist nightmare who attacks evolution, defends al-Qaeda, and claims that George W. Bush was secretly responsible for 9/11. What is Riyadh's point other than to flip Washington the bird?

But the ultimate body blow may prove to be Zacarias Moussaoui's sensational testimony in an anti-Saudi lawsuit filed by 9/11 survivors. Now serving a life sentence in a federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, Moussaoui, the so-called "twentieth hijacker," told lawyers about top-level Saudi support for Osama bin Laden right up to the eve of 9/11 and even a plot by a Saudi embassy employee to sneak a Stinger missile into the US under diplomatic cover and use it to bring down Air Force One.

Moussaoui's list of ultra-rich al-Qaeda contributors couldn't be more stunning. It includes the late King Abdulllah and his hard-line successor, Salman bin Abdulaziz; Turki Al Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and subsequently ambassador to the US and U.K.; Bandar bin Sultan, a longtime presence in Washington who was so close to the Bushes that Dubya nicknamed him Bandar Bush; and Al-Waleed bin Talal, a mega-investor in Citigroup, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, the Hotel George V in Paris, and the Plaza in New York.

These are people whom a series of US presidents have fussed and fawned over -- not just Bushes I and II, but Obama, who bowed deeply at the waist upon meeting Abdullah in April 2009. Yet according to Moussaoui, the princes provided bin Laden with millions of dollars needed to engineer the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in Lower Manhattan.

Considering how 9/11 has driven US foreign policy, then the consequences are staggering. Teapot Dome? Watergate? If Moussaoui's story turns out to be true, then the latter will really seem like the "third-rate burglary" that Nixon always made it out to be.

An Inside View
So the first question to ask concerns Moussaoui credibility. Should we believe the guy? How credible is he? The short answer is: very.

Admittedly, Moussaoui is a nut job whose behavior during his trial in US federal court was often bizarre. He refused to enter a plea, tried to fire his court-appointed attorneys, filed a motion describing the presiding judge as a "pathological killer . . . with ego-boasting dementia," and described the US as "United Sodom of America."

But as the New York Times points out, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said she was "fully satisfied that Mr. Moussaoui is completely competent," adding that he is "an extremely intelligent man" with "a better understanding of the legal system than some lawyers I've seen in court."

In his testimony last October -- the transcripts of which became public early last month -- he comes across as calm and lucid, a man eager to tell what he knows about bin Laden's terror operation and its connections with the uppermost rungs of Saudi society.

What's more, what he has to say is highly plausible. His account not only accords with what we know about Saudi Arabia's otherwise opaque power structure, but seems to shed light on a few things we don't.

The most obvious concerns Saudi Arabia's 7,000 or so princes and their riotous lifestyle. The kingdom is famous for banning alcohol, virtually all types of public entertainment, and the slightest sexual displays. Yet its over-paid, under-worked royals are no less notorious for stampeding to the airport cocktail lounge as soon as they touch down in Cairo or Dubai and then jetting off to the plushest casinos and brothels that Europe has to offer.

So if mullahs can't tolerate the sight of a woman's bare arm, then why do they put up with such licentiousness? The answer, according to Moussaoui, is that the ulema, as the mullahs are collectively known, does so because of the leverage it gains.

"Ulema, essentially they are the king maker," he testified. "If the ulema say that you should not take power, you are not going to take power."

Since the mullahs have the power to label as an apostate anybody who drinks, fornicates (i.e. engages in illicit sex), or practices homosexuality -- collective behavior which apparently covers virtually the entire royal family -- then the effect is to give the ulema a veto over who is eligible for the throne and who is not. The more the princes misbehave, the more control the ulema acquires over Saudi politics as a whole.

Another puzzle concerns why the Saudi establishment would continue channeling funds to bin Laden even after a war of words had broken out over the stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Former CIA counter-intelligence chief Robert Grenier has seized on the issue to discredit Moussaoui's testimony out of hand.

"The reason Osama bin Laden went to Sudan in the 1990s in the first place was because he was under pressure from the Saudi government," Grenier told the Guardian. "The idea they'd be supporting him under any circumstances, and in particular in an attack on the US, is inconceivable.

But Moussaoui's version is more nuanced than Grenier's rather self-serving description of the Saudis as reliable partners would suggest. When asked why Saudi princes would contribute to someone who had turned against them, Moussaoui replied that bin Laden had not turned against all of the princes, merely some of them:

"He went against Fahd, but he didn't want to go against . . . Abdullah Saud and Turki and the people who have been classified by . . . the ulema as . . . criminal, but not apostate."

The mullahs, no less xenophobic than bin Laden, despised then-King Fahd because he had OK'd the stationing of US troops in "the land of the two holy mosques." But while Abdullah was also guilty of certain offenses according to the ulema -- hence Moussaoui's description of him as a "criminal" -- they did not add up to apostasy, or abandonment of Islam, a far more serious offense.

The mullahs were therefore willing to cut him some slack, according to Moussaoui, in the hope that he would steer the kingdom back in a more authentically Muslim direction. "[T]he ulema told him [bin Laden] not to wage war against Al Saud," Moussaoui said, "because Fahd was going to die and therefore that Abdullah Al Saud will take power and he will reestablish a true power."

If we accept Moussaoui's description of the mullahs as kingmakers, then this makes sense. As to why the princes would funnel aid to bin Laden as opposed to some other would-be terrorist mastermind, Moussaoui is helpful as well. Post-9/11, Bandar bin Sultan dismissed bin Laden as a flaky no-account who "couldn't lead eight ducks across the street."

But in his testimony, Moussaoui describes bin Laden as a capable organizer who built a complicated jihadi movement from the ground up. Since holy war is expensive, he was dependent on large-scale infusions of cash and equipment. As Moussaoui put it in his less-than-perfect English:

"[A]ll this money were there . . . especially to set up the camp, because nothing was there, it was the desert, so we have to pay Afghan to dig a well, you have to dig to build the base for tent and camp and medical, everything was created from scratch, it was very expensive, OK? . . . I mean, hundred of thousand of dollar on a weekly basis, you know? You have a lot of car, you have to pay for the maintenance of the tank and dozer, OK, and all of the spare part. . . . And everybody would get expense . . . every child have X amount of money, every woman have X amount of money, every person have X amount of money . . . a quite substantial [amount] of money."

Since 9/11 was nothing if not smoothly organized, Moussaoui's description of bin Laden as a skilled operator makes sense as well. Moussaoui notes that bin Laden stood high in the religious establishment's esteem, much higher, in fact, than the princes.

Bin Laden's father, the Yemeni-born construction magnate Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, had been best friends with Saudi Arabia's founding king, Ibn Saud, and had been entrusted with rebuilding or restoring Islam's three holiest sites -- the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Since Mohammed bin Laden was pure gold in the eyes of the ulema as a consequence, Osama was 24-karat as well. "So bin Laden was pure," Moussaoui said, "a pure Wahhabi [who] will obey the Wahhabi scholar to the letter" -- loyalty that the mullahs fully repaid.

When asked what Abdullah, Turki and other top-rank royals hoped to get in exchange for contributing to bin Laden's organization, Moussaoui replied that "it was a -- a matter of survival for them, OK, because all of the mujahideen . . . the hard core believe that . . . Al Fahd was an apostate, so they would have wanted jihad against Saudi Arabia."

If Wahhabi hardliners believed that Fahd was a renegade, then they might say the same of other high-living royals, in which case the princes would have to run for their lives. Funding bin Laden was a cheap way to remain in the mullahs' good graces and continue raking in profits.

Real Power behind the Throne
Bin Laden was thus the ulema's fair-haired boy, and since the princes were already skating on thin ice, they had to be nice to him so that the mullahs would be nice to them in return. Referring to top Wahhabi theologians Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz and Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen, Moussaoui said:

"He [bin Laden] was doing it [waging jihad] with the express advice and consent and directive of the ulema. He will not have a single persons coming from Saudi Arabia if the ulema and Baz or Uthaymeen state this man is wrong. . . . Not to say he's an apostate . . . just he's wrong . . . everybody will have left, except the North African maybe."

One word from the mullahs and bin Laden would have found himself cut off -- or so Moussaoui maintains. If talk of an all-powerful ulema seems a mite over the top, other experts agree that their clout is difficult to exaggerate.

Mai Yamani, an independent scholar who is the daughter of the famous Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani, describes the Wahhabis, for instance, as "the kingdom's de facto rulers," noting that that they control not only the mosques and religious police, but all 700 judgeships, religious education in general (which comprises half the school curriculum), and other ministries as well.

While the House of Saud has proved adept at co-opting the mullahs and keeping in their place, decades of oil money have resulted in a hypertrophied religious sector to which attention must be paid. [See Thomas Hegghammer, Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010), pp. 232-33]

So princes tread lightly in the ulema's presence. This seems to have been especially the case during the delicate post-1995 period when Fahd continued to cling to the throne even though crippled by stroke and Abdullah ruled in all but name. One king was out, but the other was not yet in, which is why the religious establishment's approval was more critical than ever.

Thus, the princes eagerly did the ulema's bidding, funding bin Laden's activities abroad and only putting their foot down, according to Moussaoui, when it came to jihad at home. While Osama was free to do what he liked in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the princes drew the line at "do[ing] stuff in your . . . backyard."

Moussaoui, who says he was put to work compiling a financial database upon joining al Qaeda in late 1998, describes flying by private plane to Riyadh as a special courier.

"We went in . . . to a private airport," he recalled. "[T]here was a car, we get into a car, a limousine, and I was taken to a place, it was like a Hilton Hotel, OK, and the next morning . . . Turki came and we went . . . to a big room, and there was Abdullah and there was Sultan, Bandar, and there was Waleed bin Talal and Salman" -- i.e., the Saudi crème de la crème. When asked if the princes knew why he was there, he said yes: "I was introduced as the messenger for Sheik Osama bin Laden."

Moussaoui says that prominent Saudis visited bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan in return: "There was a lot of bragging about I been to Sheik Osama bin Laden, I been to Afghanistan, I'm the real deal, I'm a real mujahid, I'm a real fighter for Allah."

He says that bin Laden's mother visited too, testimony that has also led to attacks on his credibility since he says that Hamid Gul, chief of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence, helped arrange it even though Gul by that time had been out of office for a decade. But Gul is a powerful player in Pakistan's murky politics to this day, so the notion that he would help organize a visit by bin Laden's mother even though no longer head of the ISI is hardly farfetched.

The Guardian has also labeled as "improbable" Moussaoui's tale of smuggling a Stinger missile into the US under diplomatic immunity in order to shoot down Air Force One. But Moussaoui was careful to note that it was not a prince who suggested such an operation, but a comparatively lowly member of the Saudi Embassy's Islamic Department in Washington.

Moreover, the proposal "was not to launch the attack, it was only to see [to] the feasibility of the attack." If, as he says, the Wahhabi cleric Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen did indeed issue a fatwa declaring that embassy personnel "had a personal obligation to help the jihad if they can, even if they were not order[ed] by . . . the Saudi government," then it is hardly inconceivable that an individual Wahhabi militant might have decided to take matters into his own hands.

The Cover-Up
None of this means that Moussaoui's charges are true, merely that they're plausible and therefore merit further investigation. But what makes them even more persuasive is the behavior of those in a position to know, not only the Saudis but the Americans as well.

Since virtually the moment the Twin Towers fell, top officials have behaved in a way that would tax the imagination of even the most fevered conspiratorialist.

Two days after 9/11, Bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador at the time, met with Bush, Dick Cheney, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, after which 144 Saudi nationals, including two dozen members of the Bin Laden family, were allowed to fly out of the country with at most cursory questioning by the FBI.

The Bush administration dragged its feet in the face of two official investigations, a joint congressional inquiry that began in February 2002 and an independent commission under Thomas Kean and Lee H. Hamilton the following November. When Abdullah visited Bush at his Texas ranch in April 2002, the question of 9/11 hardly came up.

When a reporter pointed out that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, Bush cut him short, saying, "Yes, I -- the crown prince has been very strong in condemning those who committed the murder of US citizens. We're constantly working with him and his government on intelligence sharing and cutting off money . . . the government has been acting, and I appreciate that very much."

Yet just a month earlier, former FBI assistant director Robert Kallstrom had said of the Saudis, "It doesn't look like they're doing much, and frankly it's nothing new."

In April 2003, Philip Zelikow, the independent commission's neocon executive director, fired an investigator, Dana Leseman, when she proved too vigorous in probing the Saudi connection. [See Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation (New York: Twelve, 2008), pp. 110-13]

Strangest of all is the famous 28-page chapter from the 2002 joint congressional report dealing with the question of Saudi complicity. While the congressional report was heavily redacted, the chapter itself was suppressed in its entirety. Obama promised 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser shortly after taking office that he would see to it that the section was de-classified, yet nothing has been done.

Why did Obama go back on his word? Is it the text itself that's so explosive? Or do the Saudis have something on the US, something very damaging, that they are threatening to release if it tries to blame them for 9/11? All we can do is speculate.

The Great Unraveling
The US and Saudi Arabia are a pair of odd fellows if ever there was one. One is a liberal republic in the classic Nineteenth Century definition of the term while the other is perhaps the most illiberal society on the face of the earth. One is officially secular while the other is an absolute theocracy.

One professes to believe in diversity while the other imposes a suffocating uniformity, banning all religions other than Wahhabist Islam, forbidding "atheist thought in any form," and prohibiting participation in any conference, seminar, or other gathering, at home or abroad, that might have the effect of "sowing discord."

One claims to oppose terrorism while the other "constitute[s] the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide," according to no less an authority than Hillary Clinton.

The alliance has served the imperial agenda but at appalling cost. This includes not only 9/11 and ISIS, which Joe Biden said the Saudis and others Arab gulf states funded to the tune of "hundreds of millions of dollars," but the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris as well, which was financed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group that, according to former US Ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg, has also benefited from Saudi Arabia and other Arab gulf largesse.

This is the dark side of the alliance that Washington has struggled to keep under wraps. But Moussaoui's testimony is an indication that it may not be able to do so for much longer.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).



Zacarias Moussaoui Says al-Qaida Was Backed by Saudi Arabia. But Can He Be Believed?

Jason Burke / The Guardian

(February 4, 2015) -- Zacarias Moussaoui, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 9/11 attacks, has claimed that al-Qaida received donations from some of the most senior members of Saudi Arabia's royal family even after Osama bin Laden's declaration of war against the US in 1998.

In a court deposition this week, the French Algerian extremist also said that he met with a Saudi diplomat posted in Washington to discuss a plan to assassinate the US president using a surface-to-air missile and plotted to bomb the US embassy in London.

The Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington has rejected the charges, telling the New York Times that Moussaoui was a "deranged criminal" with no credibility. But allegations of Saudi support for al-Qaida have long been the subject of heated debate -- so what can we make of the new claims?

Moussaoui, now 46, appears to have been a controversial last-minute candidate picked by al-Qaida as a substitute if other prospective hijackers could not join the 9/11 plot or pulled out. He was detained as he tried to learn to fly big jets in August 2001 and may have been in the US to undertake other attacks. He came very close to jeopardising the whole 9/11 conspiracy -- indeed, many have argued that he would have done if US agencies had been more effective. Despite erratic statements and behaviour, Moussaoui, a French citizen, was ruled competent to stand trial.

The new testimony has some largely uncontroversial elements that ring true -- and plenty more controversial allegations that do not.

Moussaoui's description of the internal workings of al-Qaida in Afghanistan has details -- such as who was running key bomb-making laboratories -- which have been corroborated elsewhere. It is also entirely plausible that Bin Laden and others contemplated a major truck-bomb attack on the US embassy in the UK in 1999; a similar plot the previous year had devastated the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Moussaoui's descriptions of Kandahar, the southern Afghan city where he was based, appear accurate.

Yet there are flaws in his evidence. Moussaoui says a visit of Bin Laden's mother to Afghanistan in 1999 -- never previously reported -- was facilitated by the head of the Pakistani military intelligence, hardline general Hamid Gul. But Gul left the post a decade before. Moussaoui describes bin Laden's "total reverence and obedience" to senior Saudi establishment clerics, who the extremist propagandist and organiser loathed.

The idea that Moussaoui, a French Algerian with "colloquial Arabic" previously unknown to al-Qaida, could meet Bin Laden within 36 hours of "sending him a CV" on arrival in Afghanistan from Chechnya and then be charged with a crucial job of compiling a database of financial donors seems far-fetched.

Moussaoui describes taking a private jet to meet half a dozen of the most senior Saudi royals in 1999 -- after the bombings of US embassies in east Africa -- to bring them letters from Bin Laden. He returned with cash, he says.

Members of the Saudi establishment did contribute to Afghan mujahideen factions which fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and may have given money to individuals from the Middle East engaged in that struggle too, but Bin Laden had fallen out with the al-Sauds in the early 1990s, and had then been stripped of his citizenship. In 1995 and 1996 he had published vitriolic indictments of their rule.

Efforts were made by the Saudis to negotiate the expulsion of Bin Laden by the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan at this time, with Prince Turki al-Faisal even flying to Kandahar to pick up bin Laden in the early autumn of 1998. Mullah Omar, the Taliban supreme leader, reneged on their deal. The possibility of couriers being put up in palaces before meeting a group of the most powerful men in the kingdom just a few months later seems slim.

The idea that Moussaoui met with a Saudi diplomat in Kandahar is just about feasible, though a discussion with one about a plan to fire stingers at Air Force One in Washington appears improbable. Any such discussions would surely have been routed through senior commanders of al-Qaida, even Bin Laden himself, not a relatively lowly figure who ran a guesthouse and did odd jobs.

Another plan Moussaoui says was mooted at the time was to use a crop duster to spray some kind of chemical weapon. This may well be true, but is not new: it was considered a threat in 2001.

Why make these allegations now? Moussaoui, though he eventually pleaded guilty, argued at his trial that he was not part of the 9/11 plot but was in the US to conduct another form of attack. His appeal against his sentence was rejected in 2010.

The new allegations, with the details about the other plots he was supposedly involved in, may be some kind of new bid to overturn his life sentence. Other motivations are unclear, but a desire simply to escape the crushing tedium of life in a supermax prison may be one.

But Moussaoui's charges come at an interesting time. Former US senator Bob Graham recently called for the release of 28 pages redacted from an 800-page joint congressional inquiry from 2002 on the 9/11 attacks of which he was lead author, saying they "point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as the principal financier" of the hijackers.

The pages are being withheld for reasons of national security, though Barack Obama has reportedly told 9/11 families that he wants to see the pages declassified. Given the strength of the deputation the US president recently led to Riyadh to cement ties following the succession of King Salman to the Saudi throne, and the cost to the relationship of releasing the missing chapter, it does not appear likely that anyone, inside or outside a supermax, will be reading it soon.


US Officials: 9/11 Plotter's Claims Saudi Royals Aided al-Qaida 'Inconceivable'
Spencer Ackerman / The Guardian

NEW YORK (February 2015) -- Former top-level US intelligence officials have lined up to discredit explosive allegations by a convicted al-Qaida operative that senior members of the Saudi royal family supported the extremist network, and that a Saudi diplomat discussed plans to shoot down the US presidential plane Air Force One.

Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker", made the accusations in testimony filed in Manhattan federal court on Monday by lawyers for victims of the 9/11 terror attacks who accuse Saudi Arabia of providing material support to al-Qaida.

Robert Grenier, the CIA's former counter-terrorism chief, said Mousaoui's allegations were "inconceivable". A former top navy terrorism investigator, Robert McFadden, likened claims of official Saudi backing for the devastating attack to "a unicorn".

But the allegations -- which came just a week after the US government made an ostentatious reaffirmation of US friendship following the death of Saudi King Abdullah -- have once again focussed attention on the wisdom of Washington's oil-fueled alliance with a leading exporter of Islamic extremism.

Moussaoui, whose trial for his involvement in the 9/11 plot exposed a history of mental illness, echoed longstanding allegations that members of the Saudi royal family helped bankroll al-Qaida ahead of the attack.

But he also made a dramatic new claim, alleging that he discussed a missile attack on Air Force One with a diplomat from the Saudi embassy in Washington.

In a statement to the New York Times, the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington rejected the charges. "Moussaoui is a deranged criminal whose own lawyers presented evidence that he was mentally incompetent. His words have no credibility," the statement said.

In his deposition, Moussaoui described drawing up a database of al-Qaida donors, who he said included some "extremely famous" Saudi officials, including Prince Turki al-Faisal Al Saud, a former Saudi intelligence chief, and Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States.

"Shaykh Osama wanted to keep a record who give money because . . . who is to be listened to or who contribute to -- to the jihad," Moussaoui said.

He claims that al-Qaida had considered attacking the US embassy in London with a truck bomb. He also said the group had discussed the feasibility of "shooting Air Force One" with a Stinger surface-to-air missile, claiming that he had attended a meeting in the Afghan city of Kandahar with an official from the Saudi embassy in Washington.

"I was supposed to go to Washington and to go with him find -- to see a location -- to find a location where it may be a -- suitable to launch a stinger attack and, then, after be able to escape," he said. Moussaoui's trip to Washington never took place because he was arrested soon after.

Several ex-intelligence officials contacted by the Guardian expressed skepticism about Moussaoui's claims. All drew a distinction between more plausible claims that individual Saudis aided al-Qaida in their private capacity and less plausible ones of official Saudi Arabian backing.

Eleanor Hill, a senior staffer for a critical congressional study into the attacks, said she had never heard of the Air Force One claim.

A former senior CIA official said: "Air Force One is new, but I do recall some accusation that official-but-not-officially Saudis were involved. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agency took the accusation seriously, but said: "I don't think any evidence really surfaced, aside from vague plans."

Grenier, the agency's senior officer in Pakistan during the 9/11 attacks and later director of its Counterterrorist Center, said Moussaoui was resurrecting a discredited conspiracy theory. Asked if Moussaoui's Air Force One claim was plausible, Grenier replied: "Absolutely not."

"The Saudis in the past had been willing to try to pacify those who would otherwise be opposed to them, but there is absolutely no evidence of official Saudi involvement with or support of al-Qaida," Grenier said.

"The reason Osama bin Laden went to Sudan in the 1990s in the first place was because he was under pressure from the Saudi government," Grenier said. "The idea they'd be supporting him under any circumstances, and in particular in an attack on the US, is inconceivable."

Yet official US secrecy has fanned the flames of suspicion of Saudi complicity in 9/11.

For more than a decade, the George W Bush and the Obama administrations have suppressed 28 pages of a 2002 congressional report into the attacks that discuss the question of Saudi involvement. One of that report's architects, the former Senate intelligence committee chairman Bob Graham, has long stated his belief in official Saudi culpability.

Graham called again for the declassification of the Saudi-relevant portion of the report last month, on the grounds that the American public has been deprived of understanding a critical aspect of the worst terrorist attack on US soil.

Shortly after the terrorist attack in France, Graham said there was "a threat to national security in nondisclosure and we saw another chapter of that today in Paris". A spokesman for Graham said the former Florida Democrat was unavailable for comment.

Hill, who as a congressional staffer helped write the censored 28 pages, said classification rules prevented her from discussing them. But she said she had not heard about the Air Force One claim, and noted that prison confessions can arise from motives that call their credibility into question.

Still, she added, "people need to really seriously consider whether they can declassify more of this report."

Bin Laden had a complex and murky relationship with the Saudi royal family. He was a liaison to Saudi intelligence while fighting in the 1980s Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union. "We were happy with him. He was our man. He was doing everything we asked of him," a former senior Saudi intelligence official told Steve Coll for his book Ghost Wars.

Yet that support came before Bin Laden's break with the Saudi royal family, which rebuked his plan to defend the kingdom from Saddam Hussein in 1990 in favor of welcoming the US military into the country. That split led bin Laden to consider the Saudi royals an apostate government. Al-Qaida in 2003 executed a major terrorist attack in Riyadh.

The US alliance with Saudi Arabia stretches back to President Franklin D Roosevelt and trades oil for US security guarantees. The Saudi royal family's relationship with extremist Wahhabi clerics has put it under scrutiny, if not exactly strain, since 9/11. Its human rights abuses -- including beheadings, vicious executions of gay people and suppression of women -- prompted scorn amongst campaigners after Obama visited Riyadh to recommit US support after the 23 January death of King Abdullah.

McFadden, a former terrorism specialist for the Navy Criminal Investigative Service now with the Soufan Group, drew a sharp distinction between "official involvement" and "the private-citizen part".

"It's difficult even in police states to determine, discover and mitigate" terrorist threats, McFadden said.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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