At the Sharm el-Sheikh US-Arab summit on June 3, the Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, bent the ear of President George W. Bush with a long account of the anti-terror crackdown preoccupying his security forces since the May 12 al Qaeda suicide attacks in Riyadh.
The prince boasted that a few days after the attacks, Saudi security had captured four Saudi suspects with their Moroccan wives at Jeddah international Airport on their way to hijack a Saudia airliner. He dwelt at length on the barrels of chemical substances discovered in raids of terrorist hideouts that were destined to be mixed with explosives to cause toxic blasts in the centers of Saudi cities.
In the last ten days, the Saudi media for whom terrorism was always practically taboo, are packing their columns with tales of dramatic chases of al Qaeda terrorists by Saudi security police.
Abdullah assured the US president and secretary of state Colin Powell that he personally and his loyal aides were meticulously screening every cent leaving the kingdom from and to “Islamic charities”. He promised there was no way the slightest trickle could reach the hands of al Qaeda or any other Middle East terrorist group, like the Hamas or the Jihad Islami.
The Americans passed the information onto the Israelis to persuade them not to hamper Abu Mazen’s ceasefire negotiations with Hamas leaders. The group clearly faced the severe curtailment of its terror capabilities if Saudi funding dried up (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 110 revealed on May 23.)
Reporting from behind the scenes of the Aqaba summit, our sources reveal that at some point the Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas asked for a private word with President Bush. He then recounted how one of Prince Abdullah’s aides had called him by cell phone with a special request. He asked him to insert in the closing statement of the summit a sentence saying: We the Palestinians call on all Arab governments and nations to stop sending money to terrorist organizations and groups engaged in incitement to terror and violence. We Palestinians vow to cooperate in this endeavor as part of the global war on terrorism.
Hearing this, the US president congratulated the Palestinian prime minister for bringing this important contribution to the development of good relations with the Israelis.
However, when Bush relayed the news privately to Powell and Rice, they exchanged glances without saying a word. They had just read a report from FBI director Robert Mueller on his visits this week to Riyadh and later Sanaa. His report covered the progress of the Saudi investigations into the Riyadh bombings of May 12.
Before he left the kingdom, he praised the working relations developed between the Saudi and American investigating teams. But once out of Riyadh, he sent in quite a different report to his superiors in Washington. He said that the Saudis had demanded that most of the 60-member US team depart the kingdom without delay. They claimed the investigation was over and no further findings were expected. They submitted a named list of US agents ordered to leave at once – most of them highly proficient investigators. The only ones allowed to stay were half a dozen specialists who were not trained to carry out comprehensive probes.
Mueller’s report cast doubt on most of the Saudi accounts of determined pursuits of al Qaeda terrorists. Cross-checks of data from diverse sources showed that many Saudi claims of raids of terrorist hideouts and gunfights were apocryphal.
American investigators taken to view alleged al Qaeda hideouts and weapons caches doubted the authenticity of the sites and suspected some of the weapons had been planted.
But most worrying, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources, was the evidence building up with US anti-terror authorities that the flow of Saudi money to al Qaeda and Hamas is continuing without pause – notwithstanding Prince Abdullah’s protestations to Bush. Instead of being funneled directly through Saudi charitable societies, it follows a more roundabout route through Dubai.
All these findings throw doubt on the authenticity of the tough crackdown the Saudi ruler claims to be conducting against al Qaeda and poses the question of what is being hidden.