July 28, 2003 | New York Post

Missing Links

The blacking out of 28 pages on Saudi complicity in the 9/11 attacks isn't the only hole in Congress' report on the terrorist atrocity: The rest of the report skirts issues and evidence that point directly to the desert oil kingdom.

Consider the case of 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. The document notes that U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies failed to adequately deal with knowledge they had of these two Saudis. But it actually continues the intelligence failure, by overlooking their importance in the plot.

The two men first landed in San Diego after a terrorist summit in Malaysia. Among the U.S. failures that followed:

* Some time before 9/11, the National Security Agency had information linking al-Hazmi to Osama bin Laden but failed to hand the CIA what it knew about him and al-Mihdhar.

* The CIA learned that al-Hazmi, whom it had identified as a “terrorist,” had come to the United States but did not inform the FBI.

* Al-Mihdhar's entry into America as Nawaf al-Hazmi's traveling companion was overlooked.

* Later, the men traveled back and forth, in and out of the country, unimpeded. They were not placed on government watch lists until two weeks before 9/11.

* An attempt to open a serious investigation of al-Mihdhar was blocked by maintenance of a “wall” between intelligence and criminal cases. The FBI was trying to find and interview Al-Mihdhar on the day of the hijackings.

The report tends to exonerate the U.S. agencies, yet closer attention to who these men were and what they were engaged in might have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

Indeed, the report seems to willfully understate the importance of the bungled investigation of al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. They were, in wording nearly lost in the report's bureaucratic fog, “principal hijackers,” and the first to arrive in America, at the start of 2000.

FBI Director Robert Mueller stated that “al-Mihdhar's role in the 9/11 plot between June 2000 and July 2001 . . . may well have been that of coordinator and organizer of the movements of the non-pilot hijackers. This is supported by his apparent lengthy stay in Saudi Arabia and his arriving back in the United States only after the arrival of all the hijackers.”

In an understated manner, the report discloses even more fascinating information: While in San Diego, the pair had extensive contacts with an unidentified FBI informant and were befriended by Omar al-Bayoumi – a Saudi subject who has returned to, and remains in, the kingdom. Al-Bayoumi has terrorist connections, and has been associated with a bin Laden follower named Omar Bassnan.

The report overlooks one important fact about al-Bayoumi: Last year, he and Bassnan were named in the U.S. media as the conduits for “charitable donations” to al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi from Princess Haifa, wife of the Saudi ambassador to America, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz.

Why no mention whatever of Princess Haifa in the report's narrative on al-Bayoumi, Bassnan, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi? The same claim of “national security” that justified blacking out the Saudi chapter?

The report simply fails to follow up on another shocking disclosure: Al-Bayoumi was an employee of the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority, and his immediate superior in that body had a bin Laden connection.

The Saudi Civil Aviation Authority would be the ideal center for a hijacking conspiracy: Its employees would know everything, from Saudi attendance at specific U.S. flight schools, to the regulations for carrying sharp objects aboard airliners, to the fuel capacities of long-range flights.

So why hasn't our government focused a bright light on this agency? Is it not possible that the agency was tasked with the 9/11 atrocity from higher up in the Saudi regime?

One American politician, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), has taken action, demanding that al-Bayoumi be brought back to the United States from Saudi Arabia for further questioning. Yet U.S. agencies seemingly still shy from even probing Saudi wrongdoing.

The Saudi state and its Wahhabi ideology are explicitly based on the murder of non-Wahhabi Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Americans in general. That same state and doctrine are prime causes of the slaying of thousands of Americans, starting decades before 9/11. The same state, the same doctrine and their allies and apologists are now robbing our country of key truths about 9/11.

Prince Bandar and his wife should be declared persona non grata and expelled from our soil, and the Saudi regime served with an ultimatum: Tell us the truth, all the truth, so that we may lay it before all our citizens – or we begin an audit, for possible seizure as terrorist-linked, of the Saudis' trillions of dollars of assets in our country.

It's time to break the silence, clean up the mess and move on.

Stephen Schwartz is author of “The Two Faces of Islam” and director of the Islam and Democracy Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.