Terror Two Years After
By Jamie Reno
(page 2 of 3)Omar Al-Bayoumi
He’s told various stories about what he was doing in the United States, but Omar Al-Bayoumi has been described by some as the front man for the terrorists here. He says he simply overheard future hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar speaking Arabic in a Los Angeles restaurant and befriended them. But just before that, Al-Bayoumi visited the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. Law enforcement officials believe he had a closed-door meeting with Fahad al Thumairy, a member of the consulate’s Islamic & Culture Affairs Section who later was barred from entry to the United States because of alleged links to terrorism.
After meeting with al Thumairy, Al-Bayoumi met the hijackers in Los Angeles, then brought them to San Diego, arranged for them to live at the Parkwood Apartments in Clairemont (near the Islamic Center of San Diego) and reportedly paid $1,550 for the first two months’ rent.
Al-Bayoumi—who, with others here, helped Alhazmi and Almihdhar open a bank account, obtain car insurance, get Social Security cards and call flight schools in Florida—also threw a welcoming party for the hijackers, during which he introduced them to the local Muslim community.
Rarely appearing at the Kurd mosque where Al-Habeeb had positioned him, Al-Bayoumi was widely suspected by Muslims here to be a Saudi government agent —long before 9/11. “He was always checking on the young Saudi students,” says Henry Bagadan, a Pakistani businessman who worships at the Islamic Center. “I always thought he was a Saudi spy.”
Al-Bayoumi was taken into custody two weeks after the 9/11 attack, while studying in England. During a search of his apartment the FBI found the names and numbers of two Saudi embassy employees. At one point the FBI suspected he was an associate of the terrorists and that he had strong ties to the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C.
San Diego civil rights attorney Randy Hamud, who represented four Middle Eastern students who knew the terrorists—as well as the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker”—says the people at the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., told Hamud they knew Al-Bayoumi well. But Al-Bayoumi was released after a short detainment, without charge.
“My clients knew the hijackers only casually, yet they spent a long time in jail,” says Hamud. “Al-Bayoumi brought the hijackers here. He introduced them to one of my clients and to the community, yet Al-Bayoumi is free. Clearly, he knows people in high places; he greased the wheels somehow. The Saudis just aren’t being scrutinized, in general, like the others.”
Charges of special treatment for Saudi Arabia grew when it was learned the San Diego–connected Saudis and their families were linked to high-ranking Saudi government officials. Osama Basnan, another San Diego Saudi who was a close friend of Al-Bayoumi, claimed to have written a letter to the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, and his wife, Princess Haifa Faisal, asking for financial help. Basnan’s wife, Majeda Dweikat, apparently needed thyroid surgery. The Saudi embassy sent Basnan $15,000 and paid the surgical bill.
Princess Haifa apparently began sending monthly checks of between $2,000 and $3,000 to Dweikat in late 1999 or early 2000. Basnan’s wife then signed many of the checks over to Basnan’s friend, Manal Bajadr, who is Al-Bayoumi’s wife. The payments from Haifa continued until May 2002 and may have totaled as much as $73,000, say some reports.
During the time he lived here, Basnan also reported his passport stolen in Houston, Texas—which confirmed that Basnan was in that city the same day Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah met with President Bush.
Basnan and his wife, Dweikat, admitted they had used false immigration documents to stay in the United States, and were arrested. A federal source told Newsweek that, at a gathering in Clairemont, Basnan had called 9/11 “a wonderful, glorious day” and celebrated the hijackers’ “heroism.” Despite all of this, Basnan was ultimately allowed to return to Saudi Arabia, and Dweikat was deported to Jordan.