Terror Two Years After
By Jamie Reno
(page 1 of 3)This month marks the two-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America. But do we now have a clear understanding of all the facts behind the horrible events of September 11, 2001? In many ways, no. Though a report on the congressional probe (with 28 censored pages) was finally released in late July, after months of political haggling, there appears to be belated and only tepid interest by our federal government in following the 9/11 money trail to Saudi Arabia.
Terrorists could not have pulled off such an ambitious offensive without substantial financial and logistical support, here and abroad. However, countless intelligence leads that might help solve this mystery appear to have been underinvestigated or completely overlooked by the FBI, particularly in San Diego.
In the past few weeks, San Diego Magazine has interviewed a half-dozen people with various financial or other connections to the San Diego–based terrorists or to the enigmatic, moneyed San Diego Saudis who knew the hijackers. Not one had ever been contacted by bureau agents.
Serious questions about the 9/11 investigation, including accusations of Saudi favoritism, are coming from liberals and conservatives alike. Congress collectively called the events leading up to the tragedy the “biggest intelligence failure in American history.” And Larry Klayman, chairman of Judicial Watch, a political watchdog group that had previously set its sights on President Clinton, wonders whether national energy and economic policy have influenced the war on terrorism.
“Are we laying off of Saudi Arabia because of the links between the American oil industry and the Saudis?” Klayman asked reporters after a recent court hearing. “That’s the kind of information the American people need to know.”
Looking for answers to Klayman’s question, it seems logical to start in San Diego, where even the Congressional report suggests the connections to al Qaeda and the Saudi government are potentially profound.
Most San Diegans know about Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar and Hani Hanjoor, the three Saudi hijackers who spent time here. But less is known about Saad Al-Habeeb, Omar Al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan, three recondite Saudi nationals who’ve been linked to the terrorists and to the Saudi government. All three of these three mysterious former San Diegans are now back in Saudi Arabia, including Al-Bayoumi, who was recently reinterviewed by the FBI after demands were made by members of Congress, including Charles Schumer (D-NY) and several others. Among these three, only Al-Bayoumi has been reinvestigated.
He’s been called everything from a student to a wealthy international businessman. But during his weeklong visit to San Diego, Saad Al-Habeeb left his mark by purchasing a building in El Cajon with a $450,000 cashier’s check from Chase Manhattan Bank. The building was renamed the Masjid Al-Madina Al-Munawara, to be used as a mosque and community center for San Diego’s Kurd Muslims.
Al-Habeeb’s gift was given on the condition that another Saudi, a sociable but enigmatic man named Omar Al-Bayoumi —who also happened to be friends with the hijackers and was widely considered to be a Saudi government agent—be set up as the building’s maintenance manager. He also was to be given a private office at the mosque, with a phone and a computer.
A half-million-dollar cashier’s check from a mysterious Saudi who had connections to the terrorists and to the Saudi government would seem a glaring red flag, but FBI agents apparently have left this clue unchecked. Santee businessman Richard Fritzer, who sold the El Cajon building to Al-Habeeb, says he has never been contacted by anyone from the FBI.
“The mosque purchase was described to me as a charitable gift, but I never knew where the money came from or much about Al-Habeeb’s background,” says Fritzer. “I’d obviously like to know if this guy was involved in any way with terrorism. The FBI has never called me.”
The manager of La Mesa’s Grossmont Escrow, which handled the El Cajon mosque transaction, says the FBI never contacted her, either. “No one’s ever asked to look at our records,” says the manager, who requested her name not be used. “It’s somewhat surprising, considering what this was about.”
Erick Ricci, a local civil engineer who also worked on the mosque project, says he, too, has never heard from the feds. Ricci says all the money for his engineering work on the project was paid to him on behalf of Al-Habeeb and Al-Bayoumi by a San Diego contractor named Aziz Fathy, who is from Egypt. Ricci used to work with Fathy, he says, but adds now that he wonders about the nature of the relationship between the Saudis and Fathy, who would not return phone calls from San Diego Magazine.
Al-Habeeb, who is mentioned only briefly in the congressional 9/11 report and is back in Saudi Arabia now, has said he made Al-Bayoumi manager of the El Cajon mosque because he was a “good man.” But the true nature of his relationship with Al-Bayoumi—and their association with the terrorists and the Saudi government—remains a mystery.