Thu, Jul 31, 2003 - Page 7 News List

US rejects Saudi request for terror report

KEEPING QUIET A section of a report on the Sept. 11 attacks that dealt with the Saudi government will not be made public for the moment, the US president said

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush on Tuesday flatly rejected a Saudi request to declassify part of a report on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks dealing with Saudi Arabia, on the grounds it would compromise intelligence.

In response, the Saudi foreign minister angrily denounced the report as an "outrage" that "wrongly and morbidly" accused Saudi Arabia of complicity in the attacks, but said he understood Bush's reasons for rejecting the request.

"It makes no sense to declassify when we've got an ongoing investigation. That could jeopardize that investigation," Bush said, even before he met Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal to personally deliver the news.

"And it made no sense to declassify ... during the war on terror, because it would help the enemy if they knew our sources and methods," Bush said.

The congressional report was released last week with a portion on Saudi Arabia still classified. The report raises suspicions over possible links between individuals in the Saudi government and some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudis.

US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice later told Prince Saud that the US wants to question Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi citizen the congressional report said knew two of the Sept. 11 hijackers while living in San Diego.

The report raised suspicions but reached no conclusion about whether Bayoumi was connected to the Saudi government.

A senior FBI official said that Bayoumi was wanted for an interview and had not been charged. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef earlier told the London-based daily al-Hayat that Saudi Arabia would not consider extraditing Bayoumi.

Prince Saud said he had given Bush a letter from Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's de facto leader, asking that the section be declassified so the country could respond directly and "remove any doubts."

"We have nothing to hide. And we do not seek, nor do we need, to be shielded," Prince Saud said.

Asked about Bush's rejection, he said, "We are disappointed that it's not going to be published, but we understand the reasons."

Members of the US Congress, including Republican Senator Richard Shelby, have also asked that the section be released and said it was being kept secret mainly to avoid diplomatic embarrassment.

Senator Bob Graham, a Democratic presidential candidate, urged a Senate vote to declassify the portion.

A 27-page section was blank in the public version of the report and kept classified on the recommendation of senior intelligence and law enforcement officials, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The classified section could be released later if the investigations are completed and US security interests would not be jeopardized, Bush said.

Prince Saud said, "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been wrongfully and morbidly accused of complicity in the tragic terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

"It is an outrage to any sense of fairness that 28 blank pages are now considered substantial evidence to proclaim the guilt of a country that has been a true friend and partner to the US for over 60 years," he said.

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