A congressional panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has found an alleged money trail between two hijackers and influential financiers in Saudi Arabia, but federal law enforcement officials are refusing to declassify their findings so they can be made public, U.S. government sources said.
The panel's report will also raise questions about a possible indirect financial link between the hijackers and Saudi officials.
In October, the congressional joint inquiry heard testimony in closed session alleging that Omar al Bayoumi, a Saudi graduate student in San Diego, had helped two hijackers -- Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi -- settle in the United States and that he apparently received money from a wealthy Saudi source.
They also received information about the possibility that some of Bayoumi's money came indirectly from Saudi government officials, the sources said.
FBI agents had found the phone number of an employee of the Saudi Embassy in Bayoumi's apartment. Embassy officials yesterday confirmed that the FBI had questioned two employees of the embassy's Islamic affairs section about calls from Bayoumi.
But the Saudis insisted yesterday there was no link between any Saudi government employee and Bayoumi, and that they had no knowledge of Bayoumi's activities in California. A Saudi spokesman said it was his understanding the FBI had closed the matter.
The FBI and other senior government officials said yesterday they had found no convincing link to the Saudi government. But some members of Congress and their staff do not consider the matter closed and have continued to ask the FBI for more information.
Until eight years ago, Bayoumi worked for the Saudi ministry of defense and aviation, the Saudi spokesman said.
After inquiries yesterday, the FBI released a statement saying Bayoumi had left the United States before Sept. 11 "but was subsequently charged with one count of visa fraud." The statement said he had been temporarily detained in England, where he was living, but was released.
The FBI declined to elaborate about Bayoumi or his possible Saudi connections. "The FBI has aggressively pursued investigative leads regarding terrorist support and activity. For obvious reasons, the FBI does not divulge details of its pending investigations," the statement said.
In October, the congressional panel wanted to question an FBI informant in San Diego -- a man who had rented rooms to the two hijackers a year before the attacks -- but the bureau refused to submit to the request. Congressional investigators, who have complained about the lack of cooperation from the FBI on the matter, have continued to press the bureau.
Congressional staff members have included their findings about Bayoumi and possible Saudi links in a classified version of the final report and are in negotiations over declassifying all or part of the subject, U.S. government sources said.
The FBI and Justice Department have argued with the panel that disclosing even a possible Saudi link to the terrorist would further damage U.S.-Saudi relations, which have been under considerable strain since Sept. 11.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. The U.S. government is investigating Saudi-based charities suspected of channeling money to al Qaeda operatives.
U.S. government officials said yesterday Bayoumi is believed to be in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Embassy officials said yesterday they are trying to learn his whereabouts and did not know if he is in Saudi Arabia.