Magazine article Newsweek

Saudi PR Efforts: Another Series of Setbacks

Magazine article Newsweek

Saudi PR Efforts: Another Series of Setbacks

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball

The Saudi government launched a PR blitz last week to show it is cooperating in the war on terror. But the effort was quickly undercut--twice. First came comments from Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef describing "Zionists" as the "protagonists" of the 9-11 attacks. Bush administration officials made no secret of their displeasure and, NEWSWEEK has learned, were planning a formal rebuke. Even more potentially awkward for the Saudis is intriguing new evidence that surfaced in a Hamburg courtroom. German authorities have charged Mounir el-Motassadeq, a 28-year-old Moroccan citizen, with assisting Muhammad Atta and other members of the "Hamburg cell" that organized the 9-11 attacks. El-Motassadeq has denied knowing of the 9-11 plot.

Last week a German police official testified that when authorities raided el-Motassadeq's apartment, they found the business card of Muhammad J. Fakihi, chief of Islamic affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Berlin. German police memos, first reported in the weekly Die Zeit, show German officials twice sought to question Saudi officials about Fakihi and whether el-Motassadeq visited him during a trip to Berlin two months after the terrorist attacks. But the Saudis never responded to written questions. (A Saudi official in Washington says "the Islamic Affairs Branch gets phone calls from a lot of people.") The Saudis also demurred when asked to explain phone records showing repeated calls from el-Motassadeq's apartment to the Riyadh office of Sheikh Safar al-Hawali, a radical imam who helped set up a charity that U. …

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