Newspaper article International New York Times

Ex-Operative for Al Qaeda Says Saudis Were Patrons ; Moussaoui Details Plans to Down Air Force One with Princes' Support

Newspaper article International New York Times

Ex-Operative for Al Qaeda Says Saudis Were Patrons ; Moussaoui Details Plans to Down Air Force One with Princes' Support

Article excerpt

A former operative for Al Qaeda testified that members of Saudi Arabia's royal family were major donors in the late 1990s.

CORRECTION APPENDED

In highly unusual testimony inside the federal supermax prison, a former operative for Al Qaeda has described prominent members of Saudi Arabia's royal family as major donors to the terrorist network in the late 1990s and claimed that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

The Qaeda member, Zacarias Moussaoui, has received a diagnosis of mental illness but was found competent to stand trial on terrorism charges. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 and is held in the most secure prison in the federal system, in Florence, Colo.

Last year, he wrote to Judge George B. Daniels of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, who is presiding over a lawsuit filed against Saudi Arabia by relatives of those killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said he wanted to testify in the case, and after lengthy negotiations with Justice Department officials and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a team of lawyers was permitted to enter the prison and question him for two days last October.

In a statement Monday night, the Saudi Embassy noted that the national Sept. 11 Commission had rejected allegations that the Saudi government or Saudi officials had funded Al Qaeda.

"Moussaoui is a deranged criminal whose own lawyers presented evidence that he was mentally incompetent," the statement said. "His words have no credibility."

The allegations from Mr. Moussaoui come at a sensitive time in Saudi-American relations, less than two weeks after the death of the country's longtime leader, King Abdullah, and the succession of his brother, King Salman.

There has often been tension between Saudi leaders and the Obama administration since the Arab uprisings of 2011 and the efforts to manage the region's resulting turmoil. Mr. Moussaoui describes meeting in Saudi Arabia with Salman, then the crown prince, and other Saudi royals while delivering them letters from Osama bin Laden.

There has long been evidence that wealthy Saudis provided support for bin Laden, the son of a Saudi construction magnate, and for Al Qaeda before the 2001 attacks. Saudi Arabia had worked closely with the United States to finance Islamic militants fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and Al Qaeda drew its members from militant fighters.

But the extent and nature of Saudi involvement in Al Qaeda, and whether it extended to the planning and financing of the Sept. 11 attacks, has long been a subject of dispute. Mr. Moussaoui's testimony, if judged credible, provides new details of the extent and nature of that support in the period before the attacks. In more than 100 pages of testimony, filed in federal court in New York on Monday, he comes across as calm and largely coherent, though the plaintiffs' lawyers questioning him do not challenge his statements.

"My impression was that he was of completely sound mind -- focused and thoughtful," said Sean P. Carter, a Philadelphia lawyer with Cozen O'Connor who participated in the deposition on behalf of the plaintiffs. He said that the lawyers needed to get a special exemption from the "special administrative measures" that keep many convicted terrorists in federal prisons from communicating with outsiders. …

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