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Senator Says Bush Administration Withholding Information on Saudi-Terrorist Ties - 2003-03-19


A U.S. Senator is accusing the Bush administration of withholding crucial information linking prominent Saudis to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Senator Chuck Schumer says the U.S. Justice Department has documents tying leading Saudi financiers and entrepreneurs to al-Qaida, which was responsible for the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

"These donors played a role in the formation of al-Qaida and in the funding of activities that led to the 9/11 terrible tragedy," he said.

The New York Democrat says the information is important to the families of the victims who are seeking to bring to justice those responsible.

But he says the Justice Department has turned down several legal requests made by the families to have the documents released.

"It is unbelievable that our government is dragging its feet in making this information available to the families of World Trade Center victims," he said.

The U.S. Justice Department did not return phone calls seeking comment on the case.

Mr. Schumer's remarks come at a delicate time in U.S. Saudi relations.

The United States has some 5,000 troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, but Riyadh repeatedly has said it would not take part in U.S.-led military action against Iraq.

Stephen Schwartz with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies is assisting families of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He accused the Bush administration of withholding the documents necessary for his case out of concern over jeopardizing U.S.-Saudi ties.

"I'm going to be a grandfather soon, and I do not plan to tell my grandchild that this administration covered up the guilt of high figures in Saudi society out of a need for some sort of polite diplomatic relationships with Saudi Arabia," he said. "We will not have a hole in our history. Justice will be done, no matter how high we have to go in Saudi society."

Senator Schumer said, while there may be security concerns about making the information publicly available, he said there are ways the United States can maintain security and give the families access to the information they need.

Under pressure from the United States, the Saudi government last year announced measures to keep better track of charities and prevent their funds from going to al-Qaida.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out the strikes on New York and the Pentagon were Saudis.

The documents sought by families of the victims of September 11 attacks were found in Bosnia-Herzegovina last year in a series of raids ordered by the Bosnian Supreme Court on a charity suspected of having ties to al-Qaida. The Bosnian government turned the documents over to the U.S. government to help with its war on terrorism.