JEDDAH, 3 December 2002 — Omar Al-Bayoumi, a Saudi who has been accused by American and other Western media outlets of helping two of the Sept. 11 bombers — Khalid Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al-Hazmi — has reaffirmed that he and his wife had no connection with checks passed to the hijackers.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News, Bayoumi, who holds three master’s degrees from US and British universities, urged the media not to falsely implicate him in the issue because US and British agents cleared him of all wrongdoing more than a year ago.
Asked how he would prove false the claim that he did not bring Mihdhar and Hazmi to the US or pay their house rents during their stay at the Barcode complex in Claremont in San Diego, he said: “I don’t know them. So how can I have paid for them? I don’t have the ability to pay for them because I have my own family and meet my educational expenses. It is unthinkable to even imagine that the two people came to learn English without any money.”
He also pointed out that the complex received only checks not cash. Those who have doubts can meet the complex management and make sure.
He challenged the media to produce the endorsed checks, which they said he allegedly passed to Mihdhar and Hazmi. “The subject of endorsed checks is totally baseless. It’s just falsification and fabrication. If anybody has this check they should produce it to the media and investigators,” Bayoumi said.
He expressed his surprise at Western and even Arab media for running false reports without looking for evidence.Scotland Yard and FBI have cleared Bayoumi of all allegations.
He said the security authorities in the US and Britain questioned him while they were looking for those surrounding the attackers.
He said Hazmi and Mihdhar stayed at Barcode complex (where Bayoumi was also staying) for two weeks. He said most of the people living in that complex have subsequently been questioned.
He commended agents from Scotland Yard for talking to him in a polite and decent way. “They told me that you are wanted for questioning. They inspected everything at my house, even the garden in the backyard where my son used to play basketball, my daughter’s bags (she was only one at that time), my computer, discs, aviation games for children, books, everything,” he stated.
“They collected everything and sent them to the United States, with my knowledge, to be inspected by FBI agents. They kept them there for seven months,” he said, adding that a British officer had accompanied the documents and confirmed what he told the British security authorities was true.
“After the first two days they even changed the word investigation into meeting. I was with them for a week. I told them everything, and gave all the supporting evidence,” he said, adding that he had kept all documents related to his expenditure, education and other matters. “They were surprised to see the organization of my papers and bills. I used to keep even the bills from consumer goods I had bought.”
He said the police had not arrested his wife or any other members of his family — his eldest son, Emad, is 16 years old — and confirmed that all their passports were returned to them after seven months.
He added that the FBI agents were asking him about his stay and the contacts he had had in San Diego.
“They asked me for information related to many people, including my relation with Mihdhar and Hazmi and whether I knew anything what the Sept. 11 suspects were planning to do. I told them the truth. These two Saudi youths (Mihdhar and Hazmi) came to the US in early 2000. They came to learn English as they did not know one word of English. Like other Arabs and Saudis, they wanted to stay at Barcode complex, which is close to the mosque and can accommodate 1,500 worshipers. It was natural that they asked experienced people about the best places for shopping, restaurants and Arab grocery stores. But I found out that that they left the complex when they found it was expensive, after staying there for two weeks. I don’t know where they went,” Bayoumi said.
He said police from Scotland Yard had kept his books and documents for seven months. “This obstructed my doctoral studies,” he explained.
However, he pointed out that he completed his third master’s degree in July this year at a British university. Bayoumi, who returned to the Kingdom about four months ago, still intends to complete his studies to earn a doctorate.
Bayoumi has four sons, 11 brothers and a sister. He went to the US after graduating from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah at the end of 1994. He then joined the University of San Diego and studied at other American institutions. He obtained a master’s degree in business administration from California and another master’s in project management. He also began studying at Case Western University in Ohio for a doctoral degree, but the university’s high tuition fee ($28,000) prompted him to look for another university in Britain.
In October 2000, he shifted to Aston University in Birmingham, where he was the head of the Saudi students club.
“Things were going smoothly there until the problems started on Sept. 22, 2001 — 11 days after the Sept. 11 attacks,” he said.
Referring to his efforts to establish a mosque and an Islamic school in San Diego with the help of a Saudi businessman, he said the Madinah Mosque in San Diego was established after they bought a commercial building. A Saudi businessman, a former student in the US, paid $545,000 for the project. He denied reports that he collected money from other people.
“I never thought of collecting money from others,” he added.
Bayoumi said he had only superficial knowledge of Basannan, who is also accused of financing the two terror suspects.
Asked about checks from Princess Haifa, wife of Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Bandar ibn Sultan, he said that the press reports that he passed the checks from Princess Haifa to the two terror suspects were baseless. “Bring the evidence,” he told the US media. “I challenge anyone to show such an endorsed check. Actually, they are politicizing the whole issue. I have told the investigators everything. Do you think the FBI agents and Scotland Yard would leave me if what the media is spreading was true? I don’t think so. These reporters are fabricating stories to boost circulation and attract public attention,” he added.
Bayoumi said the British police inspected his house while he was planning to vacate it, but told him they were ready to protect him and his family from media harassment.
He said the British policeman who handed over the documents had apologized to him in the name of his government for the trouble he had suffered.
“This is our duty and we have to do that and thanks for bearing with us,” he quoted the officer as saying.
Asked whether Britain had received any request to extradite him to the US, he said the British had told him that he could go to the US as a material witness. “But I refused. They (the British) and the lawyers also refused. Everything was clear for my part,” he said.
He denied a report that he was questioned in Guantanamo. “I was always present at my university office. We meet at the weekend at the Saudi students club in Birmingham. I have traveled only to the US and Britain.”
Bayoumi said most American and Western media reported against him without contacting him or the Cultural Attache at the Saudi Embassy in London. “Most newspapers and television stations were telling lies against me and I was unable to reply to them. I preferred to leave them to tell lies today in the knowledge that I would be correcting them tomorrow.”
He said his problem with the media started in November 2001.
“American journalist Joe Stevens of the Washington Post came to interview me two months after the investigation. It took place at the 11th floor of my university.”
He said the journalist asked him about Saudi Arabia, his studies and his visit to the US.
“When he asked me several questions arrogantly I told him to postpone the interview to another day as I was busy with my doctoral thesis. The head of the department was a witness to that. But the man insisted on asking more questions. Then I told him to go to the Scotland Yard and the Saudi Embassy in London to get the information he wanted. He did not like what I said. The journalist then threatened that he would write a report when he returned to his country and put my name in it.”
He continued: “I have proof of this incident as I have taken a letter from the university on this matter. [Asharq Al-Awsat has received a copy of the letter.] After one or two weeks, the media started writing about me in an exaggerated manner. I believe that that this journalist and his friends in other newspapers and magazines are behind it. They invented the story that I helped the two hijackers to find accommodation, along with other false stories.”
With regard to the alleged report that he arranged a dinner party in honor of Mihdhar and Hazmi, he said he had never held such a party. He said Mihdhar and Hazmi had attended a ceremony they arranged to honor those who sponsored the iftar (break fast) program during Ramadan, as was customary every year.
“I am a social worker and many people know me and many people attend such functions. On that day it was coincidentally held while the two were in town. I have told this matter to the investigators and they have accepted everything.”
Bayoumi said he did not know whether Mihdhar and Hazmi had any friends at the complex or the mosque.
“We deal with people by observing their outward appearance and behavior,” he added.
He said he was considered an ordinary social worker while he was present in San Diego.
“My door was open to everybody. Even some children of American families used to drink milk and juice from us and eat with us and stay with us and pray with my children.”
He said there was no reason to be suspicious about Mihdhar and Hazmi.
He said that he had not helped the two to select the institute in which they would learn English.
“If I had helped them in any form, I would not have been here in Jeddah. I would be questioned by British, American and Saudi investigators. They did not find anything and so why do they want to implicate me? What I told them was that if you want to learn the language you have to mix with the native speakers and study at a reputed school. This is general advice we give to everybody.”
He said the two were his neighbors for two weeks and did not know whether they always prayed at the same mosque.
He said he went to the US to study English. Then he got an opportunity to complete his master’s degree. He bought his computer and books from the US. He refuted reports that the company, which sent him for higher studies, was not on good terms with him because he had extended his stay, adding that he was promoted a month ago.
He said the chancellor of the university had met him at his office and gave him his phone numbers on which he could contact him if he faced any trouble from the media or his colleagues. He also said that the university was proud of people who had his qualities and manners. He said the Saudi Embassy in London had issued special IDs for him and his family while his passports were kept for seven months.
He said his German and Brazilian colleagues had asked him to demand compensation.
He and his wife helped his neighbors. “The door of our house remains open until 11 p.m.,” he added.