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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

War emblems

Kentucky isn't really a central front in the war on terror, but 2 interesting recent stories make some strange connections.

First, remember the September 2001 flights out of the US (during a time when air traffic was grounded) filled with Saudi nationals? Well, the St. Petersberg Times is reporting today that the 9/11 Commission is interested in a flight that departed Tampa for Lexington, KY and then returned to Tampa. The Saudis on board, including "a prince," apparently departed the US from Lexington:
Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with most of the nation's air traffic still grounded, a small jet landed at Tampa International Airport, picked up three young Saudi men and left.

The men, one of them thought to be a member of the Saudi royal family, were accompanied by a former FBI agent and a former Tampa police officer on the flight to Lexington, Ky.

The Saudis then took another flight out of the country. The two ex-officers returned to TIA a few hours later on the same plane.
The story includes a fair amount of detail about how more than 140 Saudi nationals were allowed to leave the country that week. The local officials, however, say that none of the 3 Saudis on board the Tampa-Lexington flight were screened in any way. Either the FAA, FBI or White House likely approved the flight.

Another Saudi-Kentucky angle has also been circulating (most recently in this syndicated NY Daily News Story by Michael O'Keefe) for about a month (originally in a Baltimore Sun story by John Eisenberg). Prince Ahmed bin Salman, owner of 2002 Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem has been named as a conduit between the Saudi royal family and al Qaeda. The allegations are made in Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud and Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11, by journalist Gerald Posner. From Eisenberg:
According to Posner's book, it was Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaida's chief of field operations and a confidant of Osama bin Laden, who revealed a link between the prince and al-Qaida. Captured by American soldiers in Pakistan in March 2002, 6 1/2 months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Zubaydah was given sodium pentothal to make him talkative and questioned by Arab-Americans posing as Saudi interrogators.

From memory, Zubaydah provided the home phone and cell phone number of a Saudi royal family member and suggested his interrogators make the call.

"He will tell you what to do," Zubaydah said, according to Posner's account.

The phone numbers reportedly belonged to Prince Ahmed bin Salman.
Unger relies on Posner's account, along with his own followup investigation. He claims that the Prince's role was to keep terror out of Saudi Arabia, rather than to fund terror.

Zubayday allegedly named 2 other intermediaries and all 3 died within 4 months, one from a car crash, one from dehydration in the desert, and the Prince allegedly of a heart attack.

Some circumstantial evidence is also noted:
According to Unger's book, the late prince's father, Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, is "the powerful governor of Riyadh [Saudi Arabia] who had worked closely with Osama bin Laden ... during the Afghanistan war" with the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
What to make of these Kentucky connections? From the O'Keefe story:
"In the book, I don't draw conclusions," Posner agrees. "I don't have the final answers. I'm still trying to chase this down. But I think what this means is we need a more serious investigation of the Saudis. We need a push by the Bush administration to get more answers."
Maybe we'll hear more when Michael Moore's movie starts attracting US press attention.

Update: Snitch had this story in April and interviewed Unger. He says that the Prince was definitely on the manifest for the September 13, 2001, flight that left the country filled with Saudis. He also says that at least some of the round-up flights were supposed to have been grounded. The Tampa-Lexington flight, among others, has never been acknowledged by the Bush administration (including the FAA and FBI).

Time magazine apparently had the story about the Zubaydah interrogation -- and Steve Gilliard excerpted a lot of it on his news blog.

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