The Saudis' special U.S. flight privileges


Mark Follman
April 2, 2004 2:24AM (UTC)

Though the Bush White House has previously asserted that flights evacuating Saudi nationals from the United States just after 9/11 never took place, it may want to have a look at some documents made public today on the web site of journalist and author Craig Unger. The documents obtained by Unger and discussed in his new book "House of Bush, House of Saud," contain four passenger lists drawn up by the Saudi embassy for flights that were part of a White House-sanctioned evacuation just days after the terrorist attacks, when U.S. air space was still highly restricted.

The Bush family's deep ties with the Saudi royal family are no secret. But while the evacuations may have been allowed by the White House for fear of retribution against Saudis inside the U.S. -- especially once the American public learned that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were their fellow countrymen -- some national security experts believe that vital intelligence may have flown away with the group. According to former counter-terrorism director Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 Commission last week, the FBI, perhaps under pressure from somewhere inside the Bush administration, declined to interrogate any of the Saudis being evacuated -- apparently the Bureau didn't see a need to question any of the people whose names appeared on the passenger lists.

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But on one flight list is Prince Ahmed bin Salman, best known as a horse racing aficionado and owner of the Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem -- but who also allegedly had ties to al-Qaida, and, according to journalists Unger and Gerald Posner, may even have had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. In 2002, Prince Ahmed reportedly died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 43, back inside Saudi Arabia.

For more on the controversy about whether some members of the Saudi royal family may have known about 9/11 in advance, click here.


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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