In series of five articles, reporter Gareth Porter of IPS uncovered the deception of Al-Khobar, East of Saudi, building blast . The reports indicate that there are many hidden facts were not taken in to consideration.
Officials of Saudi Inteligence and FBI blamed the blast on several Saudi Shia men instead of Al Qaeda who was excluded from the suspects List.
On Jun. 25, 1996, a massive truck bomb exploded at a building in the Khobar Towers complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, which housed U.S. Air Force personnel, killing 19 U.S. airmen and wounding 372.
Immediately after the blast, more than 125 agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were ordered to the site to sift for clues and begin the investigation of who was responsible. But when two U.S. embassy officers arrived at the scene of the devastation early the next morning, they found a bulldozer beginning to dig up the entire crime scene.
That was the beginning of what interviews with more than a dozen sources familiar with the investigation and other information now available reveal was a systematic effort by the Saudis to obstruct any U.S. investigation of the bombing and to deceive the United States about who was responsible for the bombing.
The Saudi regime steered the FBI investigation toward Iran and its Saudi Shi’a allies with the apparent intention of keeping U.S. officials away from a trail of evidence that would have led to Osama bin Laden and a complex set of ties between the regime and the Saudi terrorist organiser.
In the last week of October 1996, the Saudi secret police, the Mabahith, gave David Williams, the FBI's assistant special agent in charge of counter-terrorism issues, what they said were summaries of the confessions obtained from some 40 Shi’a detainees.
The alleged confessions portrayed the bombing as the work of a cell of Saudi Hezbollah that had had carried out surveillance of U.S. targets under the direction of an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer before hatching a plot to blow up the Khobar Towers facility.
There were also major anomalies in the alleged confessions of Shi’a plotters that should have aroused the suspicions of FBI investigators.
The Saudis claimed that on Mar. 28, 1996, Saudi guards at the Al-Haditha border crossing with Jordan had discovered 38 kilogrammes of plastic explosives hidden in a car driven by a Saudi Hezbollah member. That member not only admitted to his Saudi Hezbollah membership, according to the Saudi account, but led the secret police to three more Saudi Hezbollah members, who were allegedly arrested on Apr. 6, 7 and 8. .
Further undermining the Shi’a explosives smuggling and bomb plot story is the fact that the Saudis had secretly detained and tortured a number of veteran Sunni jihadists with ties to Osama bin Laden after the bombing.
The Sunni detainees over Khobar included Yusuf al-Uyayri, who was later revealed to have been the actual head of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. In 2003, al-Uyayri confirmed in al Qaeda’s regular publication that he had been arrested and tortured after the Khobar bombing.
A report published in mid-August 1996 by the London-based Palestinian newspaper Al Qods al-Arabi, based on sources with ties to the jihadi movement in Saudi Arabia, said that six Sunni veterans of the Afghan war had confessed to the Khobar bombing under torture. That was followed two days later by a report in the New York Times that the Saudi officials now believed that Afghan war veterans had carried out the Khobar bombing.
In March 1997, FBI Director Louis Freeh got what he calls in his memoirs "the first truly big break in the case": the arrest in Canada of one of the Saudi Hezbollah members the Saudis accused of being the driver of the getaway car at Khobar Towers.
Hani al-Sayegh, then 28 years old, had arrived in Canada in August 1996 after having left Saudi Arabia, by his own account, in August 1995, for Iran and Syria. The Canadian government charged him with being a terrorist, based on claims by the Saudi regime.
Despite that consistent denial by al-Sayegh, a Washington Post story on Apr. 14, 1997 quoted U.S. and Saudi officials as saying that al-Sayegh had met two years earlier with senior Iranian intelligence officer Brig. Gen. Ahmad Sherifi and that Iran was the "organising force" behind the Khobar bombing.
That story, leaked by officials supporting the Saudi version of the Khobar story, cited Canadian intercepts of al-Sayegh’s phone conversations in Ottawa before his arrest as allegedly incriminating evidence.
The Saudi regime had long acted to keep the United States away from the bin Laden trail in Saudi. During the Afghan War, high-ranking Saudi officials, including interior minister Prince Nayef himself, had worked closely with bin Laden. And those ties had apparently continued even after the Saudi government revoked bin Laden’s citizenship, froze his assets, and began cracking down on some anti-government Islamic extremists in 1994.
Evidence soon appeared that the regime had allowed Saudi supporters of bin Laden to finance his operations through Saudi charities, while encouraging bin Laden to focus on the U.S. military rather than the regime.
Osama Bin Laden had made no secret of his intention to attack the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia. He had been calling for such attacks to drive it from the country since his first fatwa calling for jihad against Western "occupation" of Islamic lands in early 1992.
Bin Laden made it more difficult to ignore his role, however, by publicly claiming responsibility for both the Riyadh and Khobar bombings. In October 1996, after having issued yet another fatwa calling on Muslims to drive U.S. soldiers out of the Kingdom, bin Laden was quoted in al Quds al Arabi, the Palestinian daily published in London, as saying, "The crusader army was shattered when we bombed Khobar."
The bin Laden unit of the CIA had collected concrete intelligence on bin Laden’s role in planning the Khobar Towers bombing. In mid-January, 1996, according to the intelligence compiled by the unit, bin Laden traveled to Doha, Qatar, where plans were discussed for attacks in eastern Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden arranged for 20 tonnes of high explosive C-4 to be shipped from Poland to Qatar, two tonnes of which were to be sent to Saudi Arabia, the report said.
In early November 1998, Louis Freeh sent an FBI team off to observe Saudi secret police officials interviewing eight Shi’a detainees from behind a one-way mirror at the Riyadh detention centre. He planned to use the Shi’a testimony to show that Iran was behind the bombing.
In light of the history of Freeh’s relations with Bandar, his conduct of the investigation of Khobar Towers deserves new scrutiny. Freeh effectively shut down a probe of a terror bombing in which bin Laden was clearly implicated when the Saudis had refused to cooperate; he refused to pursue any investigation of a bin Laden role in the bombing; and he pushed a seriously flawed Saudi account of the bombing despite the fact that it was tainted by the likelihood of torture.
The result of Freeh’s blatant pro-Saudi bias was that Osama bin Laden was allowed more years of unhindered freedom in which to plan terrorist actins against the United States. Had Freeh not become an advocate of the interests of the regime whose representative in Washington eventually put him on his payroll, U.S. policy would presumably have been focused like a laser on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda two years earlier.
It should be noted here that Saudi authorities are still holding nine Shia men for the thirteenth year without charges or trial.