Bush links to Saudi royals resurface in new book

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The controversy over President George Bush's links with the Saudi royal family is likely to be reignited after a series of fresh allegations in a new book claiming that his administration engaged in a "cover-up" to protect its ally after the 11 September attacks.

In his forthcoming book, Intelligence Matters, the Florida senator Bob Graham says President Bush and his senior officials "coddled" the Saudi authorities and pursued a war against Saddam Hussein that diverted resources from the hunt for al-Qa'ida.

Senator Graham, co-chairman of a joint House/Senate investigation into the 11 September attacks, says the White House blacked out 28 pages of the report that dealt with purported links between the Saudis and the hijackers.

In particular, Mr Graham alleges that a mysterious Saudi, Omar al-Bayoumi, who was living in San Diego before the attacks and who befriended and funded two of the hijackers, was a Saudi government spy.

Mr Graham says that Mr Bayoumi was essentially a "ghost employee" of a Saudi contracting firm called Ercan, whose owner was an alleged early supporter of Osama bin Laden. He also had repeated contacts with a Saudi diplomat in Los Angeles who was later thrown out of the United States on suspicion of terrorist links.

Mr Graham's conclusions about Mr Bayoumi are in conflict with the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission report. The commission's investigators concluded that he had no link to the attacks.

But it is likely that the claims of a Bush administration cover-up will play to the concerns of those who point out that the President and his father have long had close contacts with the Saudi royal family.

Earlier this year, it was claimed that the Saudis had given Washington an undertaking to lower the price of crude oil shortly before the November election. The Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is so close to the administration he is often called "Bandar Bush".

John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, said: "These are serious allegations being made by a well respected and informed leader."

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