Recently, the media have been focusing on the relationship between Saudi businessman Osama Basnan, who was arrested on August 22, 2002 in San Diego and held for 85 days on immigration violations charges, and another Saudi, Omar Al-Bayyumi, who was reported to have helped defray living expenses for two of the September 11 hijackers, Khaled Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al-Hazimi.
In an interview with the Saudi-owned London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat in Jeddah, Basnan talks of his own prison experiences and those of his Palestinian wife Majda Duwaikat, and discusses the funds they received from the wife of the Saudi ambassador to Washington. The following are excerpts from the interview:
Why and When Basnan Came to the U.S.
Question: "When did you enter the U.S. and why?"
Basnan: "A few years ago, in search of medical treatment for my wife, who suffers from an inflamed thyroid. Considering the delicate surgery she has undergone, it was necessary to examine the history of the physician who would perform the surgery professionally to prevent her losing [her] vocal cords. Since my wife is a nurse, and I also have a complete understanding of medical issues, we searched for the right physician. During that time, my wife took an exam for an American nursing fellowship to help us increase our income when we returned to Saudi Arabia… In the meantime my wife became pregnant, requiring daily medical monitoring, which distracted me from taking care of my visa."
Question: "Did you enter the U.S. before September 11?"
Question: "What was the duration of your visa?"
Basnan: "Six months."
Question: "After the visa expired, didn't you contact the relevant offices to renew it?"
Basnan: "Of course. My papers went through an immigration lawyer. An official (and that was before the [September 11] events) said that Saudis do not need an extension of their papers because they benefit the American economy, whether as businessmen, students, or seekers of medical care. On the day of my arrest, I was returning from the Saudi consulate in connection with updating my resident status."
Question: "Isn't it strange that you would stay that long without work or regular income?"
Basnan: "First, I was getting help from my father in Saudi Arabia, in addition to a guarantee by the Saudi embassy in Washington to pay for the cost of the surgery and to [provide] financial support from time to time. This helped cover living expenses for my wife and six children… In addition, I occasionally traded in used American cars, which I shipped to the Saudi market. You can check with the purchasers to confirm this."
Question: "Wouldn't you agree that this was indirect immigration to the U.S.?"
Basnan: "No. On the contrary. I was hoping every day to terminate my relations with the U.S. and return to my country. For your information, I separated from my American wife in the early 1990s. I could have obtained a green card and stayed in the U.S."
Al-Bayyumi and Two of the Saudi Hijackers
Question: "Reports refer to your relationship with the Saudi Omar Al-Bayyumi, who paid for Khaled Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al-Hazimi's expenses for staying in the U.S.
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Basnan: "First, I do not deny that I met Omar Al-Bayyumi in the U.S., in the neighborhood mosque in Clairmont Mesa in San Diego… If the Americans are going to hold every Muslim accountable for someone he prayed with - not a single one will remain uncharged."
Question: "Was this the main subject during the interrogation?"
Basnan: "Yes, They tried to convince me that my acquaintance with anyone would not hurt me."
Question: "Have you met Al-Mihdhar or Al-Hazimi, who were implicated in the 9/11 events?"
Basnan: "I have never seen them."
Question: "Have they arrested any of your neighbors?"
Basnan: "I do not know a Saudi, an Arab, or a Muslim who was not questioned or arrested, particularly in San Diego… In Orange County alone, 10,000 persons were interrogated."
Question: "How were you arrested?"
Basnan: "I was returning from the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles where I sought to regulate my status, and was arrested the same day at a gas station near my home. Twenty-five policemen gathered in movie fashion, despite the fact that my residence is known and registered. My wife was arrested at home in front of our children, and was dragged off to prison."
Question: "Were you subjected to beating or insults?"
Basnan: "In fact, I was not subjected to beating, but the handcuffs were very tight and my hands hurt for many days. But there were psychological pressures, even though I had not violated the security…"
Question: "Did you use the phone?"
Basnan: "Yes, a few times one month after I was put in jail."
Question: "How did you get out?"
Basnan: "I don't know why I was arraigned and why I was released. After a case of immigration violation is concluded, the FBI enters until the investigation is completed. Afterwards, the case is returned to the immigration court. Finally, I was deported to Saudi Arabia only because the visa expired."
Assistance from the Saudi Prince and Princess
Question: "What is the truth about the private assistance from Prince Bandar bin Sultan or his wife?"
Basnan: "When I needed the cost of medical treatment, I sent a letter to Prince Bandar, followed by a phone call from my wife to the office of the Princess [Bandar's wife]. It was accepted that she would provide us with monthly assistance by check."
Question: "What is the amount of the check?"
Basnan: "This is a private matter between me and my family."
Question: "Who is Majda Ibrahim Ahmad, whose name appeared in media reports?"
Basnan: "My wife."
Question: "Did your wife draw a check for Omar Al-Bayyumi or anyone else?"
Basnan: "She has never given Al-Bayyumi or anyone else any money from these sums. Our debt is higher than [the funds] we received from Princess Hayfa. Imagine how difficult it is for a family of eight to live in the U.S."
Question: "Did the U.S. authorities ask you about this financial assistance?"
Basnan: "The first assistance, which was dedicated to the medical expenses, came irregularly from the embassy. The family assistance [given the big family] came one at a time so I can return my debts."
Question: "How did the children get to Saudi Arabia?"
Basnan: "Thanks to the embassy, they were entrusted to a government representative."
Question: "Are you thinking of suing for compensation?"
Basnan: "Very seriously, but not until my pain and suffering are relieved, and after I overcome the psychological crises related to my arrest."
Question: "News reports speak of financial support from you and Al-Bayyumi to two of the 9/11 perpetrators. Did you follow these reports?"
Basnan: "What was reported in the press is false and unfounded. It is a distortion of facts. It is regrettable that such false accusations are published to add to the mental and psychological torture that I and my family were subjected to for 12 weeks in prison. I should point out that the immigration and security authorities would not have released me if there were any doubt about my wife's and my relations with the accusations that followed. I consider the accusations and the articles to be part of the continuing campaign of distortions by American groups who oppose Muslims and Arabs in general, and Saudi Arabia as an idea, [its] culture, and religion, in particular."