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Sun Aug 25 2002 10:26:26 ET

Senior members of the Saudi royal family paid "protection money" totaling at least $300 million to Osama bin-Laden and the Taliban to prevent them from attacking targets in Saudi Arabia, the London Sunday Times reported today.

The revelation, based on extensive investigations, was contained in papers filed in a US lawsuit by lawyers representing the families of Sept. 11 victims.

According to the documents, the deal was struck after two secret meetings involving members of the Saudi royal family and al-Qaida leaders, including bin-Laden.

The cash enabled al-Qaida to fund training camps in Afghanistan that are said to have been attended by the Sept. 11 bombers.

The court documents reveal that the agreement committed bin- Laden not to use his forces to subvert the Saudi government, while the Saudis agreed to ensure that requests to extradite al- Qaida members and demands to close al-Qaida training camps were not carried out.

In addition, the Saudis agreed to supply oil and financial assistance to both the Taliban and Pakistan which, the documents report, was worth "several hundred millions" of dollars.

The revelations resulting from the investigation are likely to exacerbate already tense relations between the US and Saudi Arabia, which one analyst at the Washington-based Rand think-tank recently described at a Pentagon briefing as the "kernel of evil."

The document names the Saudi royals involved in the deal and provides details about the network of charities and businesses through which bin- Laden raised money.

The documents say the Saudi princes were informed about attacks by Islamic fundamentalists on American servicemen at a US army training facility in Riyadh in November 1995 and at the Khobar Towers barracks in June 1996, in which 19 US airmen died.

The princes decided to strike a deal with bin-Laden because they feared that al-Qaida, which opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, would show its displeasure by attempting to destabilize the kingdom.

The documents say Saudi Arabia's secret service, the Istakhbarat, had decided in late 1995 to fund the Taliban and the initial decision to pay bin-Laden "protection money" was agreed at a meeting of the Saudi princes in 1996.

A further meeting in the Afghan city of Kandahar in July 1998 led to the deal between Saudi Arabia and the Taliban.

According to the documents, those present included Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saud, then chief of the Istakhbarat, Taliban leaders, senior officers from Pakistan's secret service and bin- Laden.

Turki was said to have known bin-Laden well through family connections and also because he had hand-picked bin-Laden in the early 1980s to organize Arab volunteers who were fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

The lawsuit also alleges that the Saudi royal family supported charities with close ties to bin-Laden, including a $6 million gift from Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan, to the International Islamic Relief Organization, al-Haramain, the Muslim World League and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth.


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