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FBI 'was told to back off bin Laden family'

London: United States special agents were told to back off the bin Laden family and the Saudi royals soon after George Bush became president, although that has all changed since September 11, a BBC television program has claimed

BBC2's Newsnight also said on Tuesday night that it had secret documents from the FBI investigation into the terrorist attacks which showed that despite claims that Osama bin Laden is the black sheep of the family, at least two other US-based members are suspected of links with a possible terrorist organisation.

The program said it had obtained evidence that the FBI was on the trail of bin Laden family members living in the US before September 11. A document showed that special agents from the Washington field office were investigating Abdullah, a close relative of Osama, because of his relationship with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a suspected terrorist organisation, it said.

The US Treasury has not frozen WAMY's assets, and insists it is a charity, the program said, yet Pakistan had expelled WAMY "operatives" and India claimed WAMY was funding an organisation linked to bombings in Kashmir. The FBI did look into WAMY but for some reason agents were pulled off the trail, it said.

The former head of the American visa bureau in Jeddah from 1987 to 1989, Michael Springman, told the program: "In Saudi Arabia I was repeatedly ordered by high-level State Department officials to issue visas to unqualified applicants - people who had no ties either to Saudi Arabia or to their own country. I complained there. I complained here in Washington ... and I was ignored." He added: "What I was doing was giving visas to terrorists, recruited by the CIA and Osama bin Laden to come back to the United States for training to be used in the war in Afghanistan against the then Soviets."

The program said it had been told by a highly placed source in a US intelligence agency there had always been "constraints" on investigating Saudis, but under President George Bush it had become much worse.

After the elections, the intelligence agencies were told to "back off" from investigating the bin Laden family and the Saudi royals. The policy was reversed after September 11, it reported.

Press Association

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