Report indirectly links al-Qaida operative to Aspen-area estate once owned by Prince Bandar | AspenTimes.com

Report indirectly links al-Qaida operative to Aspen-area estate once owned by Prince Bandar

A phone number belonging to an al-Qaida senior operative has been indirectly linked to the corporation that once managed the Aspen-area estate of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, according to a Sept. 11 investigatory document that was declassified by Congress on Friday.

The New York Times first reported the release of the 28-page document examining the possible relationship between Saudi Arabian officials and al-Qaida.

The document, which had been kept under wraps for nearly 14 years, says that authorities traced a phone number in a book on Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaida operative, to one of the corporate entities under which Bandar's Starwood estate was owned. The CIA arrested Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. A citizen of Saudi Arabia, he has been held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since September 2006.

"According to FBI documents, several of the phone numbers found in the phone book of Abu Zubaydah, a senior al-Qaida operative captured in March 2002, could be linked, at least indirectly, to telephone numbers in the United States," the document says. "One of those U.S. numbers is subscribed to by the ASPCOL Corporation, which is located in Aspen, Colorado, and manages the affairs of the Colorado residence of the Saudi Ambassador Bandar. The FBI noted that ASPCOL has an unlisted phone number."

The December 2002 report also acknowledged that the FBI found there were "no direct links between numbers found in Zubaydah's phone book and numbers in the United States."

Even so, Congress' release of the report has again stirred theories that the 9/11 terrorists were in some way financially linked to Saudi government officials. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were from Saudi Arabia.

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Bandar was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. from 1983 to 2005. The current ambassador said the report confirms that the Saudi the government and officials weren't connected to the terror attacks.

"Since 2002, the 9/11 Commission and several government agencies, including the CIA and the FBI, have investigated the contents of the '28 Pages' and have confirmed that neither the Saudi government, nor senior Saudi officials, nor any person acting on behalf of the Saudi government provided any support or encouragement for these attacks," Abdullah Al-Saud said in a statement Friday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, quoted by multiple media outlets, also said the report "does not change the assessment of the U.S. government that there's no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded al-Qaida."

Aspen attorney William Jordan III, who represented Bandar with his local affairs, could not be reached Friday.

There is no record of FBI work with the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office concerning Bandar's Hala Ranch estate, Undersheriff Ron Ryan said.

Bandar had owned a multi-residence property in the gated neighborhood of Starwood since 1992, but began to market his property for sale in the mid- to late 2000s.

In 2007, he sold his 14,395-square-foot Starwood home for $36.5 million to Las Vegas and Florida real estate developer Jeffrey Soffer.

In 2012, he sold his Hala Ranch for $49 million to hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson. The sale included the 90-acre main ranch as well as Bear Ranch, which spans 38 acres. The 15-bedroom, 16-bath, 55,965-square-foot home at Hala Ranch originally had been listed for $135 million in 2006.

In August, Bandar sold a 5,200-square-foot residence, which had housed an engineer for the prince's Starwood properties, for $5.87 million to an Australia-based trust.

Bandar was known locally as a philanthropist and big tipper, but also coveted his privacy. All of his ranch employees were required to sign confidentiality agreements.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com