The link between the two hijackers and the suspected Saudi intelligence officers was made in the classified part of a recent Congressional report on the 2001 attacks, the New York Times said. It  quoted unnamed US officials who have seen the report.

The officials, quoted on condition of anonymity, said two Saudi citizens, Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Bassnan, operated in a complex web of financial relationships with Saudi government officials.

Sections of the Congressional report that have been withheld from public view outline links between the two men, two hijackers, and Saudi officials, the paper said.

Allegations of links between the hijackers and Saudi officials have been sharply criticized by Riyadh. Its envoy to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, denied last week suggestions that al-Bayoumi was a Saudi spy.

“It is unfortunate that reports keep circulating in the media describing him as an agent of the Saudi government with attribution only to anonymous officials. This is blatantly false,” he said.

Suspected spy ‘enjoyed unlimited funds’

The New York Times reported  “sources with access to the unexpurgated report ... said the Saudi nationals Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Bassnan had convoluted and secretive financial ties with Saudi officials.”

The Congressional report says that "one of the FBI’s best sources in San Diego informed the FBI that he thought that al-Bayoumi must be an intelligence officer."

The report also says that ”despite the fact that he was a student, al-Bayoumi had access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia."

However, the report said the evidence against the Saudi citizens was circumstantial and so further investigation was needed, the newspaper said.

The deleted section of the Congressional report also discussed the activities of a Muslim cleric who helped two of the hijackers settle in California, the Times said.

Classified pages fuel speculation

The controversy follows the release of the Congressional report 10 days ago with 28 pages deleted. The White House insisted those sections had been kept secret on grounds of national security.

The decision to withhold those pages has sparked much criticism from both Republican and Democrat members of Congress as well as intense speculation that the White House is trying to hide the Saudi regime’s links to the September 11 hijackers.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, had a hastily arranged meeting with the US president on Tuesday to persuade George W Bush to declassify the deleted pages and allow the Saudis to respond to the speculation.

But Bush refused, saying that revealing the information would "help the enemy" by compromising intelligence sources and methods while investigations continued.

Prince Saud said his country was "disappointed" at the refusal but understood the reasons.