Countering criticism that the Saudi authorities had been lax in dealing with al-Qaida, Prince Turki al-Faisal said he had asked Taliban officials to hand over bin Ladin as far as back in the late 1990s.

"In the first meeting, Mullah Muhammad Umar did not refuse the idea. After waiting two months, I was sent again to Kandahar to remind him of his promise. I went and found Mullah Umar completely rejecting the idea," the former spy chief.

Now ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Turki said in an interview with the London-based al Hayat newspaper that he had tried to broker a deal with Sudan when bin Ladin was living in the African country in the mid-1990s.

He said the deal finally fell through when Sudan insisted that bin Ladin should not be tried after being handed over.

Prince Turki al-Faisal said he had asked Taliban officials to hand over bin Ladin as far as back in the late 1990s

In the interview that coincided with the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks on US targets, Prince Turki labeled bin Ladin as a "butcher'.

Meeting

He recalled meeting bin Ladin the last time in Jeddah sometime in 1989 or 1990.

"He was a calm-natured man, of few words and well-mannered. Nothing about his personality indicated he would later transform into a great criminal, a butcher and murderer of innocent lives," Prince Turki said.

He also said the al-Qaida decision to pack September 11 hijackers mostly with Saudi nationals was a deliberate ploy to tarnish Saudi-US ties.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

"Choosing so many Saudis was deliberate to plant a thorn in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia," the former spy chief said.