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Prosecutor: Hamdan knew fourth 9/11 plane target

Latest update : 2008-07-23

Prosecutor Timothy Stone has accused Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver and bodyguard, of having known the intended target of the fourth plane on Sept. 11, 2001. The Yemeni has been held for nearly seven years at Guantanamo Bay.

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba, July 22 (Reuters) -
Osama bin Laden's driver knew the target of the fourth hijacked
jetliner in the Sept. 11 attacks, a prosecutor said on Tuesday
in an attempt to draw a link between Salim Hamdan and the al
Qaeda leadership in the first Guantanamo war crimes trial.

Hamdan's lawyer said in opening statements that the Yemeni,
held for nearly seven years before his trial, was just a paid
employee of the fugitive al Qaeda leader, a driver in the motor
pool who never joined the militant group or plotted attacks on

But prosecutor Timothy Stone told the six-member jury of
U.S. military officers who will decide Hamdan's guilt or
innocence that Hamdan had inside knowledge of the 2001 attacks
on the United States because he overheard a conversation
between bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

"If they hadn't shot down the fourth plane it would've hit
the dome," Stone, a Navy officer, said in his opening remarks.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Col. Lawrence Morris,
later explained that Stone was quoting Hamdan in evidence that
will be presented at trial. Morris declined to say if the
"dome" was a reference to the U.S. Capitol.

"Virtually no one knew the intended target, but the accused
knew," Stone said.

United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in rural
Pennsylvania. U.S. officials have never stated it was shot down
although rumors saying that abound to this day.

Hamdan, a father of two with a fourth-grade education, is
charged with conspiracy and providing material support for
terrorism in the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War
Two. He could face life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors say Hamdan had access to al Qaeda's inner
circle. Stone told the jury that Hamdan earned the trust of bin
Laden and helped him flee after attacks on U.S. embassies in
East Africa in 1998 and the Sept. 11 attacks.

"He served as bodyguard, driver, transported and delivered
weapons, ammunition and supplies to al Qaeda," Stone said.

Hamdan was being tried in a hilltop courthouse at the U.S.
Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, which has been a lightning rod for
criticism of the United States since early 2002, when it began
housing a prison camp to hold alleged Taliban and al Qaeda
fighters from the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The war crimes tribunal system has been criticized by human
rights groups and defense lawyers, some of them U.S. military
officers. Detainees have been held for years without charges.

Washington has declared them unlawful enemy combatants not
entitled to the rights afforded formal prisoners of war.

Responding to the widespread criticism, Morris, the chief
prosecutor, said on Tuesday: "In my opinion they are seeing the
most just war crimes trial that anyone has ever seen."


Defense lawyer Harry Schneider described Hamdan as a poor
Yemeni who lost his parents at a young age and lived on the
streets, where he developed a knack for fixing cars.

"The evidence is that he worked for wages. He didn't wage
attacks on America," he said. "He had a job because he had to
earn a living, not because he had a jihad against America."

"There will be no evidence that Mr. Hamdan espoused or
believed or embraced any form of what you will hear about,
radical Islam beliefs, extremist Muslim beliefs," he said.

The first two prosecution witnesses were U.S. military
officers who were in Afghanistan during the early days of the
U.S. invasion in 2001. Both addressed a key issue at trial --
whether Hamdan had surface-to-air missiles when he was captured
at a checkpoint near Takhteh Pol in November 2001.

Defense lawyers dispute the prosecution's contention that
Hamdan had the weapons. But a U.S. officer identified only as
"Sergeant Major A" said the missiles were found in the "trunk
of a car driven by Mr. Hamdan."

He said troops also found a mortar manual with "al Qaeda"
on the front, a book by bin Laden and a card issued to al Qaeda
fighters and signed by Mullah Omar, the Taliban commander.

Ali Soufan, an al Qaeda expert with the FBI, took the jury
through a long description of al Qaeda's hierarchy and called
bin Laden "the emir, the prince." He said Hamdan was part of
bin Laden's security detail.

"The people who are around bin Laden have to be trusted ...
true believers in the cause," he said.

Date created : 2008-07-23