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Sept. 11 suspects to face military tribunal

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-04-04

Five men accused of taking part in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York, including the alleged mastermind, will be referred to a US military tribunal rather than a civilian trial after intense political pressure.

AFP - In a major about-face by the Obama administration, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators are to be tried by a military tribunal at Guantanamo rather than a civilian court in New York, a US official said Monday.

Attorney General Eric Holder will officially announce the U-turn later on Monday, a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity, saying: "KSM will be tried at Guantanamo."

Proceedings for co-accused Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Walid bin Attash, Mustapha Ahmed al-Hawsawi will also be at the US naval base in southeastern Cuba rather than US federal courts, the official added.

President Barack Obama has vowed to close Guantanamo, having held it up as a symbol of all that was wrong with the so-called "war on terror" waged by his predecessor George W. Bush.

The high-profile trials of Sheikh Mohammed and the four other alleged Al-Qaeda figures -- a date has not yet been set -- provide the latest evidence that the detention center will stay open for some time.

In one of his first acts as president in 2009, Obama halted trials at Guantanamo Bay and announced he planned to close the detention camp within a year.

But he has been thwarted in his ambition by legal challenges in prosecuting suspects deemed to be at war with the United States and strong opposition from both friends and foes in Congress.

Obama's position softened last month when he lifted a two-year freeze on new military trials for Guantanamo terror suspects, paving the way for Monday's decision.

Known in counter-terrorism circles as "KSM," Shiekh Mohammed is the self-proclaimed architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks and a host of other anti-Western plots.

His trial will face inevitable questions about evidence obtained from harsh interrogations carried out by US agents, which may have been a factor in the government's decision to shift the case to a military commission that operates under more lenient rules for the prosecution.

He is known to have been "waterboarded" or subjected to simulated drowning 183 times during his years in US custody, a method widely recognized as torture.

Sheikh Mohammed was arrested in 2003 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan and handed over almost immediately to American agents who held him in secret prisons for over three years before sending him to Guantanamo in September 2006.

The US trained engineer was regarded as one of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's most trusted and intelligent lieutenants before his March 2003 capture in Pakistan.

In addition to felling the twin towers, KSM claims to have personally beheaded US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 with his "blessed right hand" and to have helped in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people.

In reported confessions released by US authorities, Sheikh Mohammed was quoted as claiming to be "military operational commander" for all Al-Qaeda foreign operations.

"I'm not making myself a hero, when I said I was responsible for this or that," he was quoted as saying in a transcript.

"I'm looking to be a martyr for long time," he once told a hearing at Guantanamo.

Photos released by the US military at the time of his capture showed a wild-eyed, disheveled man in a white T-shirt, but more recent pictures have shown him with a long black and gray beard and a white turban.

The official US report into the September 11 attacks said that "no one exemplifies the model of the terrorist entrepreneur more clearly than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed."

Date created : 2011-04-04