- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

The Qatari native held as an “enemy combatant” because of suspected ties to terrorists personally met in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda members, where he pledged his loyalty and offered himself as a martyr, federal authorities say.

Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, 37, held by military officials at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., has been identified as an al Qaeda “sleeper” operative tasked to help other members of the terrorist group gain entry to the United States to plan new attacks in the wake of September 11, the authorities said.

Two high-ranking al Qaeda officials in U.S. custody, including former operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was arrested in March in Pakistan, confirmed that Al-Marri received money from al Qaeda during the 2001 meeting to travel to this country. He arrived the day before the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the authorities said.

Al-Marri, they said, also made several calls from public pay phones in Peoria, Ill., where he lived, to a phone number in the United Arab Emirates tied to Mustafa Ahmed Al-Hawsawi, 34, a Saudi militant close to bin Laden. Federal prosecutors said Al-Hawsawi played a major role in financing the September 11 attacks.

Al-Hawsawi, named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the pending trial of suspected al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, also is suspected of financing al Qaeda activities in Germany before September 11 and paying for flight lessons in this country for the hijackers.

He reportedly sent cash from banks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Mohamed Atta, believed to be the ringleader of the September 11 attacks. The authorities said the United Arab Emirates phone number dialed by Al-Marri also was called by a telephone calling card known to be used by Atta.

Al-Marri was designated as an enemy combatant on Monday by President Bush and moved to Charleston from an Illinois jail where he was being held on federal charges of credit card fraud and making false statements to the FBI in the government’s investigation of the September 11 attacks.

He faces a potential trial before a military tribunal, although no charges have been brought against him. As an enemy combatant, he can be held indefinitely without the same legal protections offered to defendants in the federal court system.

Al-Marri’s wife, Maha, is a Saudi citizen. In November, she was transported out of the United States by the Saudi Embassy despite a pending grand jury subpoena and the FBI’s confiscation of her passport. The FBI has asked to interview her in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Marri is the third person, and the first non-U.S. citizen, since the September 11 attacks to be designated as an enemy combatant. The others are Yaser Esam Hamdi, a Louisiana native captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and Jose Padilla, a Chicago man accused of plotting to set off a “dirty bomb” in the United States.

The detention of enemy combatants is recognized under U.S. and international law. The Supreme Court, as well as recent circuit and district court opinions, have upheld and affirmed the president’s authority to detain enemy combatants for the duration of hostilities.

Al-Marri was identified as a potential suspect in the September 11 investigation early in the probe, the authorities said, and was questioned on several occasions. They said that in December 2001 he refused to take a polygraph test and told agents he intended leave the country.

On Dec. 12, 2001, he was arrested on a material witness warrant. During a search of his apartment, agents seized an almanac with major U.S. dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads marked; an Arabic prayer discussing the defeat of “villainous Christians and Jews”; a sheet with 36 credit card numbers; and more than 1,000 fraudulent credit card numbers on the hard drive of Al-Marri’s laptop computer.

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