- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2010

UPDATED:

CAIRO (AP) — Osama bin Laden threatened in a new message released Thursday to kill any Americans that al Qaeda captures if the U.S. executes the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks or other al Qaeda suspects.

In the 74-second audiotape aired on Al-Jazeera television, the al Qaeda leader explicitly mentions Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003. He is the most senior al Qaeda operative in U.S. custody and currently is detained at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In 2008, the United States charged Mohammed with murder and war crimes in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Pentagon officials have said they will seek the death penalty for him. Four of his fellow plotters are also in custody.

“The White House has expressed its desire to execute them. The day America makes that decision will be the day it has issued a death sentence for any one of you that is taken captive,” bin Laden said, addressing Americans.

After his March 2003 capture in Pakistan, Mohammed described himself as the architect of numerous terrorism plots and even claimed that “with my blessed right hand,” he had decapitated Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Pearl was found beheaded in Pakistan in 2002.

Mohammed, appearing in June 2008 for the first time since his capture five years earlier, said he would welcome becoming a “martyr” after a judge warned him that he faces the death penalty for his confessed role as mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Yes, this is what I wish, to be a martyr for a long time,” he declared.

The United States still is considering whether to try Mohammed and the four fellow plotters in a military tribunal. The Obama administration is also looking into recommendations for civilian trials and is expected to announce a decision soon.

Al Qaeda is not known to be holding any Americans captive now. But the Haqqani group — the Pakistan-based Taliban faction closest to al Qaeda — is holding an American soldier, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009. It released a video of him in December.

Bin Laden also said President Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, by escalating the war in Afghanistan, being “unjust” to al Qaeda prisoners and supporting Israel in its occupation of Palestinian land.

“The politicians of the White House were and still are wronging us, especially by supporting Israel and occupying our land in Palestine. They think that America, behind oceans, is safe from the wrath of the oppressed, until the reaction was loud and strong in your homeland,” he said of the Sept. 11 attacks. “Equal treatment is only fair. War is a back-and-forth.”

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere in the rugged, lawless border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The prospect of giving Mohammed and the four fellow plotters a civilian trial in New York has led to protests by residents and relatives of Sept. 11 victims who fear that such a move could again make the city a terrorism target and that the five should face a military trial instead.

Earlier this month, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said that if Mr. Obama agrees to try the five in military tribunals, he will press fellow Republicans to vote to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Mr. Graham told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on March 7 that reversing Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s plan to try the suspected terrorists in a civilian court in New York would be seen as an act of leadership by the public. The White House is reviewing Mr. Holder’s plan, and no new recommendation has been presented to the president. A decision is not expected for several weeks.

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