- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007

A top al Qaeda lieutenant has admitted planning the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors and helping to organize the simultaneous 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 200, including a dozen Americans.

Waleed bin Attash told U.S. military officials at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, seeking to determine his “enemy combatant” status that he participated in “the buying or purchasing of the explosives” and put together the plan for the attack on the Cole “a year and a half prior to the operation, buying the boat and recruiting the members” that carried it out.

Captured by U.S. forces in May 2003 in Karachi, Pakistan, bin Attash was first suspected of being a member of the al Qaeda network in August 1998, when U.S. authorities learned he had assigned Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-Owhali to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.

In October 2000, he was identified as the mastermind behind the Cole bombing, which took place in Aden, Yemen.

A Yemeni national who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, the Guantanamo detainee is also known as Tawfiq bin Attash and Tawfiq Attash Khallada. He told military officials during a March 12 hearing that he met with the man who carried out embassy bombings just hours before the operation, describing himself as “the link between Osama bin Laden and his deputy Sheikh Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.” He also said he was with al Qaeda founder bin Laden when the Cole was attacked.

The admissions by bin Attash, who at one time served as a bodyguard to bin Laden, are included in several statements released over the past week by the Pentagon by 14 detainees, all of whom are considered “high-value” prisoners who were transferred last year to Guantanamo after being held by the CIA at a secret location.

The military hearings are being held to determine whether the detainees can be declared “enemy combatants,” allowing the U.S. government to hold them indefinitely and prosecute through the use of military tribunals under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 signed by President Bush in October.

Last week, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, mastermind of the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, confessed to beheading Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl “with my blessed right hand” and that he had planned a second round of terrorist strikes on U.S. soil after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Mohammed told the military panel that he was “responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z,” and ticked off 30 other terrorist operations either carried out or planned for which he claimed credit. He said, “For sure, I’m American enemies.”

In the unclassified documents, Mohammed said he dispatched an al Qaeda loyalist to the United States “to case targets for a second wave of attacks” and claimed responsibility for “planning, training, surveying and financing” the attacks on the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Plaza Bank in Seattle and the Empire State Building in New York.

He also said he planned to target suspension bridges in New York, the New York Stock Exchange and other financial institutions, and was in charge of surveillance for planned attacks on nuclear power plants in several states.

The U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay opened five years ago and has since been the home to terrorist suspects captured in Afghanistan. About 385 prisoners are still held there, with 80 designated for release or transfer.

Other hearings were held for Abu Faraj al-Libi, who was not present at the hearing, and Ramzi Binalshibh, who has been named as having a key role in the September 11 attacks but also did not participate in the hearing.

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