- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007

1:27 p.m.

Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, long suspected of plotting the bombing of the USS Cole, confessed to planning the attack during a hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a Pentagon transcript released today.

A chief operational planner for al Qaeda, bin Attash also said he helped organize the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed more than 200, according to the transcript. Seventeen sailors were killed and dozens injured when suicide bombers steered an explosives-laden boat into the guided-missile destroyer Cole on Oct. 12, 2000.

“I participated in the buying or purchasing of the explosives,” bin Attash said when asked what his role was in the attacks on the Cole and the embassies. “I put together the plan for the operation a year and a half prior to the operation, buying the boat and recruiting the members that did the operation.”

The release of bin Attash’s transcript came five days after the Pentagon released the record of hearings held for three other so-called “high-value” suspects at Guantanamo. About 14 high-ranking terrorists were transferred last year to U.S. military custody at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in southeastern Cuba after being held by the CIA at a secret location.

One of them, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, confessed to nearly three dozen plots, including the September 11 attacks on the United States, according to the transcripts released last week.

Bin Attash said he met with the man who carried out the embassy bombings in Africa just a few hours before the operation took place.

“I was the link between Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Sheik Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri,” on planning the Cole attack, bin Attash said.

He also said he was with bin Laden when the Cole was attacked.

Said to be an al Qaeda operational chief, he also is known as Tawfiq bin Attash or Tawfiq Attash Khallada or simply Khallad.

U.S. intelligence documents say that bin Attash — a Yemeni who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia — is a “scion of a prominent terrorist family” that includes his father, Mohammed, who was close to bin Laden, and younger brother Hassan, who has been held at Guantanamo since 2004, having arrived at age 17.

Several brothers attended al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and two have been killed, one in a 2001 U.S. air strike in Afghanistan, the U.S. says.

A federal judge in Virginia last Wednesday found the government of Sudan liable for the attack on the Cole in a lawsuit in which the sailors’ relatives argued that al Qaeda could not have succeeded without the African nation providing a safe haven for bin Laden and financial support. No damage amount has yet been awarded.

In the late 1990s, bin Attash is believed to have alternated between serving as bin Laden’s bodyguard and fighting Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance force. He lost his right leg in a battlefield accident in 1997, U.S. intelligence says.

Bin Attash helped choose the September 11 hijackers and made two flights on U.S. airlines to assess in-flight security procedures, authorities say. Bin Laden wanted bin Attash to be one of the hijackers on September 11, but that plan was foiled when bin Attash was arrested in Yemen in April 2001 and briefly imprisoned after attempting to get a U.S. visa.

After September 11, he helped shore up bin Ladens defenses at Tora Bora, bin Laden’s last stand when the U.S. routed the Taliban regime from Afghanistan. He fled to Pakistan and over the next year in Karachi served as a link between al Qaeda senior leadership and the network in Saudi Arabia, also helping to move operatives from South and Southeast Asia to the Saudi peninsula, officials say.

In the months before his 2003 arrest, he and others were close to executing a plot to simultaneously attack the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Westerners at the airport and Westerners living in the area.

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