Friday, June 6, 2008

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people, told a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba on Thursday that he wanted to be executed and become a martyr.

“This is what I wish. I wanted to be a martyr for a long time,” Mr. Mohammed told Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, chief military judge for the tribunal, during the death penalty trial for him and four others accused in the attacks using hijacked commercial jetliners that destroyed the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and crashed into the Pentagon.

“I will, God willing, have this by you,” he said. “In Allah I take refuge.”

Mr. Mohammed told of his death wish after Col. Kohlmann advised him that the charges could result in his execution and after the former top aide to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden rejected legal representation by Navy Capt. Prescott Prince, saying he wore the uniform of his U.S. enemies and pledged allegiance to President Bush.

Defiant, Mr. Mohammed told the court that Mr. Bush “wages systemic war against the Islamic world” and he saw the trial against him and the others as “an inquisition.” He rejected all U.S. laws as “evil.”

Mr. Mohammed, 43, identified in the Sept. 11 commission report as the “principal architect” of the 2001 suicide strikes by 19 al Qaeda terrorists, has been charged with murder along with his four co-defendants, who also appeared in court.

The U.S. government said he oversaw and coordinated the Sept. 11 attacks after proposing their operational concept to bin Laden as early as 1996, and later obtained approval and funding for the mission. He is accused of training the hijackers, including those who piloted the aircraft.

On Feb. 11, the Defense Department charged Mr. Mohammed and the others under the military commission system, as established under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. He already had been charged with killing 2,973 people, terrorism and providing material support for terrorism and plane hijacking; as well as attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury and destruction of property in violation of the law of war.

The U.S. government is seeking the death penalty, which would require the unanimous agreement of the commission judges. The Pentagon has insisted that Mr. Mohammed and the others will receive a fair trial, with rights “virtually identical” to U.S. military service personnel.

But Mr. Mohammed told the tribunal that he and the others were tortured after their capture.

“After torturing, they transferred us to ‘Inquisitionland’ in Guantanamo,” he said. “We don’t have a right to anything.”

His co-defendants are Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin Attash and Mustapha al-Hawsawi.

U.S. agents took custody of Mr. Mohammed in 2003 after his arrest by a Pakistani security force. He was discovered at a house near Islamabad owned by a top Muslim militant.

At the time, U.S. authorities said Mr. Mohammed’s arrest, along with the seizure of a treasure trove of secret al Qaeda documents, had thwarted terrorist attacks on targets in the United States.

The CIA questioned Mr. Mohammed at an undisclosed location outside Pakistan, and U.S. agents scoured computers, disks, cell phones and documents found at the house for information on plots.

The documents included the names of al Qaeda operatives in the United States, thought to be scattered throughout the country in “sleeper cells,” authorities said. Mr. Mohammed not only planned al Qaeda´s major operations but also vetted all its recruits.

Mr. Mohammed was captured in a house in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, owned by Ahmed Abdul Qadoos, a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious party that held the third-largest voting bloc in the country´s parliament. The city was home to Pakistan´s military headquarters, and many of the residents were former military officers.

State-run Pakistan Television said at the time that Pakistani police traced Mr. Mohammed through a satellite telephone call he made to another al Qaeda terrorist suspect.

In addition to the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Mohammed has been tied to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, an attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, a scheme in the Philippines to blow up 12 U.S. airliners over the Pacific Ocean, an attempt by Richard C. Reid to blow up an airliner with explosives in his shoes, and fatal bombings in Indonesia and at a synagogue in Tunisia.

He also has been identified in the January 2002 kidnapping and slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi, Pakistan. Investigators suspect Mr. Mohammed was the man who slit Mr. Pearl´s throat on tape after the journalist disappeared while working on a story about Islamic extremists.

Authorities said at the time that Mr. Mohammed´s questioning “by all means appropriate” would focus on efforts by bin Laden and al Qaeda to attack U.S. targets again.

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