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Alleged 9/11 mastermind, two plotters urge death penalty PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 07 June 2008

AFP, GUANTANAMO BAY  - The alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks and two co-conspirators defiantly demanded to be sentenced to death at a US military hearing, saying they had long sought martyrdom.

"This is what I want, I'm looking to be a martyr for long time," Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, a Kuwaiti of Pakistani origin, told the hearing at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Sheikh Mohammed, 43, has claimed to have been behind not just the September 11 attacks, blamed on the Al-Qaeda network, but also some 30 operations against the West in the decade before his arrest, according to transcripts of his interrogation released by the Pentagon.

His appearance on Thursday along with four other alleged co-plotters was the first time he had been seen in public since his capture in Pakistan on March 1, 2003. All five face the death penalty if convicted.

Two other defendants, Wallid bin Attash and Ramzi Binalshibh, also said they were not afraid of death and like Sheikh Mohammed, sought to throw out their legal teams.

"I've been seeking martyrdom for five years. I tried to get a visa for 9/11, but I could not," said Binalshibh, who was a member of the German-based Hamburg cell of Al-Qaeda which planned and then carried out the attacks.

A native of Yemen, Binalshibh shared a Hamburg apartment with Mohammed Atta, a key leader of the 19 hijackers who took over four planes on the day to use as weapons, but unlike Atta and the others, he was unable to get a US visa.

"I understand that I will be killed for the sake of God, but I don't understand that I'm guilty. I refuse that I am guilty. And I know that if I am killed, I will be killed in the sake of God," added Binalshibh, 36.

The only one of the five to wear a chain linked to a ring in the ground, Binalshibh at times appeared agitated as well as amused during the hearing.

Attash, a Saudi of Yemeni origin, aged around 29, also rounded on the court officials saying: "You killed my brother who was younger than me during the war, and this is my wish to be in your hands."

The three along with Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali and Mustapha al-Hawsawi have been charged over the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon which killed some 3,000 people.

They have been charged with conspiracy, murder, attacking civilians, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property, terrorism, and material support for terrorism.

Ali, born in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, and Hawsawi, a 39-year-old Saudi, did not call for the death penalty, but did say they wanted to defend themselves.

"I'm here after five years of torture," said the 30-year-old Ali, who is Sheikh Mohammed's nephew. "There is no justice from the beginning, from the day I was arrested until now. If there is no justice, anything can happen."

"I will represent myself, by myself," said Hawsawi, who is alleged to have managed the finances for Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

He was the last of the five to address the nine-hour hearing, which concluded at 1830 GMT, and his lawyers said he had been intimidated by his co-defendants into taking such a stand.

Military judge Colonel Ralph Kohlmann sought to convince the defendants not to represent themselves, saying it was "not a good idea."

But Sheikh Mohammed, dressed in white and with a full gray beard, replied firmly in English: "I know they are very qualified, they are the best team they told me. But the problem is their president, George Bush."

"We've been (imprisoned) five years, and they torture ... and they transferred us to Inquisition Land in Guantanamo," he added.

All the suspects were arrested between 2002 and 2003, and transferred to the controversial base on Cuba in 2006, allegedly after spending years in secret CIA prisons.

The military tribunals have been mired in controversy since they were established by Bush at the end of 2001 to deal with "war on terror" suspects.

In 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled they were illegal, but then Congress adopted a new law allowing for them to be re-established and allowing indirect witness statements or testimony won under duress to be submitted as evidence.
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