WASHINGTON – US prosecutors compiled lots of evidence against the five men accused of having organized the September 11 attacks on the United States, but not until this week have details been fully revealed.
The indictment charging self-professed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others was unsealed when US Attorney General Eric Holder referred the case to the Defense Department for military trials instead of trials at a US federal court in New York.
Holder said Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali and Mustapha Ahmed al-Hawsawi could have been prosecuted in federal court and blamed Congress for imposing measures blocking civilian trials of Guantanamo Bay inmates.
They will be tried in military courts in the US naval base in southeastern Cuba.
The now-public details show that the United States, nearly 10 years after hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, reconstructed step by step the logistics of the five accused men.
They compiled bank transactions, flight records, visa applications, and dozens of telephone conversations to create the most comprehensive account of the chain of events before the attacks.
Implementation of the plan began in 1999, when Sheikh Mohammed (referred to as “KSM” by US officials) proposed to Osama bin Laden to use commercial airliners as missiles against US targets.
Until the last minute, according to the indictment, Sheikh Mohammed controlled the entire operation.
“From in or about December 1999, through in or about June 2000, Al-Qaeda selected operatives to pilot the airplanes to be hijacked and dispatched the operatives to the United States to obtain flight training and otherwise carry out the plot,” the indictment said.
Walid bin Attash, born in Saudi Arabia in 1979, traveled in first-class between Bangkok and Hong Kong, with a knife in his pocket “and approached the cockpit to test security measures.” He then took several other international flights, each time with his penknife undetected.
Meanwhile, Ramzi Binalshibh in Hamburg became friends with future hijacker Mohamed Atta. Binalshibh, a 38-year-old Yemeni, applied four times for a visa to the United States in 2000 but was denied each time.
So, at the request of KSM, Binalshibh became and intermediary between KSM and the future hijackers.
At the same time, from Dubai, KSM nephew Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, of Pakistan, provided flight simulation software to the hijackers and began transferring money to US accounts. Between January and June 2000, US investigators pinpointed 35 telephone calls between him and the hijackers.
Mustapha Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a 42-year-old from Saudi Arabia, was accused of being the principal financier of the attacks.
Bank transfers were made in small amounts so as not to arouse suspicion and different names were used each time. Tens of thousands of dollars arrived in US accounts, including for Zacarias Moussaoui, who was involved in the plot but was arrested a month before the attacks.
In the United Arab Emirates, al-Hawsawi monitored the operations and discusses them with KSM.
Between July 9-16, 2001, Ramzi Binalshibh met with Mohamed Atta in Spain. The two men “discussed, among other aspects of the plot, potential targets for the hijacking attacks.”
On July 23, KSM filed a visa application for the United States which was refused. At the end of August, he told bin Laden of the date for the attacks.
Between September 4-10, the men made their way from the UAE to Pakistan.
Walid bin Attash was with bin Laden on September 11, after which the Al-Qaeda leader ordered him to Tora Bora in Afghanistan to prepare for an offensive.
The five men, all of whom were arrested in Pakistan, could face the death penalty if convicted.
One year after the attacks, Pakistani police arrested Binalshibh at a home in a chic Karachi suburb. He was alone and didn’t put up a fight.
In March 2003, al-Hawsawi and Sheikh Mohammed were picked up by Pakistani special forces in a raid in Rawalpindi.
The indictment said the two men were “at a safe house where they possessed false identification and materials related to Al-Qaeda and the planning and execution of the September 11, 2001, attacks.”
Bin Attash and al-Aziz Ali were arrested by Pakistani police in April 2003.
All five men disappeared into secret prisons until September 2006, when they reappeared at Guantanamo.
Sheikh Mohammed is known to have been “waterboarded” or subjected to simulated drowning 183 times during his years in US custody, a method widely recognized as torture.
After his arrest in 2003 he was handed over to American agents who held him in secret prisons before sending him to Guantanamo.
Sheikh Mohammed also claims to have personally beheaded US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 with his “blessed right hand” and to have helped in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people.
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