By Arun Kumar,
Washington, March 15 (IANS) A Pakistani national, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has claimed he masterminded the Sept 11 attacks on the United States and 30 other terrorist attacks and plots around the world.
In a confession before a tribunal at the US military's Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, he also claimed that he shared responsibility for several other major plots, including ones to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, former US presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and Pope John Paul.
"I was responsible for the 9/11 Operation, from A to Z," said top Al Qaeda suspect Khalid Mohammed, speaking through a personal representative, at Saturday's tribunal hearing, according to the transcript released by the Pentagon here Wednesday. Certain portions of the confession were omitted for security reasons.
He also confessed to the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in a section of the statement that was excised from the public document, according to media reports.
Pearl was abducted in January 2002 in Pakistan while researching a story on Islamic militancy. Mohammed has long been a suspect in the slaying, which was captured on video.
Mohammed also claimed responsibility for a 1993 attack on New York's World Trade Centre, the bombing of two nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia, and an attempt to down two American airplanes using shoe bombs.
Other plots he said he was responsible for included planned attacks against the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building and New York Stock Exchange in New York City, the Panama Canal, and Big Ben and Heathrow Airport in London - none of which happened.
Mohammad said he planned the 2002 bombing of a Kenya beach resort frequented by Israelis and the failed missile attack on an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya.
US officials have said Mohammed, who was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003 and handed over to US custody, was the mastermind of the Sep 11, 2001, attacks which destroyed the World Trade Centre and damaged the Pentagon.
"I was the operational director for Sheikh Osama Bin Laden for the organising, planning, follow-up, and execution of the 9/11 operation," he said at the hearing, which is to determine whether he meets the US definition of an "enemy combatant."
Mohammed's representative read a statement on his behalf claiming responsibility for 28 separate attacks or plots.
Mohammed himself then made a long statement in broken English, in which he compared Al Qaeda leader bin Laden to George Washington, the first president of the United States. "He is doing (the) same thing," he said. "He is just fighting. He needs his independence."
"So when we made any war against America, we are jackals fighting in the nights," he said, adding later that had Washington been arrested by the British, he too would have been considered an enemy combatant.
"As (you) consider George Washington as hero, Muslims many of them are considering Osama bin Laden. He is doing same thing. He is just fighting. He needs his independence." Mohammed said he wants to make a "great awakening" to force the United States to stop foreign policy "in our land."
Mohammed is among 14 prisoners identified by US authorities as "high-value" terrorism suspects and transferred to Guantanamo last year from secret CIA prisons abroad.
He expressed regret at the deaths caused by the Sep 11 attacks but suggested they were justified as part of a war against the United States. "I'm not happy that three thousand been killed in America. I feel sorry even. The language of any war in the world is killing. I mean the language of the war is victims," he said.
Mohammed, known as KSM among government officials, was last seen looking haggard after his capture in March 2003, when he was photographed in a dingy white T-shirt with an over-stretched neck. He disappeared for more than three years into a secret detention system run by the CIA.
In his first public statements since his capture, Khalid Mohammed made clear that Al Qaeda wanted to down a second transatlantic aircraft during would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid's operation.
US President George W. Bush announced that Mohammed and 13 other suspected terror operatives had been moved from secret CIA prisons to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay last year. They are considered the 14 most significant captures since 9/11.
If the 14 are declared enemy combatants, as expected, the military would then draft and file charges against them. The detainees would be tried under the new military commissions law signed by Bush in October.
The transcripts refer to a claim by Mohammed that he was tortured by the CIA, although he said he was not under duress at Guantanamo when he confessed to his role in the attacks. The CIA has said its interrogation practices are legal, and it does not use torture.
Despite his statements, it is unclear how much involvement he could have had in the 31 separate attacks he listed. The Sep 11 commission described Mohammed as a flamboyant operative who developed grandiose plans for attacks even as other Al Qaeda leaders urged him to focus on the Sep 11 plot.
One of those plans revealed Mohammed as captivated by "a spectacle of destruction with KSM as the self-cast star - the superterrorist," the commission wrote.
He urged the US military to release numerous detainees who were captured in Afghanistan and are now at Guantanamo, saying that many were wrongly swept up. At one point, he said that a group of men sent to assassinate bin Laden and captured by Al Qaeda were later taken prisoner by US forces in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon also released transcripts of the hearings of Abu Faraj al-Libi and Ramzi Binalshibh. Both refused to attend the hearings, although al-Libi submitted a statement claiming that the hearings are unfair and that he will not attend unless it is corrected.
"The detainee is in a lose-lose situation," he said.
al-Libi, whose name means he is a Libyan, reportedly masterminded two bombings 11 days apart in Pakistan in December 2003 that targeted Musharraf for his support of the US-led war on terror.
Binalshibh, a Yemeni, is suspected of helping Khalid Mohammed with the 9/11 attack plan on New York City and Washington and is also linked to a foiled plot to crash aircraft into London's Heathrow Airport. His hearing was conducted in his absence.