9/11 Mastermind Admits To Multiple Plots

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
AP Photo
This report was written by CBS Evening News producer Phil Hirshkorn.

The self-described "operational director" of the September 11, 2001, attack on America, is claiming a role in more than 30 planned or attempted terrorist attacks.

"I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z," said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a written statement that was read to a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon on Wednesday.

The Khalid Sheikh Mohammed statement was read at the military hearing by a member of the U.S. military who is serving as the tribunal's Personal Representative for Mohammed, who the transcript says was present and was asked by the presiding officer about the authenticity of the statement.

"Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the statement that was just read by the Personal Representative, were those your words?" asked the presiding officer, according to the transcript, which says Mohammed replied: "Yes."

Later in the hearing, the transcript says, Mohammed spoke directly to the court, in a final statement in which he describes himself as an enemy combatant, compared the fighters in the jihad against America to George Washington, and makes a plea on behalf of "many" Guantanamo Bay detainees he says were "unjustly arrested."

The secret proceeding last Saturday was closed to news media. The detainee spoke in English to a four-officer panel during a proceeding that lasted one hour and fifteen minutes.

"I'm not making myself hero when I said I was responsible for this or that," said. The brazen list of attacks, read by his Personal Representative, ranged from the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing led by his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, who is serving a life sentence in the U.S., to the 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, which killed more than 200 people.

"This so-called confession probably dooms him [Muhammed] to a future death sentence," says CBS News legal consultant Andrew Cohen. "There are some close cases down there, some false charges, but this isn't one of them. It's only if he somehow makes it into federal court that his statements could be successfully challenged."

Mohammed's confession also refers to many plots not previously made public: potential attacks on the Panama Canal, Big Ben in London, NATO headquarters in Brussels, an assassination of former President Jimmy Carter, and the destruction of an Indonesian oil company purportedly owned by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The confession also talks of plots against U.S. and U.K. targets in Turkey, nightclubs frequented by Americans and Brits in Thailand, U.S. embassies in Indonesia, Australia, and Japan, Israeli embassies in India and the Philippines, and the Israeli resort of Eilat.

Mohammed furthermore claims credit for training the nineteen Sept. 11 homicidal hijackers and would-be "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid, who was tackled by passengers on a 2001 Paris to Miami airline flight. He took responsibility for a 2002 attack that killed a pair of U.S. soldiers on a Kuwaiti island and a shoulder-fired missile that missed an Israeli passenger plane taking off from Mombassa, Kenya.

Mohammed's role as the lead actor in the Sep. 11 plot, which he proposed to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1996 and bin Laden set in motion in 1999, has long been established. It was described in detail in the 9/11 Commission report published in 2004 and in a written substitution for his testimony in last year's trial of al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, who Mohammed says was tapped only for a "second wave" of post-9/11 attacks.

Among his new revelations, Mohammed said potential targets for a second wave of attacks using planes as missiles were the Empire State Building in New York and the Plaza Bank Building in Seattle.

The government had previously disclosed that the tallest building on the West Coast, the Library Tower in Los Angeles (now known as U.S. Bank Tower) and the tallest building in North America, the Sears Tower in Chicago, were in al Qaeda's sights. Mohammed, in the statement read to the tribunal, also described an alternative plan to set off oil tankers at the Sears Tower base, and said he oversaw efforts to deploy anthrax and nuclear-laced "dirty" bombs in the U.S.

The Guantanamo Bay hearing, known as a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, is a formality allowing the military to certify a detainee as an "enemy combatant" who warrants further detention and can be prosecuted by a military tribunal. In Mohammed's case, the prisoner made matters quite simple. "For sure, I'm American enemies," he said. "I don't have anything to say that I'm not enemy."

But at one point the self-proclaimed jihadist seemed to express some remorse for the 2,973 people killed after three hijacked planes rammed the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and a fourth hijacked plane targeting the Capitol crashed in rural Pennsylvania. "I'm not happy that three thousand been killed in America. I feel sorry, even. I don't like to kill children," he said.

When he wasn't pointing to Islam to defend his actions, Mohammed went so far as to liken bin Laden to the first American President. "He is just fighting. He needs his independence," he said. "If now we were living in the Revolutionary War, George Washington, he being arrested through Britian, for sure he - they would consider him enemy combatant. But America, they consider him a hero," KSM said.

"This is why the language of war is killing. I mean the language of war is victims," Mohammed continued, turning philosophical. "War will never stop. War start from Adam when Cain he killed Abel – until now. It's never gonna stop – killing of people."

Mohammed argued on behalf of fellow detainees, saying some of the nearly 400 men still incarcerated in Guantanamo were "unjustly arrested." He said, "I'm asking you to be fair with other people."

After Mohammed's statement, the panel led by an unnamed U.S. Navy captain asked him no follow-up questions. It had rejected his request to call two fellow Guantanamo detainees as witnesses – Sept. 11 plot coordinator Ramzi Binalshibh and hijacker facilitator Mustafa al-Hawsawi.

The government's unclassified evidence summary revealed that a computer hard drive seized from the safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, where Mohammed was captured in March 2003 contained names and photos of the nineteen Sept. 11 hijackers, a list of airliners and targets, three letters from Osama bin Laden, and a spreadsheet apparently detailing payments to al Qaeda families living in Pakistan.

With no defense lawyer present, Mohammed denied through his assigned Personal Representative that the seized computer was his and suggested that it belonged to al-Hawsawi, who was captured with him. Mohammed also denied that he had received funding for his operations from Islamic fundamentalists in Kuwait.

Mohammed's connections to the first World Trade Center bombing – the first crime mentioned in his statement to the tribunal at Gitmo - have not been considered more than wiring several hundred dollars to the Yousef cell.

Mohammed, who earned an engineering degree at a North Carolina college in the 1980s, remains under federal indictment in New York, accused in connection with a foiled mid-1990s plot with Yousef to detonate bombs on a dozen U.S.-bound airliners over the Pacific. Yousef and two other conspirators were convicted by a jury for the terror conspiracy, which included plans to assassinate President Clinton and Pope John Paul II on visits to the Philippines.

The Guantanamo hearing was the most extensive public statement by Mohammed since a 2002 interview he gave to the Arabic news channel Al Jazeera.

The Moussaoui trial jury heard that Mohammed told his original interrogators the purpose of Sep. 11 was to "wake the American people up." Last September, Mohammed and 13 other prisoners the government describes as "high value" were transferred from secret CIA-run overseas jails to Guantanamo.

The first two from this group to be reviewed were Binalshibh and Abu Faraj al-Libi, once a supervisor of al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

Hearings for Binalshibh and al-Libi were both held on March 9, as the government began hearings on whether 14 alleged terror leaders should be declared "enemy combatants."

Binalshibh's hearing, which lasted 33 minutes and he did not attend, revealed that the Pakistan safe house where he was captured in 2002 held explosives, training manuals, bin Laden family passports, and identification cards for al Qaeda members. According to the government's unclassified evidence summary, a diary belonging to an al Qaeda leader and found in Saudi Arabia corroborated details of Binalshibh's role aiding the hijacker-pilots with whom he lived in Hamburg, Germany.

Al-Libi, who has been in custody two years, skipped his hearing, which lasted only 19 minutes.

But he complained, through his assigned military tribunal Personal Representative, that the process was "incomplete" in depriving him of a lawyer.

"I am extremely keen to exercise my rights full according to the law of the United States," said al-Libi.
By Phil Hirschkorn

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.