Detainee confesses to USS Cole bombing
WASHINGTON (AP) — Waleed bin Attash, a suspected key al-Qaida operative, confessed to plotting the bombings of the USS Cole and two U.S. embassies in Africa, according to a Pentagon transcript of a hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
More than 200 were killed in the simultaneous attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. And 17 sailors were killed and dozens injured when suicide bombers steered an explosives-laden boat into the guided missile destroyer Cole on Oct. 12, 2000.
“I participated in the buying or purchasing of the explosives,” bin Attash said when asked what his role was in the attacks. “I put together the plan for the operation a year and a half prior to the operation, buying the boat and recruiting the members that did the operation.”
Also alleged to have been bin Laden’s bodyguard at one time, bin Attash is one of 14 so called “high-value” prisoners transferred last year to U.S. military custody at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base after being held by the CIA at a secret location.
Hearings for them, started March 9, are being conducted in secret by the military as it tries to determine whether the detainees should be declared “enemy combatants” who can be held indefinitely and prosecuted by military tribunals. If, as expected, the 14 are declared enemy combatants, they could then be charged and tried under the new military commissions law signed by President Bush in October.
Another of the 14, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, confessed to nearly three dozen plots including the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., according to transcripts released last week. Bin Attash’s transcript, made public Monday, is the fourth the military has released.
Bin Attash, who was captured in 2003 and is now in his late 20s, told a March 12 hearing that he met with the man who did the embassy bombings just a few hours before the operation took place, according to the transcript released by the Defense Department Monday.
“I was the link between Osama bin Laden and his deputy Sheikh Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri,” who authorities say worked with bin Attash on planning the Cole attack, bin Attash said.
Bin Attash also said he was with bin Laden when the Cole was attacked while refueling in Yemen’s port of Aden.
Said to be an al-Qaida operational chief, bin Attash also is known as Tawfiq bin Attash or Tawfiq Attash Khallada or simply Khallad.
U.S. intelligence documents allege that bin Attash – a Yemeni who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia – is a “scion of a prominent terrorist family” that includes his father Mohammed, who was close to bin Laden, and younger brother Hassan, who has been held at Guantanamo since 2004, arriving at the age of 17.
Several brothers attended al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s and two have been killed, one in a 2001 U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan, the U.S. says.
A federal judge in Virginia last Wednesday found the government of Sudan liable for the attack on the Cole in a lawsuit in which the sailors’ relatives argued that al-Qaida could not have succeeded without the African nation providing a safe haven for bin Laden and financial support. No damage amount has yet been awarded.
“It’s good that this guy wants to confess, although I have questions about the veracity of his claims,” said Jamal Gunn, 26, of Virginia Beach, Va., whose brother, Cherone Gunn, was killed aboard the Cole.
“The thing is, we want accountability from all levels, not just the foreign nationals who pulled off the attack, who masterminded the attack, but those who let it happen within our government as well,” Gunn said, suggesting the Cole should not have stopped in Yemen because that country was on a terrorist watch list.
In the late 1990s, bin Attash allegedly alternated between serving as bin Laden’s bodyguard and fighting Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance force. He lost his right leg in a battlefield accident in 1997, U.S. intelligence says.
Bin Attash helped choose the Sept. 11 hijackers and made two flights on U.S. airlines to assess in-flight security procedures, authorities allege. Bin Laden wanted bin Attash to be one of the hijackers on Sept. 11, but that plan was foiled when bin Attash was arrested in Yemen in April of that year and briefly imprisoned after attempting to get a U.S. visa.
After Sept. 11, he helped shore up bin Laden defenses at Tora Bora, bin Laden’s last stand when the U.S. routed the Taliban regime from Afghanistan. He fled to Pakistan and over the next year in Karachi served as a link between al-Qaida senior leadership and the network in Saudi Arabia, also helping to move operatives from South and Southeast Asia to the Saudi peninsula, officials allege.
In the months before his 2003 arrest, he and others were close to executing a plot to simultaneously attack the U.S. consulate in Karachi, westerners at the airport and westerners living in the area.
The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay opened five years ago, mostly with men captured from the war in Afghanistan. Roughly 385 prisoners are still held there and about 80 detainees are designated for release or transfer.
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