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Al-Qaeda leader admits to planning 9/11 attacks

Ed Pilkington

He planned 31 terror attacks, says military transcript

New York: The alleged number three in Al-Qaeda, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, confessed to planning the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, in front of the secret military tribunals being held for the top detenus in Guantanamo, the Pentagon said on Wednesday night.

Mohammed expressed sorrow for those who had died in the attacks and said that he ``did not like to kill children'' but that ``in war there were always victims''.

The apparent confession was contained in a 26-page transcript of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing of Mohammed, which the Pentagon released as part of the procedures of the closed-door sessions with 14 terror suspects.

Mohammed has long been alleged to have played a key role in the conceiving and organising of 9/11, but never before has there been what is said to be his own admission.

According to the Pentagon transcript, he told the tribunal panel of three military officers and a government-provided representative on Saturday that he admitted responsibility for the attacks on September 11 as well as a string of other outrages, including the bombing of a nightclub in Bali and an attempt to bring two American planes down, using shoe bombs.

``I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z. I was the operational director for Sheikh Usama [Osama] bin Laden for the organising, planning, follow-up and execution of the 9/11 operation,'' he allegedly confesses through his personal representative. He allegedly also confessed to being a member of the Al-Qaida council and the ``military operational commander for all foreign operations''.

These include surveying the assassination of former American presidents, including Jimmy Carter, and planning to bomb suspension bridges in New York. In all, he has allegedly confessed to being responsible for 31 separate attacks or planned attacks, including ones on Heathrow airport, Canary Wharf and Big Ben in London.

Pearl's beheading

Mohammed claimed to have beheaded the U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl ``with my blessed right hand,'' according to the transcript.

``I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan,'' Mohammed said in the statement.

``For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head,'' he said.

It is not clear why Mohammed would have wished to confess to such a wide-ranging number of outrages. The alleged confession is likely, however, to stiffen the resolve of the Bush administration in pursuing its controversial policy of putting the biggest cases of suspected terrorism through the closed military hearings.

The procedures have come under intense criticism from human rights groups on the grounds that the defendants are not entitled to normal rights of legal representation, and the hearings are closed to public scrutiny.

A separate transcript of another top Al-Qaeda suspect, Abi Faraj al-Libi, also released on Wednesday night, contains a statement from him in which he refuses to cooperate with the proceedings.

``I have been held by the United States for over two years without any indication of how the judicial system is going to deal with my situation. It is my opinion the detainee is in a lose-lose situation,'' the transcript reads.

Mohammed refused to take the oath before addressing the military tribunal, as he said that to do so would be to recognise the system. But he said that did not imply he intended to lie to the officials present.

In broken English, he likened Al-Qaeda to the founding fathers of the U.S. and Osama to George Washington.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006