WASHINGTON — Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, long suspected of plotting the bombing of the USS Cole, confessed at a hearing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to planning the attack, according to a Pentagon transcript released Monday.
An alleged chief operational planner for al-Qaida, bin Attash also said he helped organize the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed more than 200, the transcript said. Seventeen 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 on the Cole and the embassies. “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.”
The release of bin Attash’s transcript came five days after the Pentagon released the record of hearings held for three other so-called “high-value” suspects at Guantanamo — 14 alleged high-ranking terrorists transferred last year to U.S. military custody at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in southeastern Cuba after being held by the CIA at a secret location.
One of them, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, confessed to nearly three dozen plots including the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., according to the transcripts released last week.
‘I was the link ... ’
Bin Attash said he met with the man who did the Africa embassy bombings just a few hours before the operation took place.
“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.
Said to be an al-Qaida operational chief, he 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.
Sudan previously found liable
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.
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.
Helped bin Laden in Tora Bora
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.
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