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Detainee admits role in attack on USS Cole, Pentagon says

A Yemeni captive being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has confessed to recruiting the suicide bombers and buying the speedboat that blasted a hole in the side of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, in 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors, according to a hearing transcript that the Pentagon released on Monday.

The transcript also quotes Waleed Mohammed bin Attash as admitting that he helped plan the Aug. 7, 1998, bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed more than 200 people, most of them Africans.

Together, the two episodes were among the worst anti-American attacks blamed on al-Qaida before Sept. 11, 2001.

Attash made his admissions during a brief appearance on March 12 before a three-member military panel that will determine if he should remain jailed in Guantanamo as an enemy combatant.

The hearing was the fourth one acknowledged so far for 14 so-called high-value terrorist suspects who were transferred to Guantanamo in September after years in secret CIA custody. Certification hearings for the 14 began March 9. Under Pentagon rules, the hearings are closed to outsiders and not announced until a transcript is released.

Among the 14 is alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who confessed to a laundry list of terrorist actions, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the murder in 2001 of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, during his hearing on March 10. The transcript of that hearing was released last week.

Attash's 33-minute hearing offered far fewer details. Among the unclassified evidence cited against him was testimony from one of the Nairobi bombers who survived the blast that Attash had recruited him for the job. The evidence summary also claimed that Attash's university identification card had been found in an al-Qaida safehouse and that his name had been found in al-Qaida ledgers.

But beyond his admission, little was offered to link him directly to the Cole attack, which also wounded 37 U.S. sailors.

"I participated in the buying or purchasing of the explosives," Attash told the panel in response to a question from one of its members, the transcript says. "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. Buying the explosives."

Attash described his role in the Nairobi embassy bombing as the "link" between the Nairobi bombers and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. He said he supplied the bombers "with whatever documents they need, from fake stamps to visas, whatever."

In response to a follow-up question from the Navy captain running the hearing, Attash said he was with bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan, at the time of the Cole attack and that he was in Karachi, Pakistan, at the time of the embassy bombing.

Attash wasn't accused in the other Aug. 7, 1998, embassy bombing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The nearly simultaneous attacks on the two embassies illustrated al-Qaida's ability to pull off complex attacks with multiple teams nearly three years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The U.S. government in September described Attash as the 27-year-old scion of a terrorist family whose father was a close associate of bin Laden and whose two brothers were killed in Afghanistan by U.S. bombs. A younger brother, Hassan, has been held at Guantanamo since 2004. But no mention of that background was contained in the transcript released Monday.

There was also no evidence in the transcript that Attash had complained of harsh treatment during his CIA captivity. Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for the United States to investigate Mohammed's claims during his certification hearing that the CIA abused him.

Those allegations had been redacted from the transcript of Mohammed's hearing, but a reference to the abuse by the hearing's presiding officer had been left in. Graham, who attended the hearing at the invitation of the Pentagon, later confirmed to McClatchy Newspapers that Mohammed had said he was mistreated.

No similar redactions were evident in the Attash transcript.


(Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald.)


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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