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2 detainees deny involvement in al-Qaida

The nephew of alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed told a military hearing last month that he'd sent more than $100,000 to one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, but he denied that he was a member of al-Qaida or knew anything about the plot to fly airplanes into the World Trade Center.

Ammar al-Baluchi, whose mother is Mohammed's sister, said it wasn't unusual for him to wire large sums of cash to wealthy Persian Gulf students studying in the United States, according to a transcript of the hearing, which the Pentagon released Thursday.

"Just for example, I had a friend, he was going to study English language, not university, for six months. He took money to buy a Ferrari car in America," Baluchi said.

Another prominent terrorist suspect, Riduan bin Isomuddin, who is better known as Hambali, also denied any links to al-Qaida, according to a transcript of his hearing. That transcript also was released Thursday.

The two men are among 14 so-called high-value terrorist suspects who were held secretly by the CIA until last September, when they were transferred to the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison facility for suspected terrorists. The military hearings are part of a process to determine whether they should be held as enemy combatants.

So far the Pentagon has released transcripts of hearings for 11 of the prisoners. With the exception of Mohammed, who provided a detailed list of terrorist actions he said he was involved in planning or executing, most of the detainees have denied they were involved in attacks or said they were only peripherally aware of what was going on. Four declined to participate in the hearings, according to the transcripts.

At his hearing on March 30, Baluchi denied being an enemy combatant, arguing instead that he was an ordinary Persian Gulf businessman who dealt in large cash transactions. He said his uncle never mentioned al-Qaida to him and never asked him to help in any terrorist operation. He said he'd never met Osama bin Laden and never joined al-Qaida.

Baluchi asked the panel of unnamed officers hearing his case to allow him to call as witnesses former colleagues at the computer company where he worked in Dubai. The presiding officer, an unidentified Navy captain, agreed to the request, but cautioned Baluchi that the hearing would be delayed while the U.S. government attempted to find his former colleagues.

The captain then offered a compromise: The panel would accept Baluchi's written statement of what he thought his colleagues would say, in lieu of actual testimony, if Baluchi would waive his right to have them testify in person.

"Could you reject those statements in the future?" Baluchi asked.

"Could I reject them in the future?" the captain replied. "We might. We have not seen all the evidence yet."

In the end, however, Baluchi agreed to forgo the testimony, and his statements were read into the record. In them, he said his former colleagues would testify that "Ammar is a hard worker" who "is always the first in to work and the last to leave." He said his colleagues would testify that he "never expressed any animosity against the United States or its allies. He seemed open-minded and Western-oriented."

Baluchi also received endorsements from Mohammed and another suspected Sept. 11 plotter, Ramzi Binalshibh, who also is being held at Guantanamo. Both provided affidavits saying Baluchi had no al-Qaida links.

At his April 4 hearing, Hambali likewise denied al-Qaida membership.

The U.S. alleges that Hambali was a key leader of Indonesia's al-Qaida branch, blamed for the October 2002 bombing of a resort nightclub in Bali, which killed about 200 tourists, mostly Australians. It also accused him of involvement in the bombings of churches in Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000.

Hambali asked for a single witness—an alleged co-conspirator, Imam Samudra, who is jailed in Indonesia and facing the death penalty for the Bali bombing. The transcript said the U.S. sent questions on Hambali's behalf to Jakarta, but got no reply.

Hambali also provided the panel a detailed written refutation of the evidence against him—the panel recessed for 42 minutes, according to the transcript, so that members could read it—but that document wasn't included in the transcript.

However, a unnamed panel member later asked Hambali specifically about allegations against him involving the 2000 church bombings, a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Singapore and whether he had an association with al-Qaida.

To each question, Hambali answered no. Hambali said he'd resigned from a Pakistani terrorist organization in 2000, but he declined to say what he did after his resignation.

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(Rosenberg reports for the Miami Herald.)

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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