Courts & Crime

Prosecutor: Guantanamo detainee trained 9/11 hijackers

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — A Sudanese captive facing a February war crimes trial trained a generation of terrorists, including two 9/11 hijackers and Zacarias Moussaui, the only Sept. 11 conspirator convicted on U.S. soil, a war court prosecutor said Tuesday.

Marine Maj. James Weirick gave that peek inside the mostly little-known case hours after a Navy judge urged Pentagon prosecutors to help defense attorneys question FBI agents being called as witnesses before the next hearing, Nov. 9.

"Noor Uthman Mohammed for a number of years was the principal trainer and in charge of all training at the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan that provided numerous individuals who went on to serve for al Qaida,'' Weirick told reporters.

"He has identified people who were in the 9/11 camps as being there, trained while he was there.''

Noor's defense lawyer, Maj. Amy Fitzgibbons, called the characterization an effort to "sensationalize'' the case by directly linking the 40-something captive's time at Khalden to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Hundreds of people passed through that training camp,'' she said, adding he had gone to Afghanistan long before 9/11 to deepen his faith and get small arms training.

She said Noor's time there was similar to Americans' going with a group of friends "to a rifle range.''

Tuesday's was the first hearing at Guantanamo since August, when an Army lieutenant colonel collapsed during the trial of alleged teen terrorist Omar Khadr, forcing a postponement. Khadr's trial is scheduled to resume Oct. 18.

Noor's trial is set for Feb. 28, but until Tuesday prosecutors had never so clearly articulated their claim of the captive's ties to terrorism.

Court hearings have been mostly procedural and Tuesday's was no exception. The military judge, Navy Capt. Moira Modzelewski, heard arguments on pretrial motions.

Noor was led into the courtroom past a diorama of the compound where Khadr was captured on July 27, 2002, after a firefight with U.S. forces near Khost, Afghanistan.

The Sudanese captive wore to court the white prison camp uniform of a cooperative detainee and sat shivering in the air conditioning until guards brought him a white cotton blanket just like those issued reporters in tent city.

At issue in the tribunal session was whether the captive who was seized in a Pakistani police raid in March 2002 was being tried in an unconstitutional court.

Defense attorneys argue the Military Commissions Act discriminates against foreigners because only a non-citizen can be put on trial at the war court.

Prosecutors argue the Constitution doesn't apply at Guantanamo, and that military commissions are legitimate because two Congresses enacted them and both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama signed them into law.

Tuesday's session is just one step toward trial in a military commission process that is still making up for the false starts of the Bush administration-era effort to stage the war crimes trials at Guantanamo.

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