Accused Al Qaeda Accomplice Denies Role in 9/11 Attacks
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 12, 2007 An accused terrorist accomplice held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, denied any involvement with al Qaeda, as well as possessing knowledge that money he had wired from overseas to the United States was used to finance the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a transcript from his March 30 tribunal hearing.
Ammar al Baluchi is the nephew of confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who is also being detained at Guantanamo. Baluchi denied under questioning during the hour-and-a-half tribunal that his uncle had introduced him to al Qaeda operatives prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.
“When he introduce a person, he would never say he is from al Qaeda,” Baluchi responded through a translator. “He would introduce him and mention what kind of business he want. And the business is normal, very normal trading business.”
The tribunal was held to determine if Baluchi could be designated as an enemy combatant. The U.S. government believes Baluchi was an al Qaeda intermediary, who, during the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, had wired thousands of dollars from the Middle East to terrorists in the United States.
Evidence supporting one of several government charges cites Baluchi as the recipient of 16 phone calls made between June 28 and 30, 2000, from Sept. 11 attack team leader Mohammed Atta, who perished along with his accomplices and the air crew and passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 11, the first terrorist-hijacked plane that crashed into the World Trade Center.
Baluchi was arrested on April 29, 2003, in Karachi, Pakistan. He was carrying a compact disk that contained photo images of the World Trade Center when United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane involved during the New York attacks, crashed into the south tower, and a letter addressed to al Qaeda chieftain Osama bin Laden. Baluchi also carried a small vial containing a low dose of cyanide chemical when he was captured.
Baluchi testified that the chemical he carried was used in Pakistan as a bleach to remove coloring from clothes, while the large amount of money he’d wired was just part of his role as a businessman.
Government evidence also links Baluchi to a series of money-wire transfers totaling $150,000 from the United Arab Emirates to the United States, including locations in Florida where some of the Sept. 11 hijackers had undergone pilot training.
“That, for me, is a very small amount,” Baluchi said of the thousands of U.S. dollars he sent stateside. He recalled the actions of a wealthy, fellow Middle Eastern friend who was going to America to study English for six months.
“He took money to buy a Ferrari car in America. So, you can imagine (a) Ferrari is 300,000 (dollars),” Baluchi said during the hearing. In comparison, he said, his transfer of more than $100,000 in U.S. currency was “not that big (of a) question.”
Baluchi also testified through an interpreter that he’d never known that his uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or any other people he’d met or contacted, were al Qaeda operatives.
“He never mention(ed) (it) to me,” Baluchi said.