9/11 suspect says he beheaded US reporter - Pentagon

By Andrew Gray

WASHINGTON - The al Qaeda suspect who claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks also said he beheaded US journalist Daniel Pearl, according to a Pentagon transcript released today.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed admitted involvement in more than 30 attacks or plots during a hearing at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, but the Pentagon said it withheld sections on Pearl's killing until it could inform the reporter's family.

"I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl," Mohammed said in a statement, according to the transcript.

"For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the internet holding his head," said the statement read by a US military staffer assigned to assist Pakistani national Mohammed at the hearing.

Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan in 2002.

During Saturday's closed hearing, Mohammed also claimed responsibility for a nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia, and an attempt to down two American airplanes using shoe bombs, according to a Pentagon transcript released on Wednesday.

Mohammed, who was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003 and transferred to US custody, was a main suspect in the Pearl case.

During the military hearing, Mohammed himself spoke about the killing and said it was not an al Qaeda operation.

"It's like beheading Daniel Pearl. It's not related to al Qaida (Qaeda)," the transcript quoted him as saying.

The transcript contains a reference to alleged mistreatment of Mohammed in US custody. But the suspect said he was not speaking under duress at the hearing, held to determine whether he meets the US definition of an enemy combatant.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he was not aware if an investigation into mistreatment had been launched.

If Mohammed is classed as an enemy combatant, he could face trial before a military commission on war crimes charges.

Closed hearings

He was among 14 prisoners identified by US authorities as "high-value" terrorism suspects and transferred to Guantanamo last year from secret CIA prisons abroad.

US officials closed the hearing and edited out parts of the transcript, a practice the Pentagon said was necessary to remove sensitive security information.

US officials have long viewed Mohammed as the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, attacks, in which Islamist militants crashed hijacked airliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon and killed nearly 3,000 people.

"I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z," Mohammed said through his representative, according to the transcript.

Some intelligence experts questioned the credibility Mohammed's claims to have been involved in so many plots against targets ranging from former US President Jimmy Carter to London landmark Big Ben.

Former CIA official Robert Baer said Mohammed's rambling testimony raised suspicions about his treatment at the hands of CIA interrogators.

"Once you rough up a witness with waterboarding, they figure out what narrative you want and that's the narrative they tell. And that suspicion is always going to be out there. That's what we're left with," Baer said.

In waterboarding, interrogators simulate drowning the person they are questioning. US intelligence officials are believed to have used the technique with terrorism suspects.

- REUTERS

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