Detainee Admits to Helping Orchestrate
Embassy, USS Cole Attacks

By Donna Miles

A detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has admitted to helping orchestrate the bombings of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998 and the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

The Defense Department released the transcript of Walid Muhammad Salih bin Attash’s combat status review tribunal hearing, held March 12 at the detention facility. The tribunal was an administrative hearing to determine only if Attash could be designated an enemy combatant.

Attash is one of 14 high-value detainees who were transferred Sept. 6, 2006, to Guantanamo Bay from CIA custody. The CSRT hearings for these detainees are not open to media because of national security concerns, DoD officials said.

After hearing allegations against him, including his involvement in the Aug. 7, 1998, embassy bombing and the Oct. 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole, Attash said he carried out “many roles” in the attacks.

Speaking through an interpreter, Attash said he met in Karachi, Pakistan, with the operator who carried out the embassy attack just hours beforehand.

“I was the link between Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Sheikh Abu Hafs al Masi, and the cell chief in Nairobi,” Attash said. “I was the link that was available in Pakistan.”

In that capacity, Attash said he supplied the terror cell “with whatever documents they need(ed), from fake stamps to visas, whatever, sending them from Afghanistan to Pakistan and individuals, cell members.”

The attack, conducted almost simultaneously with an attack on the U.S. embassy in Tanzania, left 213 people in Nairobi dead, including 12 Americans, and more than 4,500 wounded.

Attash heard evidence against him charging that he facilitated and participated in close-combat training in the Lowgar training camp in Afghanistan in late 1999. Graduates of the class reportedly met with bin Laden, who lectured about the operational details of the East Africa bombings.

The following year, Attash is alleged to have helped plan and carry out the attack on the USS Cole during a refueling stop in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed and 39 others wounded.

Attash said he helped plan the attack, purchased the boat and explosives used, and recruited the people who conducted it. He said he was in Kandahar with bin Laden during the actual attack.

The detainee challenged details in the allegations against him, such as the allegation that a phone number stored in another captured terrorists’ cell phone directory was also in his; he claimed he had no phone. But overall, he agreed to the allegations.

The “facts of the operations are correct, and his involvements are correct, but the details are not correct,” the interpreter said.

Attash said he did not wish to correct the details.

The U.S. government established the CSRT process at Guantanamo Bay as a result of a June 2004 Supreme Court decision in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden who challenged his detention at Guantanamo Bay. Between July 2004 and March 2005, DoD conducted 558 CSRTs at Guantanamo Bay. At the time, 38 detainees were determined to no longer meet the definition of enemy combatant, and 520 detainees were found to be enemy combatants.

Attash’s tribunal followed the March 10 proceedings for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who admitted to masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as well as the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

Proceedings also were held March 9 for Abu Faraj al-Libi, an alleged senior al Qaeda member, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who is said to have helped Muhammad plan the Sept. 11 attacks. Neither of the two elected to be present for their tribunals.

Guantanamo Confession Links
Al-Qaida to East Africa Terrorism

By Howard Lesser

(VOA) News of the confession of an al-Qaida operative of involvement in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole in October, 2000 has surfaced this week in a newly released Pentagon transcript. During a March 12 hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Waleed bin Attash told American military investigators that he helped plot attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 200 people.

Bin Attash testified that in Pakistan, he served as a link between al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the alleged architect of the Nairobi embassy attack, and met with al-Masri just hours before the Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam bombings were carried out. He also admitted coordinating the suicide strike in Aden, Yemen on the USS Cole, which took the lives of 17 American sailors. Release of bin Attash’s testimony comes on the heels of a court verdict last week in the state of Virginia, which found the government of Sudan accountable for giving support to al-Qaida that enabled the group to carry out the Cole attack. Research associate Sara Moller at the Council on Foreign Relations says that the confessions add solid evidence of a strong terrorist presence in East Africa during the 1990’s.

“The Sudan link here in the Norfolk (Virginia) court case is also important because bin Laden himself lived in Khartoum for five years in the early nineties and had close relations there with (former Sudan National Assembly Speaker) Hassan Turabi, and we of course saw last week the transcript the government released of (alleged September 11, 2001 mastermind) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – KSM. So I think that this timing is somewhat coincidental. But I would say that there is, going back more than a decade, a connection here, in that bin Attash and others of his ilk have been involved in plotting more than one attack at a time in Africa,” she said.

Some two years after the embassy bombings, the Yemeni-born bin Attash told examiners he moved on to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and was with bin Laden when a boat carrying explosives rammed the US guided missile destroyer Cole in a suicide mission at the Yemeni port of Aden. Sara Moller says it’s not clear if US intelligence sources viewed bin Attash as a prime suspect in the two years between the Kenya and Yemen incidents.

“We certainly had a number of suspects and individuals on our radar screen after the 1998 embassy bombings. Having said that, I’m not sure that we fully grasped the extent of that network, nor the extent to which the al-Qaida network was operating in the Horn of Africa, Yemen, and Sudan. The full picture has become clearer in the last couple of years, certainly after ‘Nine-Eleven’ (September 11, 2001), when the US government turned its full attention to this problem,” she said.

A panel of three officers at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay is expected to rule in coming weeks on bin Attash’s status as an accused terrorist prisoner at Guantanamo. Moller says the process is part of a Combatant Status Review Tribunal set up for high-value terror suspects who were kept in secret CIA prisons before they were transferred to the Guantanamo facility last fall.

“As I understand it, it’s meant to determine whether the individuals being detained in Guantanamo are enemy combatants and whether or not they should be tried for their crimes. It comes down to the fact that the Bush Administration has struggled with the terminology and the legal grounds to hold some of these people,” she said.

Moller says there has been a push to get the US Justice Department to be more cooperative in its reports on the Guantanamo suspects. Two US senators, Carl Levin and Lindsey Graham of the Armed Services Committee, were on hand in Guantanamo to watch the questioning of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but Justice Department attorneys were reportedly not present. Researcher Moller says she has read accounts that two US senators were also among those permitted to witness bin Attash’s questioning from an adjacent room two days later.