'Real 20th hijacker' is being held at Guantanamo
Times Online (UK)
By Jenny Booth and agencies
April 20, 2006
The man alleged to be the real 20th hijacker of the September 11 terror attacks is imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, it has emerged.
Muhammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi, was arrested after US immigration authorities refused to allow him to enter the country at Orlando airport in Florida, before the suicide hijackings.
Testimony in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui quoted Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks who has been in US custody for several years, describing al-Qahtani as the last hijacker for the mission who would "complete the group".
Nineteen hijackers boarded four planes on the morning of September 11, 2001. Three planes each with five terrorists on board struck their intended targets, but the fourth, United Airlines flight 93, only had four hijackers. They were forced to dive the aircraft into the ground short of their target - probably the White House - after a counter-attack by the passengers.
Claims by Moussaoui himself at his trial that he was intended to be one of the 9/11 hijackers have been discounted by intelligence sources, although he may still be condemned to death for failing to tell the security services what he knew about the plot.
Although al-Qahtani's presence at the prison camp in Cuba had been reported, the military had previously declined to confirm it.
News of his whereabouts emerged on a Pentagon list of the hundreds of detainees who have been held at the Guantanamo Bay prison, published in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the US-based Associated Press news agency. Al-Qahtani appears as number 50 on a list of 558 names.
The list is the first official roster of Guantanamo detainees who passed through the Combatant Status Review Tribunal process in 2004 and 2005 to determine whether they should be deemed "enemy combatants." Nearly all the men were ruled to be enemy fighters, but only a handful have so far faced formal charges, despite four years or more in custody.
In all, 558 people were named in the list provided by the Pentagon, some of whom have already been released. Some names are familiar, such as David Hicks, a Muslim from Australia charged with fighting US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, who is seeking to get a British passport after his own government refused to request his release.
Hicks is one of 10 detainees selected to be tried by a military tribunal on charges of attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy to commit terrorism. He allegedly fought for the Taleban, and according to reports has admitted training with British Islamic extremists, including the would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who was convicted of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic airliner in 2001.
The list also includes top former Taleban officials, such as Mullah Mohammed Fazil, the ousted regime's former Defence Ministry chief of staff; Abdul Haq Wasiq and Gholam Ruhani, Taleban intelligence officials who are believed to still be in custody; and Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taleban's former ambassador to Pakistan, who was released in late 2005.
Others on the list, such as an Afghan identified only as "Commander Chaman," remain mysterious.
In all, the detainees on the list came from 41 countries. The largest number - 132 - come from Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan follows with 125, and Yemen is next with 107.
An independent Afghan commission working to free Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay praised the release of the list.
"This is very good news and it helps us because now it is easy for us to identify the Afghans in Guantanamo, learn how many there are and from which provinces they come from," said Sayeed Sharif Youssefi, a senior official in Afghanistan's peace and reconciliation commission.
The list had been previously accessible by the International Committee for the Red Cross, but the Defence Department had determined it was now "prudent" to release the list to the public, said Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman. The US Government had previously declined to release any list of names except the 10 who have been formally charged.
Even with the latest release, the Pentagon has not provided a full list of all the more than 750 prisoners that the military says have passed through Guantanamo. Colonel Vician said he had no information on the roughly 200 people whose names did not appear.
The release of the list, ordered by a federal judge, came amid wide criticism of the almost total secrecy surrounding the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, where the United States now holds about 490 detainees.
"This is information that should have been released a long time ago, and it's a scandal that it hasn't been," said Bill Goodman, legal director of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, which has helped coordinate legal efforts on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.
The combatant status hearings at Guantanamo Bay were held from July 2004 to January 2005. All detainees at the prison during that period had such a hearing. Of the 558 detainees who received one, the panels classified 38 as "no longer enemy combatants" and the military later released 29 of them from Guantanamo.
The remaining nine include an undisclosed number of Uighurs who can't be sent back to their native China because of the possibility they could face persecution over their campaign for an independent homeland, often called East Turkestan. They are being held in a part of the detention centre with extra privileges known as Camp Iguana, a military spokesman said.
Today China - whose President, Hu Jintao, is visiting Washington - urged the United States to return the Chinese nationals held as part of the "War on Terror". Washington should "repatriate Chinese-nationality terror suspects held at Guantanamo as quickly as possible", the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"East Turkestan forces are part of international terrorist forces and pose a grave threat to the international community, including China and the United States," Qin Gang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters in Beijing.
Beijing's renewed call to take back the detainees came after two of the Uighurs at Guantanamo, Abu Bakker Qassim and A'del Abdu Al-Hakim, failed to persuade the US Supreme Court earlier this week to review a lower court decision that a federal court has no power to order their release, even though it has ruled they are not being lawfully held.