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2 key detainees deny terrorism

Times Staff Writer

Two men accused of being top Al Qaeda operatives have denied playing any role in the Sept. 11 attacks or other terrorist plots, and one of them has told U.S. military officials that he deserves leniency for providing “vital information” in the U.S.-led counter-terrorism campaign in the four years since his capture in Pakistan.

U.S. authorities accuse Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, also known as Ammar al-Baluchi, of being a close associate of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in various terrorist activities and of helping him arrange financing for at least one of the hijackers.

Ali admitted to having a close working relationship with Mohammed, who is his uncle, while he was living in the United Arab Emirates and later in Pakistan, according to a transcript of his closed military hearing March 30. The Pentagon released the transcript Thursday.

But Ali insisted throughout the 86-minute hearing that all of his ties to the Al Qaeda operations chief were harmless, and based on family and business connections.

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Ali told the military commission that he had been a secret weapon for the CIA and other U.S. authorities in thwarting terrorism around the world.

“The United States has benefited from the vital and important information I supplied by foiling Al Qaeda plans and obtaining information on Al Qaeda personnel,” Ali said during the March 30 hearing at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “So, is it fair or reasonable ... that I be considered an enemy combatant?”

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the agency had no comment on Ali’s claims of cooperation.

The Pentagon also released the transcript of another Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing, held April 4 for Riduan Isamuddin, who is accused of being Al Qaeda’s point man in Southeast Asia until his capture in August 2003.

The two men are among the 14 “high-value” terrorist suspects who were held at secret locations by the CIA before being transferred last September to Guantanamo. Military officials at Guantanamo are holding hearings on whether the men were properly designated as enemy combatants and whether they are eligible for military trials.

At his hearing, Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, denied being an Al Qaeda member or its liaison to the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia. He also said he had had nothing to do with many terrorist plots and attacks that U.S. officials have attributed to him and the group, including plots against U.S., Australian and British embassies in Singapore and deadly church bombings in Indonesia in 2000.

He was not asked about the 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia -- to which U.S. authorities have linked him -- during his brief hearing.

josh.meyer@latimes.com

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