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Mohammed says he beheaded U.S. reporter despite warnings

A senior Al Qaeda military commander strongly warned Khalid Shaikh Mohammed not to kill Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, cautioning him "it would not be wise to murder Pearl" and that he should "be returned back to one of the previous groups who held him, or freed."

But Mohammed told his U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay that he cut off Pearl's head anyway, according to U.S. military documents posted on the Internet on Monday by WikiLeaks.

Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, also told his captors of the aborted attempt by Richard Reid to light a shoe bomb aboard a flight from London to the U.S. in late 2001. He "stated that he had instructed Reid to shave his beard prior to boarding the airplane and to detonate the bomb inside the airplane bathroom."

But Reid refused to shave his beard, tried to ignite the bomb in his seat, and was stopped and arrested and sentenced to life in prison. For that, according to a disgusted Mohammed, Reid was "irresponsible," according to the documents.

Fresh and often chilling portraits of Mohammed and the other most-prized "high value" detainees at Guantanamo emerged from the latest release of classified material by WikiLeaks, the controversial Web organization that has tormented the U.S. by revealing a stream of its military and diplomatic secrets. U.S. and British news organization first reported the release of the documents Sunday night.

The Obama administration acknowledged the records contain bona fide "classified information about current and former GTMO detainees." But the White House also sharply castigated WikiLeaks for releasing the material, much of it involving the 172 men currently imprisoned at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The documents are part of thousands of pages of Pentagon dossiers that describe how the detainees were captured, the nature of their alleged crimes and what they had told interrogators — often under duress — in interviews between 2002 and 2008. In all, there are 779 total documents that are in the process of being released. The files are officially titled Detainee Assessment Briefs.

In the Daniel Pearl slaying, according to the newly released material, Sayf al-Adl, a former top Al Qaeda military commander, was outspoken in cautioning Mohammed against killing the reporter. But Mohammed turned for guidance to another Al Qaeda leader, identified as Sharif al-Masri, the group's chief financial officer, and the two of them "disagreed with Adl on this point." Next, "Pearl was taken to the house of Al Qaeda's finance chief in Pakistan, Saud Memon, and murdered" there.

Mohammed boasted in the documents that the "planes operation" of Sept. 11 was his "dream and life's work." A Pakistani raised in Kuwait, he was captured in March 2003, totally disheveled but wearing a ring and a Casio wristwatch, and later was forced to undergo 183 separate water-boarding treatments to get him to talk.

He described a plan to build remote-controlled firing devices disguised as Sega video game cartridges. He began preparations for bombing "the tallest building in California" — presumably the Library Tower (now the U.S. Bank tower) in Los Angeles, "using at least two separate shoe bombs to gain access to the cockpit."

He wanted to hit CIA and FBI headquarters and nuclear power plants, hack into U.S. bank computers and hijack U.S. cargo planes. He discussed a series of natural gas explosions he wanted to perpetrate in Chicago and researched "the feasibility of an operation to set fire to a hotel or gas station" there.

Mohammed's right-hand man was Ramzi Binalshibh, the "9/11 coordinator," according to the documents.

According to the documents, Binalshibh learned from lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta that the "the targets were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Capitol," sites personally selected by Osama bin Laden, and that the Al Qaeda leader had instructed the hijackers that "if they could not reach their targets, they were to simply to crash the aircraft." It has long been in dispute whether the plane which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania was headed for the Capitol or the White House.

In mid-August 2001, Atta called Binalshibh "during the night and said he wanted to tell detainee [Binalshibh] a riddle. Atta told detainee the riddle was two branches, a slash and a lollipop. " Thus the date Sept. 11, 2001 (11/9, with day first and month second) was revealed.

After the attacks, Binalshibh and his mentor, Mohammed, celebrated in Karachi, Pakistan; they "prostrated themselves and gave thanks to Allah."

Another top detainee, Abu Zubaydah, is a Saudi pictured in the documents with a patch over his left eye. Should he be released, U.S. authorities said, he "is likely to seek out prior associates and re-engage in hostilities and extremist support activities. Since his transfer [to Guantanamo, Zubaydah] has appeared to be cooperative during interviews but may also have been withholding information and employing counter interrogation techniques."

He has staged four hunger strikes, and once passed up nine consecutive meals, for which he was cited for disciplinary infractions. But it is in his prior life in Al Qaeda that he is seen as an entirely different man: "Detainee [Zubaydah] worked directly with Al Qaeda and was trusted enough to provide a safe haven for UBL [Bin Laden] after the 11 September 2001 attacks," according to the WikiLeaks documents.

He told interrogators he originally was a "bad Muslim" and attempted to improve his reputation by joining the fight in Afghanistan in the early 1990s; there he was wounded in the head by shrapnel.

Zubaydah "stated he had to relearn fundamentals such as walking, talking and writing; as such, he was therefore considered worthless to Al Qaeda."

But Zubaydah redeemed himself, and by the end of that decade he was working closely with Ahmed Ressam, convicted as the so-called "millennium bomber" who was arrested coming into this country from Canada with plans to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.

Ressam, in his debriefings with the FBI, had high praise for Zubaydah, according to Zubaydah's dossier. "There is no one to whom Abu Zubaydah must report in terms of a superior; [he] is emir [commander]." In fact, Ressam considered Zubaydah "equal" even to Bin Laden.

And Ressam said that while he conceived the plan to bomb LAX, it was Zubaydah who "encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation."

Zubaydah was captured during a firefight in March 2002 in Pakistan and eventually transferred to Guantanamo. He was wounded three times while trying to escape. In his safe house were found computers with over three dozen discs, seven passports and a page torn from a U.S. phonebook.

Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi charged last week in Guantanamo in the 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole off the coast of Yemen, is described in his detainee assessment as "one of the highest-ranking, most skilled, and dangerous Al Qaeda operatives captured to date. He has a proven ability to plan and carry out attacks against the U.S. and its interests and allies [and] is linked to as many as a dozen plots to attack U.S. and Western interests."

He answered directly to Bin Laden, and his cell was responsible for conducting suicide and sabotage operations outside Afghanistan, the Pentagon alleged. For the suicide attack on the Cole, staged in the Gulf of Aden from a small boat, Nashiri chose Hassan al-Khamiri "because Hassan knew the area" and Ibrahim al-Nebras because "Nebras could operate the boat."

Nashiri was so pleased with the Cole attack that he began thinking about attacking submarines in the North Atlantic, according to the documents. He also discussed a follow-up attack in the U.S., something with "cars and/or truck bombs targeted against large and/or tall buildings in a 9/11-style attack." He also considered chemical bombs, because they "are easy to make."

Nashiri said he joined jihad in 1998, when his nephew Jihad Harazi died for Al Qaeda as one of the U.S. embassy bombers in Kenya.

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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