AP source: Feds eye NY trial for Gitmo suspect

AP News
Posted: Dec 14, 2009 11:03 PM

Federal prosecutors are considering sending a Guantanamo Bay detainee named Majid Khan _ who grew up in Maryland before allegedly enlisting with al-Qaida _ to face trial in New York, a person familiar with the discussions said Monday.

Khan is one of fewer than 20 detainees at the U.S. detention center in Cuba labeled high-value by the U.S. government, meaning someone thought to be a senior member of al-Qaida, or someone with extensive knowledge of the terror network.

The Justice Department is weighing whether to put him on trial in federal court in Brooklyn, but no final decision has been made, according to a person speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the deliberations.

Attorney General Eric Holder already has decided that self-declared 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four accused henchmen will be tried in federal court in lower Manhattan.

Sending Khan and possibly other Guantanamo detainees to trial in Brooklyn raises the possibility of one city hosting two major terrorism trials in separate locations, though it is difficult to predict when either would start, given the lengthy pretrial process for each that could easily last more than a year.

Khan was a legal U.S. resident who lived in Baltimore before moving to Pakistan. Counterterrorism officials say he eventually met Mohammed, the plotter and senior al-Qaida planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency and the Defense Department continue to review the Guantanamo cases and said no final decisions had been made about where to send other detainees since Holder announced Nov. 13 that Mohammed and four others would be tried in New York, in addition to five others being sent to military commissions.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn declined to comment.

It was not immediately clear what charges Khan could face in a civilian setting, but his alleged history offers an intriguing possibility _ and a potential reason to put the case in Brooklyn.

Military officials say that in 2001, Khan met and spoke with a man named Iyman Faris. Years later, Faris later pleaded guilty in an alleged plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.

During that 2001 meeting with Faris, Khan allegedly said that he wanted to wear an explosive vest on a suicide mission to kill Pakistan's then-president, Pervez Musharraf.

Once Khan traveled to Pakistan, the government says, Mohammed asked Khan to help ferry $50,000 to an al-Qaida affiliate in Thailand. Officials say that money was used to fund a bomb attack on a J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. The August 2003 attack killed 12 people and 144 others were injured, including two U.S. citizens.

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Khan was captured in 2003, and U.S. officials say he admitted during interrogation to making the delivery and provided information that led to the capture of another terror operative.

Two other high-value detainees are also being held at Guantanamo facing accusations they played roles in the Jakarta bombing.

If the attorney general chooses not to send Khan to Brooklyn for trial, two other possible court venues are Alexandria, Va. _ where Faris pleaded guilty _ and Manhattan federal court _ where another alleged associate was convicted. Holder is also considering sending some Guantanamo detainees to trial in federal court in Washington.

A high-profile terrorism trial in Brooklyn could also expand the security demands on federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, if the court schedules did overlap.

Currently, there are 210 detainees held at Guantanamo. President Barack Obama has pledged to close the detention center, but the administration does not expect to meet its self-imposed deadline to do so by next month.


Hays reported from New York.