NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Feb. 17, 2011 — Testimony so far today in the sentencing portion of the military commission trial of Noor Uthman Muhammed — who pleaded guilty this week to supporting and conspiring with terrorists — has ranged from a personal statement from the detainee to details of his terrorist training.
As part of the defense team’s testimony, Army Maj. Amy Fitzgibbons read a statement written by Noor, as he has asked to be called in the courtroom, to the nine members who make up the military-commission sentencing panel.
Despite his admission to helping members of international terrorist organizations in their efforts to attack the United States, Noor wrote, “I have never been a member of the Taliban or al-Qaida, … and have never planned or participated in a terrorist attack.”
The detainee, who was transferred from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, to the detention center here in August 2002, said he is in poor health and that he hopes to get home to his family in Port Sudan and live out the rest of his days peacefully.
In his statement, the 44-year-old described a poor childhood in Kassala, Sudan. Noor’s parents died when he was young, and tribal members in the community raised him. He attended school only for a short time, learning some “math and letters,” and then left his brother to move to Port Sudan to earn a makeshift living doing odd jobs. He moved from house to house, staying “in whatever house had space for me” and sleeping on floors.
“Life,” he said, “was a daily struggle.”
In the cosmopolitan markets of Port Sudan, a gateway for Muslim travelers, he learned more about Islam, about the struggles many Muslims faced around the world, and about the obligation of Muslims to “prepare themselves to defend Islam,” he said in his statement.
When he heard about places in Afghanistan where such knowledge could be gained, he said, he borrowed money in 1994 to travel to the terrorist training camp in Khalden in the Khost region, where he was trained and later worked under the camp’s leader, or emir, Ibn Sheikh al-Libi.
In 1996, according to a court document that both the prosecution and the defense accepted as fact, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and others began issuing public declarations known as fatwas that called for violent attacks against the property and people of the United States and its allies, in part to force the United States to withdraw its forces from the Arabian peninsula and to oppose U.S. support of Israel.
Noor was aware of these declarations, the goals of al-Qaida to attack the United States and the conduct of terrorist attacks against the United States by al-Qaida and other international terrorist organizations, the document said.
Sometime in 1999 or 2000, Noor helped to move the camp to Kabul, Afghanistan, where soon after it was closed. During the time it was operational, several men were trained there who later participated in plots or attacks against the United States:
— Mohammed al Owhali, who later admitted participating in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya;
— Ahmed Ressam, who later admitted participating in a foiled plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on Dec. 31, 1999, the eve of the new millennium; and
— Zacarais Moussaoui, the self-named “20th hijacker,” who later admitted participating in the conspiracy to attack U.S. targets on Sept. 11, 2001.
By March 2002, the court document continued, Noor and 12 or more terrorists settled into a safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, that was being used as a hideout and training facility. They were joined there and led by Saudi-born Abu Zubaydah, according to court documents.
Near the end of March, Pakistani authorities raided the safe house and, after a shootout, captured the terrorists.
Throughout the morning in the tightly secured courtroom, the prosecution presented to the panel in this sentencing portion of the trial an array of evidence found in the Faisalabad house.
The cache included electronic components, digital watches and other tools used to build detonators for car bombs. Investigators also found identification documents, explosive training notebooks, a jihad guerilla tactics manual, and other military manuals and training materials.
The manuals contained instructions for forming and coordinating terrorist cells and carrying out terrorist operations in cities. According to the manuals, priority targets for hostile operations included Jews and Christians, especially economic or police officials and tourists. The manuals also advised targeting Jews, Americans and Britons for kidnapping or assassination with “gases or microbes.”
Another manual section detailed how to storm and break an airplane’s cockpit door and take control of the situation with tactics including “pointing a weapon at the pilot’s head.” In addition, the manual recommends evacuating the aircraft’s first-class cabin, moving people further back into the plane so the first-class cabin could be used as a “holding and killing room.”
Experience had shown that for Westerners, “the psychological impact of beheading is much deeper than killing by shooting,” the manual said.
“Christians and Jews are very sensitive and dismayed by human injuries,” the manual noted, “and that is why mujahedeen should strike them first and then attack” whatever target has been chosen.
Inside the safe house, investigators also found motivational materials that included dozens of audio-cassette tapes, a videotape of Abu Zubaydah explaining his activities in support of Osama bin Laden, and diaries that belonged to some of the safe house occupants, including Zubaydah.
In the diary, an entry for March 20 described the house as “temporary” and “suitable to stay for the winter so I can arrange our special program.”
Another page of his diary describes personally choosing some of the men to participate in future activities.
“Some of them were instructors at Khalden camp. I chose some of them myself and with them I will start a lot of ideas and projects … and we ask God for success.”
An excerpt of a videotape with rolling English subtitles showed Zubaydah appearing to be in his 40s, with regular features, a full dark beard and dressed in traditional white Muslim garb.
“Our enemies know why we are fighting them,” he said, describing the enemies as “Jews, Christians, apostates of Hindus and atheists.”
Zubaydah outlined past terrorist operations in Saudi Arabia, operations “with bin Laden in Kenya and Tanzania,” and “the truly magnificent operation at the trade center on Manhattan Island and in areas around Washington and New York.”
He added, “We are with any group that asserts the unity of Allah by means of operations and that support Allah in word and deed and thought. We support them with money, efforts, ideas [and] cooperation. We are with them.”
The defense team finished presenting its evidence this morning. The military commission panel will deliberate and determine a sentence for Noor when the defense completes its presentation of evidence.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)