Accused 9/11 plotter likely to face execution

WASHINGTON Sun Jan 31, 2010 10:42am EST

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed following 2003 arrest. REUTERS/Courtesy U.S.News & World Report

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed following 2003 arrest.

Credit: Reuters/Courtesy U.S.News & World Report

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Accused September 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be tried and convicted and is likely to be executed, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Sunday.

Interviewed on CNN's "State of the Union," show, Gibbs said: "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to meet justice and he's going to meet his maker. He will be brought to justice and he's likely to be executed for the heinous crimes he committed."

Gibbs did not confirm reports that the Obama administration has begun looking for places other than the heart of New York City to prosecute self-professed mastermind Mohammed and four accused co-conspirators in the face of fierce criticism tied to security and costs.

"We are talking with the authorities in New York. We understand their logistical concerns," Gibbs said. "We will work with them and come to a solution that we think will bring about justice."

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," senior White House adviser David Axelrod said President Barack Obama still wanted Mohammed and the other September 11 defendants to be tried in the U.S. justice system.

"The president believes we need to take into consideration what the local authorities are saying. But he also believes this: He believes that we ought to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and all others who are involved in terrorist acts to justice, swift and sure, in the American justice system."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder decided in November the trials would be held in New York, where the federal courthouse is connected to a fortified detention center with a tunnel.

But U.S. officials said last week Holder has begun considering other venues.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, also on CNN, said the accused plotters should be tried by a military commission, preferably at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He said Republicans would deny the administration the funding to mount a trial in New York and predicted that many Democrats would join them.

"Interrogate them, detain them and try them in a military commission offshore at Guantanamo," McConnell said.

Obama promised to close the Guantanamo prison, which became a focus of anti-American feeling worldwide, within a year of taking office, a pledge he failed to meet. The administration now plans to transfer some of its remaining 192 prisoners to a state prison it hopes to acquire in Illinois.

The decision to reconsider the location of the Mohammed trial came as Obama faced increased political pressure to refocus his agenda. Obama has been trying to push through a health care reform initiative and reduce high unemployment.

LOOKING OUTSIDE NYC

Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg reversed his support for holding the trials in Manhattan.

"I can tell you I would prefer if it was done elsewhere. I think some of the suggestions make sense, like a military base, because it's far away from people and you can provide security easily," Bloomberg said.

Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana told "Fox News Sunday" it would be hard to justify having the trials in New York because of the cost alone.

"I think this is one of those things that sounded good in theory, but in practice doesn't work so well," he said.

In addition to security concerns, some lawmakers -- as well as some relatives of the almost 3,000 people who were killed in the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington -- have said the defendants could use the criminal courts as soapboxes to propagate their anti-American beliefs and turn the trials into a media circus.

In one previous trial connected to the hijacked plane attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 after being convicted of conspiracy. The trial was in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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