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U.S. close to decision on 9/11 trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is close to deciding where the self-professed mastermind of the September 11 attacks in 2001 will be tried and whether he will face a military tribunal, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday.

Holder did not provide specifics to reporters and did not respond when asked if a decision on the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would come by the end of the year.

Holder’s initial plan to try him and four other accused plotters in a federal court in New York City was put on hold after local officials and members of Congress said he should be tried in a military court for security and other reasons.

“The process is an ongoing one. We are working to make a determination about the placement of that trial,” Holder told reporters after meeting with Canadian officials on cross-border security. “We have been working on it and I think we’re close to a decision.”

Almost a year ago, he announced Mohammed’s trial would be held in a U.S. criminal court blocks from the site of the World Trade Center that was destroyed in the attacks. That plan was derailed by concerns about security and complaints the suspects should not be given full U.S. legal rights.

Mohammed, an al Qaeda leader who was captured in Pakistan in 2003, has been imprisoned at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. Congress has strictly limited moving detainees like Mohammed from that location, requiring prior notification to Congress and reports on potential security risks.

By winning a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in November elections, Republicans may complicate efforts by the Obama administration to prosecute terrorism suspects held at the Guantanamo prison in traditional criminal courts.

Republicans have demanded Guantanamo suspects be given military trials, which limit some of their legal rights.

“I urge Attorney General Holder not to hold any 9/11 trials in New York or anywhere in the United States,” said Republican New York Representative Peter King, the likely chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee next year.

“These 9/11 terrorists should be tried before a military commission at Guantanamo,” he said.

Even a usually close ally of Obama opposes the trial in Manhattan. “The trial should not and will not be in New York,” New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said in response to Holder’s remarks.

Before security concerns were raised, the Obama administration moved detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani from the Guantanamo prison to New York City in June 2009 for a trial. He was accused of conspiring in the 1998 al Qaeda car bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa.

His lawyers have argued he was tricked by the militant group and a jury in New York is deliberating his case. No security issues emerged during the trial and there appeared to be only slightly more security in the courthouse than usual.

Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro in Washington and Basil Katz in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney