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Terror suspect denies knowledge of 9/11 plots

An Arab man held at Guantánamo Bay as a high-value captive reportedly admitted to sending more than $100,000 to one of the 9/11 hijackers -- but said he knew nothing of the plot and routinely transferred cash to wealthy Persian Gulf students studying in the United States.

''Just for example, I had a friend he was going to study English language, not university, for six months. He took money to buy a Ferrari car in America,'' Ammar al Baluchi allegedly told a panel of three military officers in a transcript released by the Pentagon Thursday.

Baluchi also denied being an enemy combatant.

Instead, he identified himself as an ordinary Persian Gulf businessman who dealt in large cash transactions.

He acknowledged that he is a nephew of reputed self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, known in CIA circles as KSM. But he said he never met Osama bin Laden or his other deputies and never joined the worldwide al Qaeda terror movement.

Moreover, Baluchi told the military panel on March 30 that he worked as a computer programmer for a firm with Canadian offices and had three Israeli roommates in the Persian Gulf oil nation of Dubai, according to the transcript of the one-hour, 26-minute detention hearing.

Last year, the Bush administration described Baluchi in an unclassified intelligence profile as a 29-year-old member of ``an extended family of extremists that has spawned such notorious terrorists as his detained uncle . . . KSM and incarcerated World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef.''

It described him as an intermediary between Mohammed and 9/11 hijackers and someone who plotted other attacks.

Baluchi systematically denied such a role in the transcript, countering that he knew his uncle, his mother's brother, not as an arch-terrorist or al Qaeda member but as a honey and henna salesman, for whom he made business introductions.

The hearing to verify his status as an enemy combatant was a prelude to any possible trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo, the congressionally approved Bush administration war court that has the power to order a death penalty for certain convicted war-on-terror captives.

The only trial so far, of al Qaeda foot soldier David Hicks of Australia, ended recently in a guilty plea and a nine-month sentence.

The Pentagon released the transcript with few deletions. It included a reading of a letter of recommendation from a co-worker at his former computer firm, Modern Electronic Corp., MEC, which said he lost his job and visa in early September 2001 when the firm closed its Dubai office.

''Ammar never expressed any animosity against the United States or its allies,'' said the reference, a person who is not identified.

It called him ''a hard worker'' and said, ``He seemed very open-minded and Western-oriented.''

On a question from the unnamed U.S. Navy captain running the proceeding, Baluchi admitted to sending by wire transfer more than $100,000 to Sept. 11 hijacker Marwan al Shehhi, who the FBI believed piloted United Flight 175, the second plane to slam into New York's World Trade Center.

But, Baluchi said, he sent the money as a routine favor for Shehhi, unaware of the 9/11 plot. And, he said, Shehhi had earlier given Baluchi the funds.

Baluchi flatly denied, however, knowing, meeting or ever communicating with the chief Sept. 11 U.S. ringleader, Mohammed Atta.

In seeking to clear his name, Baluchi asked to bring his uncle, held incommunicado at Guantánamo, to address the panel. The transcript said this was forbidden for security reasons.

Instead, the military officer helping Baluchi assemble his argument got a written statement from Mohammed, which became part of the transcribed record.

''To my knowledge, Ammar has never had association with al Qaeda, Taliban or associated organizations,'' Mohammed wrote. ``I am not aware of any knowledge that Ammar had about al Qaeda, Taliban or associated organizations.''

At his earlier hearing, Mohammed claimed he was responsible for dozens of successful and foiled attacks on U.S. and allied targets over the past 15 years, including personally beheading Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Mohammed also claimed he was tortured while in CIA custody before arriving at Guantánamo around Labor Day of last year.

The Pentagon on Thursday also released the transcript of alleged Bali nightclub bombing mastermind Ridouan Isamuddin, known as Hambali.

In his hearing, eight days ago, he denied membership in al Qaeda and asked for a single witness -- alleged Islamic Jihad co-conspirator Imam Samudra, who is facing the death penalty in his native Indonesia for his role in the October 2002 bombing, which killed about 200 tourists, mostly Australians.

The transcript said the United States sent questions on behalf of the Guantánamo detainee to Jakarta, but got not reply.

Unlike the earlier 10 hearings of so-called high-value suspects, this one was run by an Air Force colonel, not a Navy captain.

And, rather than read his unclassified statement into the record, the panel left the room to read it separately. So it was not part of the transcript.

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