An al Qaeda trainer who was also the deputy emir of a top terrorist training facility in Afghanistan agreed to a plea deal before a military commission at Guantanamo on Tuesday. Noor Uthman Mohammed pled guilty to “to supporting terror and conspiring with al Qaeda,” according to the Miami Herald, but the substance of the plea deal remains sealed. Military sources cited by the newspaper “said the deal could send Noor home by January 2015.”
Noor was not just a top trainer for al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. According to declassified documents produced by US military and intelligence officials, he was also allegedly involved in al Qaeda’s plotting against American and Israeli targets.
Al Qaeda and Taliban trainer
Noor was captured on March 28, 2002, at an al Qaeda safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Also captured in the raid was Abu Zubaydah, a top al Qaeda operative who orchestrated the millennium terrorist plots against the LAX airport in California and tourist spots in Jordan. Zubaydah was the main target of the March 2002 raid, which ended only after an intense shootout with American and Pakistani officials.
Noor had begun working for Zubaydah in the mid-1990s, when Zubaydah headed the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan. During his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) hearing at Gitmo, Noor conceded that he had received extensive training at the camp on everything from light arms to artillery and anti-tank weaponry.
After completing Khalden’s training courses, Noor was selected to become an instructor. Noor quickly rose up the ranks at the camp, becoming its deputy emir and overseeing the training of both al Qaeda and Taliban members. In declassified memos, US officials note that Noor was referred to as the “70th Taliban commander,” but it is unclear what that means.
During his CSRT hearing at Gitmo, Noor did not deny that he was a Khalden trainer, but claimed the camp had nothing to do with al Qaeda. “[Y]es I did train the people,” he said, adding “I’m not the only trainer there, there were other trainers as well. Not everybody that comes to the camp is trained by me.” Noor elaborated: “The Khalden camp is a place to get training. It has nothing to do with al Qaeda….”
Noor’s denial of any affiliation between al Qaeda and the Khalden camp rings hollow.
Countless al Qaeda members and recruits trained at Khalden through the years, including some of the 9/11 hijackers. More than two dozen detainees at Gitmo once trained at Khalden. The truth is that Khalden did not serve exclusively as an al Qaeda training facility, but was also used to train Pakistani terrorist groups. Khalden’s trainers identified which recruits were best suited for Osama bin Laden’s operations.
Despite the demonstrable ties between the Khalden facility and al Qaeda’s core operations, Zubaydah has tried the same ploy as Noor. Zubaydah has erroneously claimed, through his attorneys and in testimony at Gitmo, that the Khalden facility was never officially an al Qaeda facility. Zubaydah has even tried to deny that he was an al Qaeda member.
Noor’s and Zubaydah’s claims are simply not credible. Zubaydah was not only the point man for al Qaeda’s millennium plots, but was also responsible for a thwarted plot against the American embassy in Paris in 2001. Zubaydah was involved in al Qaeda’s plotting against the US Homeland in 2002, too. After his capture, it was Zubaydah who initially identified Jose Padilla and other sleeper agents as al Qaeda operatives dispatched to the US to carry out attacks. Zubaydah also had detailed knowledge of the Sept.11 plot, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s role in masterminding it.
US courts have found that there is “no dispute that Abu Zubaydah was an al Qaeda operative and that Al Qaeda-related activities took place in his [Faisalabad] house.” [See LWJ report: Member of top al Qaeda operative’s cell denied habeas petition.]
At the safe house, Zubaydah and his cell were plotting attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against American forces in Afghanistan. Declassified documents prepared for Noor’s case at Guantanamo do not allege that he was involved in this plotting, but it would not be surprising to learn that he was, since he had been selected for specialized IED training.
The declassified memos do note that Noor was “was one of three veteran trainers at Khalden Camp in Afghanistan in 1998 who received a two-month training course on electronic firing devices.” At the camp, Noor learned about “electrical theory and basic electronic circuitry; simple remote control firing devices; timers; and, photocell firing devices.” And Noor “was expected to train other Mujahedin on electronics after the course.”
According to the memos, however, Noor’s “skill in electronics was average” and he “had difficulty making a circuit when given a schematic, but could probably make a device given enough time.” Noor “was not able to train others in electronics.”
Allegedly involved in plotting against American and Israeli targets
In the late 1990s, Noor was allegedly “assigned to participate in al Qaeda-planned attacks against unnamed United States military bases in Khobar and/or Dhahran.” It is not clear what al Qaeda intended, exactly. In 1996, Iranian-backed terrorists bombed the Khobar Towers, which housed US military personnel in Saudi Arabia. The US military subsequently relocated its Saudi bases. The purported al Qaeda attack was never launched.
Later, Noor allegedly became involved in Zubaydah’s plotting against Israel. One declassified memo reads:
[Noor] was going to participate in operations against Israel that a senior al Qaeda operative was planning in 2001 to take place at an unspecified time in the future. However, the detainee was captured with the senior al Qaeda operative in March 2002.
The “senior al Qaeda operative” mentioned is certainly Zubaydah. A biography of Zubaydah released by the Director of National Intelligence’s office notes:
At the time of his capture, Abu Zubaydah was trying to organize a terrorist attack in Israel and he had enlisted the help of [Abu Musab al] Zarqawi in finding a smuggling route into Israel for moving persons and materials.
In November 2001, Zubaydah helped Zarqawi and dozens of al Qaeda operatives escape into Iran, the DNI notes.
The DNI’s biography goes on to explain that “the $50,000 that Abu Zubaydah received from Saudi donors and passed to al Qaeda’s senior leadership for his Israel plot may have been used for the [Sept. 11] attacks.”
It was this Israel plot that Noor was allegedly selected to participate in. Despite passing on the funds to other al Qaeda senior leaders, Zubaydah continued his plotting against Israel until he was caught.
In all likelihood, so did Noor.
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