By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed allegedly didn't just come up with the idea of hijacking American airliners and flying them into buildings.
Mohammed also taught the future 9/11 hijackers how to get their lethal short-bladed knives past airport security, and he led them in practice massacres of sheep and camels in Pakistan and Afghanistan, federal prosecutors said.
These details and many more about the 9/11 plot were released Monday in a newly unsealed federal indictment against Mohammed and four other co-conspirators. The indictment against the five alleged plotters came out after US Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that they will be tried in a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, and not in Manhattan.
The charges included acts of terrorism, violence on and destruction of aircraft, aircraft piracy, murder of a United States officer and conspiracy to kill Americans. The crimes were committed "in an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner," Manhattan's US Attorney Preet Bharara said in the indictment.
A listing of the names of the 2,976 9/11 victims takes up nearly half of the 81-page document.
The indictment focuses on Mohammed, a Pakistani engineer who attended college in the United States and was allegedly a close associate of Osama bin Laden.
Mohammed allegedly suggested the plot to bin Laden in 1999 and became its "operational leader," the indictment charges. He worked in the "media" branch of Al Qaeda, producing recruitment and informational brochures to spread the call for violence against Americans, the indictment says.
Mohammed was denied a visa to the United States in July 2001, so he allegedly managed the attack from abroad, coaching the future hijackers on their cover stories and instructing them to take practice flights crisscrossing the United States. He also allegedly organized a final preparation meeting of some of the hijackers in Las Vegas in August 2001.
The indictment also builds a case against Walid bin Attash, an alleged member of Osama bin Laden's security detail. The two were together in Afghanistan on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when they first heard that the planes had slammed into the World Trade Center, the indictment says.
Bin Laden instructed bin Attash to immediately go to the Tora Bora caves to begin digging trenches and stockpiling food and ammunitions, anticipating the United States attack, the indictment says.
Attash also allegedly tested airplane security measures prior to 9/11 by carrying a pocketknife aboard a United Airlines flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok on Dec. 31, 1999. On either that flight or the return trip the following day, Attash allegedly approached the cockpit to see how close he could get to the pilot.
Another alleged co-conspirator named in the indictment is Ramzi bin Al-Shibh, who allegedly was supposed to be one of the hijackers but failed to obtain a visa. Instead, he helped the hijackers by sending them money, the indictment says.
The other two alleged plotters are Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, who also sent money to the hijackers, and Mustafa Al-Hawsawi, who helped the hijackers travel to the United States, prosecutors said.