WASHINGTON – A Saudi accused of arranging financing for the Sept. 11 terrorist plot participants told a hearing he got money transfers from two hijackers inside the United States just hours before the attacks, said a transcript the Pentagon released Thursday.
But Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, who was based in the United Arab Emirates on Sept. 11, 2001, denied that he was a member of the Al Qaeda terrorist network and he also denied that he sent money to the hijackers.
He is one of 14 "high value" detainees who were transferred to Guantanamo last September after being held in secret CIA prisons abroad. The transcript of his Guantanamo hearing contained no reference to his detention; a portion in which he explained how he was captured in Pakistan in 2003 was censored by the Defense Department.
The hearing, held to determine whether he is an "enemy combatant" eligible to be charged with war crimes, was conducted March 21.
Al-Hawsawi said he was told by Al Qaeda operative Ramzi Binalshibh about the Sept. 11 plot one day in advance and was instructed to fly that same day from the UAE to Pakistan, where he met Binalshibh the following day. Binalshibh is one of the 14 sent to Guantanamo last September; his hearing was March 9 but he refused to attend and submitted no statement.
Asked by a member of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal his reaction to realizing he was "part of that operation," referring to the Sept. 11 attacks, al-Hawsawi replied, according to the transcript, "In the beginning I was surprised by the size of the operation. It was mostly a surprise to me."
The transcript does not fully explain the significance of the allegation that al-Hawsawi received thousands of dollars in money transfers from two of the hijackers shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks, other than establishing his association with them.
According to the office of the Director of National Intelligence, al-Hawsawi was one of two key financial facilitators entrusted by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who also is held at Guantanamo and has confessed to his role in the Sept. 11 plot — to manage the funding of the hijacking plan.
A published U.S. intelligence summary of al-Hawsawi's role said there are indications he had direct ties to Binalshibh and that Binalshibh delivered some of the money from al-Hawsawi to the hijackers. It also said four hijackers returned money directly to al-Hawsawi in the week before the attacks and that he received it in the UAE.
The intelligence summary said al-Hawsawi shared a UAE-based financial account with one hijacker, and that the account provided money for the hijackers' activities in the month before the attacks.
Al-Hawsawi told the hearing that he had met with four of the hijackers in the United Arab Emirates prior to Sept. 11, but he did not say when or provide details. Asked about the wire transfers of money from two of the hijackers, he said he did not know why he was sent the money, totaling $17,860, on Sept. 8 and 9.
U.S. authorities said hijackers Mohammad Atta and Waleed al-Shehri sent the money by Western Union from locations in Massachusetts and Maryland to money exchange offices in Sharjah, UAE, where al-Hawsawi had opened a post office box in June 2001, according to UAE General Postal Authority records.
The transcript said that recovered Western Union receipts show that in separate transactions, Atta sent $2,860 and $5,000 from Laurel, Md., on Sept. 8, and that fellow hijacker al-Shehri sent $5,000 from Logan Airport in Boston on Sept. 9 and another $5,000 the same day from a Greyhound Bus terminal in Boston.
At his hearing, al-Hawsawi acknowledged receiving the money transfers from the two men. Asked what he did with it, he replied, "I put it in my bank account in the United Arab Emirates. Only, I did not do anything else with it."
He spoke through a translator. The transcript covered the unclassified portion of the hearing; a classified session was held subsequently, for which no transcript has been released. The Pentagon is not permitting news organizations to attend the unclassified hearings for any of the 14 "high value" detainees at Guantanamo.