The Qatari man designated an enemy combatant by the Bush administration was planning another Sept. 11-style attack, sources told ABCNEWS.
Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, 37, was deemed an enemy combatant by the Bush administration on Monday after officials said he was positively identified by an al Qaeda detainee as being part of a planned second wave of terror attacks on the United States. Government officials said they believed al Qaeda's top leadership sent Al-Marri to the United States to coordinate a new round of attacks.
"Al-Marri was sent to the United States as a facilitator for other al Qaeda individuals who would come in to conduct follow-on attacks," Attorney General John Ashcroft told ABCNEWS.
Sources told ABCNEWS that recently captured senior al Qaeda operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed confirmed Al-Marri's mission to U.S. officials. Mohammed has provided a great deal of information about al Qaeda's presence in the United States, officials said.
New Designation Favors Government
Government officials told ABCNEWS that Al-Marri — a Qatari native who had been living in Peoria, Ill. — repeatedly tried to contact an al Qaeda leader suspected of helping finance the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. Officials said that when FBI agents searched Al-Marri's Peoria home, they found dozens of credit card numbers on his laptop, information on toxic chemicals, and an almanac with a variety of potential attack targets, including dams and railroads.
Al-Marri had been in custody in the civilian court system since December 2001, first as a material witness and later on charges of lying to the FBI and credit card fraud. He first attracted the FBI's attention when officials received a tip in October 2001 that he might be involved in terrorism.
As a designated enemy combatant, Al-Marri is in the custody of the Defense Department, has no right to legal representation afforded defendants in civilian court and could be held by the military indefinitely, possibly to face trial by military tribunal.
Protecting Classified Information
Sources told ABCNEWS that government officials transferred Al-Marri to military custody for two reasons: They want to try to force him to talk, and in civilian court defense attorneys for Al-Marri would be able to call senior al Qaeda officials as witnesses. Government officials do not want al Qaeda leaders to testify about classified information in open court.
Al-Marri's attorneys said he is innocent and that the government cannot prove its terrorism case against him. Al-Marri is the third person designated an enemy combatant since the Sept. 11 attacks, and the only one who is not a U.S. citizen.
The other two are Jose Padilla, who is accused of being involved in a plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States, and Yaser Esam Hamdi, a Louisiana native captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
ABCNEWS' Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.