A federal grand jury in New York is now hearing evidence and testimony in the 9-11 terror case, NBCNewYork.com has learned. The Justice Deparment is moving forward in seeking an indictment against self-proclaimed 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other terror suspects.
The panel of everyday New Yorkers was convened after Attorney General Eric Holder announced the alleged 9-11 plotters would face civilian trial in New York instead of a military tribunal. If the alleged plotters are convicted, prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty.
Justice Department spokesmen in New York and Washington declined to comment. Spokesmen for the U.S. District Court and the FBI also would not comment.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other suspects are currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mohammed had been indicted in New York back in 1996 for his alleged role in an al Qaeda plot to blow up U.S. airliners over the Pacific.
It is unclear if prosecutors will only seek 9-11 related charges from this grand jury. Some experts say prosecutors could also include terror charges for the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and other past al Qaeda attacks overseas.
Other terror suspects to be sent to New York include:
Walid bin Attash who is accused of being selected as a hijacker but never made it to the United States. Officials said he took test runs on U.S. airliners overseas and also played a role in the USS Cole attack as well as the U.S. embassy bomings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Ramzi Binalhibh allegedly applied for flight training in Florida but also failed to enter the U.S. Investigators said he too played a key role in providing logistical support to the hijackers.
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi is accused of providing funding to the hijackers. And Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali is a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who is accused of also providing support to the hijackers.
Nearly 3,000 people were killing in the 9-11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The Obama administration has said it hopes to close Guantanamo Bay and moving several key suspects to New York for trial is a step towards closing the detention facility.
It is unclear when the suspects will be sent to New York. The Justice Department has to notify Congress 45 days in advance before moving the suspects to U.S. soil. Congressional sources said notification has not yet happened so the 45 day clock has not yet started ticking.
Critics have complained a civilian trial is a mistake claiming it makes New York an increased target for a terror attack. Others have said terrorists should face a military tribunal because the 9-11 attacks were an act of war, not a crime.
But supporters of a civilian trial have said the courts are the right place to try the suspects and a trial serves as a victory for the rule of law.
As for the grand jury, it is unclear when it might vote on the terror charges and any indictment could be weeks away.
by Jonathan Dienst