WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced Tuesday that it planned to charge an Ethiopian educated in the United States and Britain with war crimes, including an alleged Al Qaeda plot to unleash a "dirty bomb" and blow up apartment buildings in U.S. cities.
Binyam Mohammed, whose repatriation to Britain was sought by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last year, could face life in prison if convicted on the charges of conspiracy and material support for terrorism.
The Pentagon charge sheet alleged that Mohammed, 29, was selected by Al Qaeda leaders for "a specialized terrorist mission" because of his British residency, his proficiency in English and his training as an electrical engineer.
Mohammed allegedly plotted with other Al Qaeda operatives in building remote-controlled explosive devices in Pakistan and Afghanistan and planned to unleash a radioactive "dirty bomb" against an unspecified U.S. location.
His attorneys, in a statement released by the British legal rights group Reprieve, condemned the charges as part of a Pentagon "rush to charge as many people as possible at Guantanamo Bay prior to President Bush leaving office."
"The least the British government can do is insist that no British resident be charged in a kangaroo court on evidence tortured out of him with a razor blade," said Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve director and attorney.
Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002 and taken by the CIA to Morocco, where he was beaten, handcuffed, hung from poles during prolonged interrogations and cut with a scalpel on his genitals and else- where on his body, his attorneys say.
His mental state has deteriorated gravely in isolation at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, attorneys have reported.
One of two British residents still at Guantanamo, Mohammed was said by the Pentagon to have conspired with Jose Padilla, the U.S. citizen and former Chicago gang member who was convicted by a federal court jury in Florida last year of conspiracy and material support for terrorism. Padilla, 37, was sentenced to 17 years in prison in January.
The charge sheet also alleged that Mohammed and Padilla were instructed by confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is to be arraigned on capital charges at Guantanamo Bay on Thursday, to rent apartments in large U.S. cities and devise plans to seal off ventilation, fill the corridors and air ducts with natural gas, then blow them up.
On Monday, the Pentagon announced war crimes charges against another Guantanamo detainee, Mohammed Hashim, bringing to 19 the number of terrorism suspects facing prosecution. Hashim, a 31-year-old Afghan, will be charged with spying and providing material support to terrorism, if the tribunal's convening authority approves the charges and forwards the case to Guantanamo for trial.
The prison at the U.S. base in southern Cuba holds 270 men, and prosecutors have indicated they intend to try about 80 of them at the first U.S. war crimes tribunal since World War II.