British victims support death penalty in 9/11 case

Relatives of British victims of the September 11 terror attacks welcomed news that prosecutors will push for the death penalty in the New York trials of five alleged plotters.

Relatives of British victims of the September 11 terror attacks welcomed news that prosecutors will push for the death penalty in the New York trials of five alleged plotters.

But bereaved relatives in the United States questioned the decision to hold the trial of alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others in a federal courtroom just blocks away from where the World Trade Centre once stood.

Attorney General Eric Holder said he fully expected prosecutors to seek the death penalty in all five of the cases relating to the 2001 attack in New York.

He also announced that a further five alleged terrorists currently held at Guantanamo Bay, including a major suspect in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, will face a military trial.

Norman Thompson lost his son, Cantor Fitzgerald stockbroker Nigel Thompson, in the attack on lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001.

Speaking from his Sheffield home, Mr Thompson said: "We will never get closure, the sentence we were handed is for the rest of our lives.

"But if they do try him and find him guilty and say, 'yes, the death penalty' we wouldn't disagree with that."

Graham Berkeley died aged 37 when the plane he was in struck the second tower.

His father Charles Berkeley, 77, from Shrewsbury, said it was better that the suspects were tried in court than remain at Guantanamo Bay.

But he added that it would bring no comfort to his family.

"The loss will be the same," Mr Berkeley said.

As to the sentence that awaits Mohammed and others if found guilty, the grieving father said: "Whatever they decide we will go along with that. As long as it is a fair trial."

But US citizen Lee Ielpi, whose firefighter son died in the attacks, said the city's wounds were simply still too raw for the trial to be held there.

He said: "If we have to bring them to the US, New York City is not the place to have it, let alone in a courthouse that is in the shadows of the twin towers.

"Ripping that scab open will create a tremendous hardship."

Despite the protests, some city leaders welcomed the move.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it was "fitting" that the suspects "face justice near the World Trade Centre site where so many New Yorkers were murdered".

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly added that holding the trial in the city most devastated by the 2001 attack was appropriate, and pledged that the city's police were prepared to meet any security challenge.

Bringing Mohammed and others to the US to face a civilian trial is a key part of the White House's plan to close the controversial detention centre in Cuba.

But opponents have argued that treating the men as normal criminal suspects will give them the opportunity to espouse their extremist views in open court.

Speaking in Japan prior to the announcement, President Barack Obama said: "I am absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subjected to the most exacting demands of justice."

Mohammed has previously admitted to interrogators that he was the architect of the plot that saw close to 3,000 innocent victims killed when two planes were flown into the twin towers.

It is alleged that he told agents that he suggested the idea to Osama bin Laden as early as 1996. He went on to fund the attacks, train hijackers and oversee the operation, it is claimed.

He will be tried alongside Waleed bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali.

Those facing prosecution under military law include Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the man prosecutors claim was behind the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000, killing 17 sailors and injuring many more.

The civilian trials could shed light on some of the interrogation techniques used by US agents at Guantanamo Bay.

It is reported that Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding - the simulated drowning of suspects - 183 times in 2003 before the practice was banned.

Moving the trial to New York is seen by some as a risk on behalf of the US government. Defence lawyers are likely to claim that their defendants are unlikely to get a fair trial in a courtroom so close to the heart of the attacks.

Opponents to the closing of Guantanamo Bay have also said that moving the suspects to US soil puts Americans at greater risk.

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