An accused 9/11 plotter was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial

Sep 5, 2023 7:34 AM PDT
3 minute read

Steel Skeleton of World Trade Center Tower South (one) in Ground Zero days after September 11, 2001 terrorist attack which collapsed the 110 story twin towers in New York City, NY, USA. (Getty Images)


Ramzi bin al-Shibh has long denied his mental illness, instead demanding to have his day in court along with other defendants, which includes 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

A Yemeni citizen accused of being one of the central planners of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington has been deemed unfit for trial by a military medical board. Ramzi bin al-Shibh has been in U.S. custody since he was captured in Karachi, Pakistan, a year to the day after the attacks. 

Al-Shibh’s sanity has been just one of many hurdles facing prosecutors in the series of capital cases faced by inmates at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay since 2008, according to the New York Times. He and his military-appointed attorney have filed complaints against his treatment at the hands of the CIA, accusing the agency of using psychoactive drugs and sleep deprivation measures against him. 

Ramzi bin al-Shibh has long denied his mental illness, instead demanding to have his day in court along with other defendants, which includes 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. 

It’s widely believed al-Shibh was supposed to be one of the hijackers aboard United Flight 93, which crashed to the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, that morning. That flight had only four hijackers, which is why many believe the passengers were able to overpower their captors.  

Ramzi bin al-Shibh

American intelligence believes Al-Shibh’s history with al-Qaeda goes back long before the September 11th attacks. In the 1990s, he attempted to come to the United States but his visa was denied, so he went to Germany instead. There, he met Egyptian Mohammed Atta at a mosque in Hamburg. Atta would become the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers, and flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center that day. 

Al-Shibh flew to Afghanistan in 1999 to train at an al-Qaeda training camp, where he met other conspirators planning the terror attacks of 2001. From there, he is believed to have had a role in the 2000 USS Cole bombing and the 2002 bombing of a synagogue in Tunisia. Unlike the other conspirators who would come to the U.S. for flight training for the 9/11 plot, Al-Shibh could not get a visa, so he stayed in Germany. His role was changed to be a link between operatives in the U.S. and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Afghanistan. 

As the others trained at their flight schools and planned the attacks, Al-Shibh maintained communication with them and transferred the money needed to complete their training. His role might not have been discovered if the U.S. hadn’t found his suicide bomber videotape while searching the destroyed home of Mohammed Atef near Kabul in January 2002.

U.S. Intelligence found five videotapes of suicide bombing suspects they believed were still planning future attacks. Just days after the videotapes were discovered, Al-Shibh became one of the names on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list. The CIA got a break when they captured Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian who planned and executed attacks in Africa Jordan, and had attempted to blow up Los Angeles Airport. 

World Trade Center Tribute in Lights with Freedom Tower and Statue of Liberty in background. (Getty Images)

Zubaydah was sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, where he was waterboarded. The interrogation of Zubayda led the CIA to Pakistan, where Ramzi bin al-Shibh was operating. The CIA’s Special Activities Division and Pakistani ISI captured al-Shibh at a safe house in Karachi on Sept. 11, 2002, and flew him to Morocco, where he was interrogated. In 2006, he was transported to Guantanamo Bay.

Among the evidence against Al-Shibh is a 2002 interview with Al-Jazeera television. He and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed sat down with Egyptian journalist Yosri Fouda and laid out exactly how the attacks were planned and carried out. There is also a 2006 al-Qaeda video that points out Al-Shibh as the coordinator of the September 11 attacks.

Al-Shibh and four others faced trials in front of military commissions, but because he was the only one who wouldn’t attend his own commissions, his mental health was repeatedly challenged. The latest ruling on his mental health leaves a lot of questions for his future as a detainee.


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