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Terrorism trials may be pushed out of New York City

WASHINGTON — Pressured by a growing clamor from New York, the Obama administration is considering moving the trial of Sept. 11 terror suspects away from Manhattan, where it had been scheduled to take place just blocks from the site of the twin towers attack.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said he thinks the trial won't take place anywhere in the city.

The Justice Department is drawing up plans for possible alternate locations to try professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices in case Congress or local officials prevent the trial from being held in Manhattan, two administration officials told the Associated Press on Friday. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deliberations.

Kelly told reporters that a backlash had made it "unlikely" the case would go forward in the city. He said plans to hold the trial there started to unravel after a speech he gave recently detailing the enormous costs and logistical challenges of ensuring security at the Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan.

Criticism of the plan, which had been announced by Attorney General Eric Holder last year, reached a crescendo this week when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reversed his earlier support. On his weekly radio show Friday, Bloomberg said he had spoken with "high level" people in the Obama administration about his concerns and they were "trying to do something."

Moving the trial would be a setback for President Barack Obama. His administration has spent weeks defending its handling of terror threats following the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner, a case that reignited the debate about whether such terror suspects should face civilian or military justice.

Obama has long supported trying some terrorists in federal, civilian court, while Republicans have argued that terrorists — including the five alleged Sept. 11 conspirators — should be tried in military tribunals where other Guantanamo Bay detainees will be judged.

When asked by reporters Thursday about the president's commitment to holding civilian trials, White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama believes Mohammed and his alleged accomplishes could be successfully and securely brought to justice in a federal court.

"Currently our federal jails hold hundreds of convicted terrorists, and the president's opinion has not changed on that," Burton said.

Possible venues for Sept. 11 trial

Some places that New York community activists and business groups have proposed as alternate locations for terrorism trials now planned for Manhattan federal court. None has received a blessing from federal officials.

• U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y.

• Stewart Air National Guard Base near Newburgh, N.Y., 60 miles north of New York City.

• FCI Otisville, a medium-security federal prison in Mount Hope, N.Y., about 70 miles northwest of New York City.

• The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

• Governor's Island, which is off Manhattan's tip and is a public park and historical site that hosts art exhibits, concerts and festivals.

• Sing Sing, the famous maximum security prison on the banks of the Hudson River.

Terrorism trials may be pushed out of New York City 01/29/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 29, 2010 11:38pm]
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