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.