Professed mastermind of the September 11th attacks Khalid Sheik Mohammed will not be tried in a Lower Manhattan courtroom, but will instead be referred to a military tribunal.
The decision was announced Monday by Attorney General Eric Holder.
A federal law enforcement official tells NY1 the proceedings for Mohammed and four of his alleged co-conspirators will likely take place at the American base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
During an afternoon press briefing, Holder told reporters the adminstration's hands had been tied by Congress, which last year imposed what he says were "unwise and unwarranted" restrictions barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees onto U.S. soil.
“I know this case in a way that members of Congress do not," said Holder. "I’ve looked at the files. I’ve spoken to the prosecutors. I know the tactical concerns that have to go into this decision. So do I know better than them? Yes.”
He also said he stood by his original decision that the best place to try Mohammed was in Manhattan federal court.
“Look, I grew up in New York City, you know? I grew up in Queens, I went to school in Manhattan,” said the attorney general. "I had full confidence in the ability of the people of New York, the authorities of New York, to try this case safely and securely in New York City. If I didn't have that faith, I would have not made that initial determination. It is still my view that the case could have been tried in Manhattan."
Holder said it is unknown whether Mohammed and his co-conspirators can plead guilty in a military tribunal and still face the death penalty.
He did make clear he has confidence in the military system, and referred any specifics to the Department of Defense, which will now oversee the proceedings.
Original plans to try the men at a civilian trial here in the city drew controversy nationwide, including opposition from some of the victims' family members, law enforcement officials, and politicians including Mayor Michael Bloomberg over cost and security concerns.
"While we would have provided the security if we had to here in New York City, being spared the expense is good for us," Bloomberg said.
"It would have cost a lot of money because we're down 6,000 police officers. Everything we do requires overtime," said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. "But that was a legitimate, well thought out plan and process that we put in place. But I think this is a sound decision all around."
“It made no sense in the beginning to hold this trial, which would have had 2,000 checkpoints, in a neighborhood that is still just recovering from 9/11,” said Community Board 1 Chairwoman Julie Menin.
In a statement, Senator Charles Schumer said, in part, "While not unexpected, this is the final nail in the coffin of that wrong-headed idea. I have always said that the perpetrators of this horrible crime should get the ultimate penalty, and I believe this proposal by the administration can make that happen."
Still, civil libertarians and even some September 11th victims’ families said federal court was the right choice.
“The message that this sends to the world is that somehow we’re worried about what the result will be if we do it the right way,” said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“This is the proper place for them to be tried, right here where it happened, right here where the families can attend and watch the proceedings,” said Valerie Lucznikowska of the 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.
Last year, President Barack Obama asked the Department of Justice to consider other locations for the trial.
Holder said other alternative sites were explored, specifically the Otisville correctional facility upstate.