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9/11 Mastermind Could Escape Death Penalty With New Plea Deal

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 terror attacks, may escape the death penalty by cooperating with a lawsuit filed by victims seeking damages from Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed has indicated he is willing to cooperate with the lawsuit, according to a letter filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by lawyers representing the 9/11 victims.

Saudi Arabia has continued to deny any involvement in the terrorist attacks which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people in 2001, after hijacked planes struck New York's World Trade and the Pentagon. Another plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, after passengers intervened on a flight headed for the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, is seen shortly after his capture during a raid in Pakistan. Source: AAP Photos.

The victims allege the Saudi government supported and funded the 9/11 attacks and the lawsuit is being led by New York attorney James Kreindler.

According to the letter filed by the lawyers, they have been in contact with five people being held in federal custody, including Mohammed, as well as another being housed in Guantanamo Bay. Another two are held in a maximum security prison in Colorado.

Who is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

From the age of 16, Mohammed was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist organisation founded in Egypt. The movement aims to establish state ruled by Sharia law.

Mohammed studied in the U.S., earning a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering in 1986 at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

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According to a 2009 Washington Post article, Mohammed's time in the U.S. contributed significantly to his radicalisation, leading him to believe it was a racist and depraved nation.

He travelled to the Philippines in 1994, allegedly to work with his nephew on what is known as the Bojinka plot, a plan to target U.S. citizens flying between the U.S. and Asia by destroy commercial airliners with bombs. The plot has been identified as the framework for the tactics later used in 9/11.

Photo: AAP.

The plot was stopped after the terrorist planning the attack was arrested and the plot uncovered.

Mohammed was placed on the FBI's most-wanted list as a result of his involvement with the plot.

In 1996, he fled to Afghanistan and formed a relationship with Osama Bin Laden, who encouraged him to become a member of Al Qaeda. Mohammed outlined the first plans for 9/11 in a 1996 meeting with Bin Laden, and permission to organise the plot was first given in early 1999.

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Mohammed was involved in selecting the terrorists who would carry out the attack, including lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, the oldest of the 19 hijackers at 33 years old.

Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 following both the 9/11 attacks and his involvement in the beheading of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl, who had gone in search of the Al Qaeda network in Karachi.

In this sketch by a courtroom artist, the September 11, 2001 attacks co-conspirator suspects (left) attend their arraignment inside the war crimes courthouse at Camp Justice, the legal complex of the US Military Commissions, at Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, in Cuba, on June 5, 2008. Photo: AAP.

He has been held in Guantanamo Bay since 2006, after being detained in a CIA black site in Poland after his initial arrest. During his time in the CIA prison, he was subjected to waterboarding 183 times and was forced to endure sleep deprivation for over a week.

Mohammed has also confessed to involvement in a number of other terrorist plots -- failed and successful -- including the Bali nightclub bombings in 2002.

Kreindler said it is unclear how useful Mohammed will be in contributing information to the case, but stated his questioning is part of a thorough investigation.

"We're just really leaving no stone unturned," he said.

Photo: AAP.

It is also unclear at this point if President Donald Trump, who has close relationships with Saudi leaders, will allow a plea deal for Mohammed to provide evidence to the case.

However, the upcoming 2020 election may place increased pressure on the President to waive Mohammed's death penalty.