New York: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has publicly withdrawn support for holding the trial of 9/11 terrorist suspects in Lower Manhattan, giving in to pressure mostly from New Yorkers and Wall Street.
Bloomberg had toed the line with Washington since November when US Attorney General Eric Holder decided to try al Qaeda suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants in the city of their alleged crime.
They are charged with plotting the September 11, 2001 attacks against the World Trade Centre in Manhattan and Pentagon outside Washington. The attacks left 2,973 people dead, with the vast majority of deaths in New York.
"It`s going to cost an awful lot of money and disturb an awful lot of people," Bloomberg said at a news conference on Tuesday in Brooklyn. "My hope is that the Attorney General and the President decide to change their mind."
Until Tuesday, Bloomberg had been demanding that Washington pay for the legal cost estimated at USD 275 million for the first year alone if the trial were to be held in a federal district court in Lower Manhattan, just blocks from the former site of the World Trade Centre now known as ground zero.
Former mayor Rudolf Giuliani openly opposed the idea while local residents have expressed strong sensitivity against such a trial, with memories of the 9/11 attacks still raw. Wall Street executives have also opposed the trial.
A White House spokesman told reporters on Thursday that President Barack Obama stands by Holder`s decision to try the five suspects in civilian courts.
"He agrees with the Attorney General`s opinion that ... (Mohammed) and others can be litigated successfully and securely in the United States of America," deputy spokesman Bill Burton told reporters travelling with Obama for an appearance in Tampa, Florida.
"Currently our federal jails hold hundreds of convicted terrorists, and the President`s opinion has not changed on that," he added.
Last week, some New York legislators suggested moving the trial to Governors Island, a former US Navy base in the New York harbour, or to a federal court in upstate New York.
Bloomberg`s remarks came after Republicans in US Congress had threatened to block US funding for the trial. Six US senators, including one Democrat, signed a letter this week urging Holder to rescind the decision to try the al Qaeda suspects in New York City.
The signers included Republican John McCain, independent Joe Lieberman and Democrat Jim Webb, a staunch advocate for national security.
They wrote that such a venue would provide the terrorist suspects "one of the most visible platforms in the world to exalt their past acts and to rally others in support of further terrorism", The New York Times quoted the letter as saying.
Bloomberg said a military base could be a better place than the city`s commercial and residential district.
The US Justice Department has not yet decided on a date for the trial and Mohammed and his co-defendants are still detained in the US Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Bringing some of the suspects to the US for trials is part of Obama`s decision to close the controversial detention facility in Guantanamo.