FORT MEADE, Maryland (AP) — A Guantanamo Bay prisoner pleaded guilty Thursday to war crimes charges for helping plan the suicide bombing of an oil tanker off Yemen in 2002 that killed a crewman and wounded a dozen others.
At an arraignment before a U.S. military judge, Ahmed al-Darbi of Saudi Arabia pleaded guilty to the five charges against him including terrorism, attacking civilians and hazarding a vessel for complicity in the al-Qaida attack on the French-flagged MV Limburg.
Al-Darbi is a relative by marriage to one of the Sept. 11 hijackers who crashed a plane into the Pentagon. He's been at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since August of 2002; the attack actually took place two months later. But prosecutors said he was an al-Qaida operative who attended the group's training camps and helped arrange the bombing by, among other things, buying small boats intended to be used to attack the tanker.
"Mr. al-Darbi was not present ... did not actually physically take part in the attack, but he is guilty" under U.S. law for aiding and abetting those who did, the presiding judge, Air Force Col. Mark L. Allred, said as he repeatedly explained the law to al-Darbi. Speaking to al-Darbi through an interpreter, Allred said he couldn't accept the guilty pleas until he was sure the accused completely understood them; and the judge spent close to two hours going over the case — charge by charge — and questioning al-Darbi on them.
Flanked by his civilian and military lawyers, the 39-year-old al-Darbi wore a white dress shirt and a tie and repeatedly answered "yes, your honor" to signify his understanding to Allred.
"Do you understand that you are legally responsible for these actions?" Allred asked.
"Yes," al-Darbi said.
The arraignment was in Cuba but was viewed by some journalists via closed circuit at Fort Meade military base near Baltimore.
Prosecutors said that from 1996 to mid-2003, al-Darbi associated with members of al-Qaida including former head Osama bin Laden and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Al-Nashiri is also in the Guantanamo Bay prison and faces terror charges in the tanker bombing and for allegedly orchestrating the 2000 al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 sailors and wounded 37.
Al-Darbi bought the boat that was loaded with explosives and detonated alongside the Limburg, prosecutors also said. In addition to admitting that Thursday, al-Darbi also acknowledged that he obtained visas for the Yemeni attack operatives, helped trained them and hired the boat crew, among other things.