GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- A long-held Saudi captive pleaded guilty Thursday to terror charges for serving as a personal shopper for al-Qaida militants plotting attacks on ships in the Arabian Sea.
Ahmad al Darbi, 39, appeared in court in a button-down shirt and tie for the proceedings, which traded an undisclosed sentence at Guantánamo before return to his native Saudi Arabia. His attorney, Ramzi Kassem, announced that Darbi pleaded guilty to all the non-capital charges. They include terrorism, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects and hazarding a vessel.
In 2002, according to his charge sheet, Darbi bought navigational equipment and some vessels, mostly in the United Arab Emirates. They were intended to be used in an attack on a civilian oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in an al-Qaida campaign to damage the global economy.
Some of those resources ended up being used in an attack on the Malaysia-bound, French-flagged oil tanker the Limburg in Oct. 6, 2002 months after Darbis capture in Azerbaijan and arrival at Guantánamo. A Bulgarian crew member, Atanas Atanasov, 39, was killed.
The judge, Air Force Col. Mark L. Allred, systematically led the Saudi captive through his plea agreement in a morning session. In response to a series of questions, Darbi agreed he didnt have to be present at a crime to be responsible for it.
Reports from Yemen last year indicated that U.S. drone strikes killed two other men also blamed for the Limburg attack.
Darbis plea deal, signed Dec. 20, postponed actual sentencing. That suggests he could be used as a witness in the death-penalty trial of another Saudi Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, accused of plotting the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole off Yemen that killed 17 American sailors as well as the Limburg bombing.
The deal shows a flexing of the reach of the war court into international affairs. Prosecutors had argued that, because the goal of al-Qaidas Arabian Sea attacks was to damage the world economy, had it succeeded the American people would have suffered.
Darbi is at times described as the brother in law of one of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al Mihdhar, who crashed American Airlines flight 77 into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. In 1998, according to Darbis classified U.S. military profile, the two men married Yemeni sisters in a "double wedding ceremony."
Darbi looked fit, chunky in fact, as he sat in court alternately answering the judge in English and Arabic after a year-long hunger strike that has simmered in the prison camps. It was his first war court appearance since President Barack Obama took office.
Darbi was represented by his long-time defense attorney, Kassem, a City University of New York Law professor who came to the case during the Bush administration, and Navy Lt. Theresa Champ.