Pentagon prosecuting Saudi at Guantánamo for 2002 French oil tanker bombing

Air Force Col. Mark L. Allred, military judge.
Air Force Col. Mark L. Allred, military judge.

The Pentagon has decided to go forward with a war crimes case against a Saudi man accused of planning the suicide bombing of an oil tanker off Yemen that took place two months after he was already imprisoned at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Ahmed Darbi, 39, will face charges at a military commission within 30 days of being read the charges at Guantánamo, the Pentagon said in a brief announcement Wednesday.

Darbi was captured in June 2002 and got to Guantánamo on Aug. 5, 2002, according to his Guantánamo prisoner profile obtained by McClatchy from the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks organization.

Two months later, a suicide bomber attacked a French oil tanker, the Limburg, near Mukallah, Yemen, on Oct. 6, 2002 — killing Bulgarian crew member Atanas Atanasov, and wounding 12 other workers on the ship.

Darbi is to be charged with terrorism, attacking civilians and other war crimes for allegedly planning, aiding and abetting “a course of conduct that resulted in the suicide bombing of the civilian oil tanker,” the Pentagon announcement said.

The Guantánamo war crimes prosecutor initially proposed charging Darbi at the war court in August 2012, reviving a Bush-era prosecution that was dropped when the Obama administration decided to reform the controversial military tribunals. But the senior official with oversight of the war crimes trials only chose to approve it this week, according to the Defense Department.

Darbi has been described as the brother-in-law of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers because his wife, the mother of his two children, is the sister of a hijacker’s widow.

He was last seen at the Guantánamo war court on the eve of Obama’s inauguration in 2008, where he faced similar, since-withdrawn charges.

At that time, he held up a newspaper photo of Obama and said he hoped the new president would make good on his pledge to close the detention center in southeast Cuba that today holds 155 prisoners.

The Darbi case now becomes the third active case at the war court.

The chief war court judge, Army Col. James Pohl, is holding pretrial hearings in the complex, conspiracy prosecution of five alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack as well as the trial of another Saudi, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is accused of plotting the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole warship off Yemen as well as the Limburg bombing.

Both those cases seek the death penalty against those six men. Darbi could face a maximum of life in prison if he’s convicted at trial.

Pohl has assigned Air Force Col. Mark L. Allred, a University of Utah educated lawyer and military judge, to handle the arraignment. Allred scheduled the hearing for 9 a.m. on Feb. 20 at Camp Justice's maximum-security courtroom where spectators can hear the proceedings on a 40-second delay.

Darbi’s military and civilian attorneys did not respond to an email request for a comment.

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