(Adds sentencing and base background, prosecutor quote)
By Medina Roshan
FORT MEADE, Md. Feb 20 The brother-in-law of a
Sept. 11, 2001, aircraft hijacker pleaded guilty in a U.S.
military court on Thursday to plotting with al Qaeda to blow up
oil tankers in the Middle East.
The guilty plea by Ahmed al Darbi, a 39-year-old Saudi,
marks a victory for U.S. military prosecutors who have battled
legal troubles surrounding the tribunal system at the Guantanamo
Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.
Judge Mark Allred, an Air Force colonel, accepted al Darbi's
plea to all six war-crime charges, made through his attorney
"This commission finds you guilty of all the charges and
specifications," Allred told al Darbi, who had a short beard and
wore a white shirt and tie.
The maximum penalty for al Darbi is life in prison and a
fine, but under a plea agreement, he will serve another nine to
Sentencing will take place in 3-1/2 years, giving al Darbi
time to complete the terms of his plea agreement, which include
cooperating with U.S. authorities.
Under the terms of his plea deal, al Darbi would be
repatriated to Saudi Arabia in four years, or six months after
his scheduled sentencing, to serve out his term in a Saudi
Captured in 2002, al Darbi had faced charges that included
attempted terrorism, terrorism and attacking civilians.
He was accused of working as a weapons instructor at an al
Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and of meeting al
Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden there.
Al Darbi was suspected of using al Qaeda money to buy a boat
and GPS navigational devices, and of helping al Qaeda operatives
obtain travel documents.
He was charged with abetting a plot to bomb civilian tankers
in the Strait of Hormuz and off Yemen from 2000 to 2002. He was
accused of assisting in the 2002 plot to bomb a French oil
tanker off Yemen, which killed a crewman and dumped tens of
thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Aden.
Al Darbi was accused of working with Guantanamo detainee Abd
al-Rahim al Nashiri to carry out the attacks.
Nashiri, a Saudi, is charged with masterminding a suicide
bombing in 2000 on the USS Cole at Aden, Yemen, that killed 17
The guilty plea and evidence "affirm that (al Darbi's)
nearly 12 years of detention as an unprivileged belligerent
under the law of war have been grounded in strong legal
authority and fact," Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief
prosecutor, said in a statement.
Al Darbi is married to a sister of Khalid al Mihdar, who
helped hijack American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into
the U.S. Defense Department's Pentagon headquarters in 2001.
The hearing at Guantanamo Bay was transmitted via
closed-circuit television to Fort Meade, an Army base outside
Al Darbi's guilty plea is the sixth by a Guantanamo
defendant. Ali Hamza al Bahlul, the former publicist for slain
al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and Salim Hamdan, bin Laden's
driver, have had their convictions overturned by an appeals
The Guantanamo Bay prison was opened by President George W.
Bush in 2002 to hold terrorism suspects rounded up overseas. It
has 155 prisoners, most of whom have languished for a decade or
more without being charged or tried.
President Barack Obama has pressed forward with military
tribunals in the hope that they will add legal validity to the
detentions while he tries to persuade Congress to close the
The military commissions have been beset with procedural
delays and questions about the system's legitimacy.
Among the cases that have been hindered are efforts to
prosecute the group of suspected plotters of the four
coordinated attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, in
which nearly 3,000 people died.
(Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Bernadette Baum and