Al Jazeera Reporter Charged in Spain of Being Al Qaeda Member

A Spanish judge on Thursday formally charged a top reporter for Al Jazeera of being a member of Al Qaeda, saying he carried out "support, financing and coordination" for the terrorist network.

Investigating judge Baltasar Garzon (search) charged Tayssir Alouni (search), 48, with membership in an armed group and ordered him held in the high-security Soto del Real prison near Madrid after a 72-hour extension of his arrest expired, the National Court said. Alouni was not present during the hearing.

"Removed from his work as a journalist, but taking advantage of it, he carries out support, financing and coordination, which are the characteristics of a qualified militant of the organization," Garzon's statement read.

The charge will be followed by a more detailed indictment. In the Spanish legal system, investigating judges issue the indictments against defendants, who then go to a full trial.

Alouni's wife, Fatima Zohra Hamed Layesi, burst into tears upon learning the news.

Al Jazeera has been criticized by some Western governments as being too biased toward Islamic militants, but the network's standing among Arab viewers also has given it remarkable access to extremist groups. On Wednesday, the network showed exclusive footage it obtained of Usama bin Laden — the first new images of the terrorist leader in nearly two years.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera reported that one of its Baghdad correspondents, Atwar Bahjat (search), was detained by the U.S. military while covering explosions in Baghad that went off while she was in the area. The U.S. military said an Al Jazeera reporter was detained for breaking one of its "ground rules" for coverage, but did not elaborate.

Alouni was arrested Friday in Alfacar, a southern town close to Granada. Garzon had extended his detention on Monday after quizzing the reporter for three hours. The delay gave police more time to investigate paper and electronic documents seized when Alouni was arrested.

Garzon has been leading the investigation in Spain into alleged members of the Al Qaeda and other militant Islamic groups.

Alouni was arrested while in Spain to look into opening an office for Al Jazeera.

He is a well-known war correspondent in the Mideast for the Qatar-based Arabic satellite television network and has covered the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Alouni was born in Syria but has had Spanish nationality for more than 16 years.

Meanwhile in Damascus, a group of Syrian journalists staged a sit-in outside the Spanish Embassy on Thursday to protest Alouni's arrest. They called it "an aggression against journalistic rights and freedoms."

Al Jazeera sent a letter this week to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar calling on him to release Alouni.

"On several occasions Western journalists met secretly with secret organizations and they were not subjected to any legal action because they were doing their job, so why is Alouni being excluded?," the letter said.

Before working for Al Jazeera, Alouni worked at the Arab-language service of Efe, Spain's new agency.

Police are investigating whether Alouni provided support to alleged members of an Al Qaeda cell in Spain, including Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, considered to be the leader of the cell.

Barakat Yarkas and seven others were arrested on Nov. 13, 2001 and were directly linked to "the preparation and carrying out" of the Sept. 11 attacks. They are still in custody.