Spanish Judge Indicts Bin Laden for Ties to 9/11

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Spain's leading investigating judge issued the first known indictment against Usama bin Laden (search) in the Sept. 11 attacks on Wednesday, accusing Al Qaeda of using the country as a base to plot the devastating strikes on New York and Washington.

Investigative magistrate Baltasar Garzon indicted 35 people for terrorist activities connected to bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. In a nearly 700-page document, Garzon wrote that Spain served "as a place or base for resting, preparation, indoctrinating, support and financing" of Al Qaeda.

The indictment charged bin Laden and nine others with membership in a terrorist organization and "as many crimes of terrorist murder ... as there were dead and injured" in the deadly Sept. 11 attacks.

Bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan, is under indictment in the United States for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and is the object of a manhunt by thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops and Afghan forces.

Justice Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. government did not play a direct role in the Spanish indictment. But the officials did say that the United States and its European allies have been sharing vast amounts of information on Al Qaeda and the investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks. Some of that may have been used to build the case in Spain.

There are no indications that U.S. prosecutors will seek an indictment of bin Laden in the Sept. 11 attacks any time soon. U.S. officials believe they have the legal tools necessary to arrest him with the existing indictment in the 1998 embassy bombings as well as the Defense Department's authority to detain enemy combatants.

Garzon said terrorism is one of the crimes included in Spain's universal justice legislation, under which some offenses, such as crimes against humanity, can be tried here even if they were committed elsewhere.

Garzon, who is known for taking on high-profile cases and has been accused of being hungry for publicity, has used this law to try to prosecute abuses under military rule in Chile and Argentina.

The list of 35 indicted Wednesday includes Tayssir Alouni, the Al-Jazeera journalist arrested Sept. 8 in Spain, and Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, who was accused of leading an Al Qaeda cell in Spain and was arrested in Madrid in November 2001.

Six others believed to be in Spain also were indicted, but not all will be jailed, according to the document, which was obtained by The Associated Press. Garzon ratified jailing orders for 11 already in prison in Spain.

Three of the 10 suspects accused of Sept. 11 involvement are in Spain -- two in jail and one out on bail.

Garzon also accused the suspects of belonging to a terrorist group and other crimes, including weapons possession, tax fraud and forgery.

Others on the indictment list include Ramzi Binalshibh (search), another leader of the Hamburg, Germany, cell that helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks. He was arrested in Pakistan in September 2002 and is in U.S. custody.

Along with Germany, Spain is known to have been an important staging ground for the Sept. 11 attacks. Accused ringleader and suicide pilot Mohamed Atta (search) visited Spain in July 2001 and is believed to have held a key planning meeting with other participants in the northeastern Spanish region of Tarragona.

Garzon said the indictments are not so much aimed at putting bin Laden on trial in Spain as preventing him and others from escaping justice altogether if they are caught.

"When this happens, that will be the time establish priority of jurisdiction," Garzon wrote. He also said at least one Spaniard died in the attack on the World Trade Center.

Garzon said the activities by the suspects were geared toward setting up Al Qaeda networks in Spain and elsewhere in Europe, and developing and financing these cells. All this, Garzon said, culminated in Sept. 11.

While preparations for 9-11 attacks were being made in the United States, Britain and Germany, the details were finalized in Spain, Garzon said.

"During the summer of 2001, meetings take place and culminate in the 'summit' between Mohamed Atta and Ramzi Binalshibh" in northeast Spain in July, he said.

Reed Brody, an international justice expert with Human Rights Watch in New York, said Garzon indeed has the right to indict bin Laden.

"The crimes of bin Laden are the kind that any country is allowed to prosecute. No one has a monopoly on the right to bring bin Laden to justice," Brody said.

Emilio Viano, professor for international criminal justice at American University in Washington, said Garzon's action is not without risks.

"The danger is that so many countries will want to try these cases that what we'll have is ineffective piecemeal trials. But the benefit is that we are beginning to expand the reach of justice."

Viano said he believed this was the first indictment of bin Laden in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the United States, bin Laden is charged in an indictment returned by a grand jury in New York stemming from the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, that killed more than 200 people.

The only person charged in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States is Zacarias Moussaoui (search).

Bin Laden has been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in U.S. court documents in other cases involving Al Qaeda, such as the prosecution of Moussaoui.

Garzon has been leading the investigation in Spain into alleged members of Al Qaeda and other militant Islamic groups. He had Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet arrested in London but failed in 1999 to take him to court. Britain ultimately freed the aged former dictator on grounds he was unfit to stand trial.