By Jane Sutton
MIAMI (Reuters) - Prosecutors in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals have filed new terrorism charges against a Saudi prisoner accused of plotting with al Qaeda to blow up oil tankers off the coast of Yemen, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
Ahmed al Darbi could face life in prison if convicted on six charges that include conspiracy, aiding and abetting the hazarding of a vessel and aiding and abetting terrorism.
Darbi, 37, is accused of working as a weapons instructor at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and meeting al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden there. He also is charged with abetting a plot to bomb civilian tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and off the coast of Yemen from 2000 to 2002.
Specifically, he is accused of using al Qaeda money to buy a boat and GPS navigational devices and helping obtain travel documents for al Qaeda operatives.
He also is accused of abetting the plot to bomb a French oil tanker, the MV Limburg, off Yemen in 2002. The blast killed a Bulgarian crewman and dumped tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Aden.
"Mr. al Darbi's alleged crimes are serious violations of the law of war that were committed to terrorize and wreak havoc on the world economy," Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo tribunals, said in a statement.
Darbi's lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Darbi, who was captured in Azerbaijan in 2002, said previously said he used his boat only to carry sheep across the Strait of Hormuz.
If Darbi were to plead guilty and cooperate with Guantanamo prosecutors in exchange for leniency, he could be a useful witness against another prisoner facing death penalty charges stemming from al Qaeda attacks on vessels.
That prisoner, alleged al Qaeda chieftain Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, is accused in the plot to attack the Limburg, as well as sending suicide bombers to ram a boat full of explosives into the side of the USS Cole in the Port of Aden in 2000. The attack on the U.S. warship killed 17 sailors.
Charges similar to those announced on Wednesday were filed against Darbi in 2007 and referred for trial in 2008 in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals. A lawyer familiar with the original charges said Darbi was given $50,000 of al Qaeda money to further the boats plot but spent a lot of it on prostitutes and drugs.
Those charges were dismissed in 2009 to give the Obama administration time to review its Guantanamo policy. President Barack Obama tried unsuccessfully to shut down the Guantanamo detention camp, which still holds 168 foreign prisoners, and move the prosecutions into U.S. civilian courts.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)