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A judge in Spain targets bin Laden

He says '01 terror acts were partially planned in Spain

Baltasar Garzon
Baltasar Garzon

MADRID, Spain — He has already tried to prosecute the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, as well as dozens of military officers accused of atrocities in Argentina's so-called dirty war. Now Spain's most renowned judge, Baltasar Garzon, has set his sights on Osama bin Laden.

On Wednesday, Garzon charged bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida, and nine people identified as members of the terror network, with committing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and other acts of terrorism.

"Even though international detention orders have been issued by other countries," Garzon said his own order was needed "to help ensure they are brought to justice when they are located and arrested." His comment was in the 700-page document that outlines the case against the 10 charged on Wednesday, as well as 25 other men, some already in custody. He further justifies the order on the grounds that the terrorist acts were "planned partially in Spain," which, he writes, "has long served as a base for preparation, indoctrination, support, finance and organization for the al-Qaida network."

Mohamed Atta, one of the main Sept. 11 hijackers, is believed to have met with another planner of the attacks, Ramzi Binalshibh, in Spain in 2001. And the American authorities have warned that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, al-Qaida's chief of operations, had a viable network in Spain. Binalshibh and Mohammed are both in American custody.

The document Garzon released on Wednesday lays out the case that a correspondent for al-Jazeera, Tayssir Alouni, and 11 other men arrested since November 2001 constituted an active Spanish Qaida cell that was instrumental in planning the Sept. 11 attacks. As evidence, he cites various telephone conversations between the men and al-Qaida leaders.

The Spanish magistrate, a former junior minister under the former Socialist government, has a high-profile history of pursuing cases beyond Spain's boundaries, thanks to a Spanish constitutional provision affording "universal jurisdiction" in prosecuting crimes against humanity.

In October of 1998, Garzon persuaded the British authorities to arrest Pinochet, hoping to have him extradited to Spain for trial on charges of human rights abuses. The general was eventually deemed unfit to stand trial.

This spring, Garzon successfully petitioned Mexico to extradite a former Argentine military officer, Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, accusing him of committing atrocities under the Argentine dictatorship, which lasted from 1976 to 1983. Cavallo is in jail awaiting trail.

In July, the judge asked Argentina to arrest 39 officers and one civilian accused of genocide, torture and terrorism during the dirty war. But the Spanish government, saying it believed that Argentina would prosecute, decided not to press the case.