Police in Spain believe they have made some of the most significant arrests yet in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.
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A judge in Spain this weekend filed formal charges against eight alleged members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network, which is suspected of being behind the suicide hijacking raids.
Investigators believe the group's leader was Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, aka Abu Dahdah. They say Dahdah and the seven other suspects formed a cell in Spain that had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks and were planning their own their own strikes on U.S. interests across Europe.
The suspects "were directly linked to the preparation and carrying out of the attacks perpetrated by 'suicide pilots' on Sept. 11, 2001," Judge Baltasar Garzon said in his order Sunday.
The move followed more than 12 hours of questioning by the judge, who will prepare a case against the men and present it to a court for trial. Court officials said the process could take several years.
Garzon formally charged the men with membership in a terrorist organization — al Qaeda — and with document falsification, robbery and weapons possession.
He said they were guilty of "as many terrorism crimes as there were victims on Sept. 11." The men denied the charges.
Garzon said the accusations were based in part on telephone conversations intercepted before and after the attacks.
Authorities said today that a telephone tap in Spain picked up a coded telephone conversation in August about the impending Sept. 11 attacks.
At one end of the line in Madrid was a man known as Dahdah, whose phone was tapped. The man believed to have been on the other end goes by the name "Shakur." Police believe "Shakur" is a name used by one of suspected hijacking ringleader Mohamed Atta's former roommates in Germany. Authorities say Shakur was in on the attack planning, and described it in code on the call.
According to transcripts of the calls, Shakur says: "I have cut all communications and I am a lot more tranquil. I am taking classes and we're on the subject of aviation course and we have even cut the neck of the bird."
Vince Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism for the CIA, believes "the bird" discussed in the call may be the United States.
Entries in a diary found in Germany also linked Dahdah to Atta, Garzon said.
Seven of the eight suspects originally came from Muslim countries. Most were Spanish citizens, but police said they were investigating the authenticity of their citizenship papers.
Garzon said the men "formed part of an extremist Islamic group of a terrorist nature integrated in the support and development structure of the al Qaeda organization's criminal activities."
He said the group was involved in recruiting people for terrorist training and providing cover for Islamic militants in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. They also collected money for the organization, mainly through stolen credit cards and robberies, he said.
The suspects will remain in jail while Garzon prepares a case against them. —ABCNEWS & The Associated Press