Police in Spain believe they have made some of the most significant arrests yet in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.
MORE INVESTIGATIVE NEWS:
• Two Convicted in Virginia
• Bin Laden Terror Documents Discovered
• Manhunt Seeks Suspected Hijacker
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
Check back for continuous updates on the hunt for terrorists from ABCNEWS' worldwide investigative team.
Two Convicted in Virginia
A L E X A N D R I A, Va., Nov. 19 — A Saudi man arrested driving a car with a flat tire near a Washington airport on Sept. 11 pleaded guilty Monday to visa fraud after prosecutors said he wasn't involved in the terrorist hijackings. Khalid al-Draibi, 32, entered the plea in U.S. District Court in this Washington suburb as prosecutors secured convictions from two men arrested initially in the terrorism case. The other man, Victor Lopez-Flores, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, also pleaded guilty to helping one of the Sept. 11 hijackers fraudulently obtain a Virginia state identification card and illegally re-entering the United States after being deported. Al-Draibi was arrested about 13 hours after the attacks when he aroused suspicion by driving away from Dulles International Airport, just outside Washington, in a car with a flat tire. After he was stopped, police found driver's licenses from eight states and flight manuals for small aircraft, prosecutors said. But al-Draibi passed two lie detector tests that showed he wasn't involved in the attacks, his attorney Drewery Hutcheson Jr. said. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III asked prosecutors Monday if the government was satisfied al-Draibi had nothing to do with Sept. 11. "That's correct," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Morton answered. Al-Draibi faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced Jan. 18 on the visa fraud charge. In his guilty plea, Lopez-Flores admitted he falsely certified on Aug. 2 that Ahmed Alghamdi lived at his Alexandria, Virginia, address. Alghamdi, who was aboard one of the hijacked airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center, used the residency certification to obtain an ID card from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles a month before the Sept. 11 attacks.
—The Associated Press
Bin Laden Terror Documents Discovered
W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 15 —
As Taliban troops retreat from several strongholds in Afghanistan, conquering fighters are finding disturbing evidence of Osama bin Laden's efforts at plotting mass destruction.
In houses in and around Kabul, the Afghan capital, Northern Alliance troops who chased out the Taliban have found terrorist training manuals, bomb-making materials and reportedly even detailed designs of nuclear weapons.
The Times of London reported today that one of its reporters discovered partially burned plans describing how to detonate plutonium and create a nuclear explosion. The documents were found in a former headquarters of al Qaeda, the bin Laden network believed to have been behind the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
According to the Times, "attempts had been made to burn the evidence, but many documents still remained. They included studies into the development of a kinetic energy supergun capable of firing chemical or nuclear warheads, external propulsion missiles, preliminary research on the creation of a thermonuclear device, as well as a multitude of instructions for making smaller bombs."
A little more than a week ago, President Bush told a group of Central and Eastern European leaders that bin Laden's attempts to get nuclear arms represented a "threat to every nation; and, eventually, to civilization itself."
Bin Laden's men made their first move in their quest for nuclear weapons in Khartoum, Sudan, in the mid-1990s. But the man allegedly sent on the mission, key bin Laden lieutenant Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (who is now being held in New York awaiting trial in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa), was apparently cheated by Russian mobsters.
Charles Adler, the American lawyer who once represented Salim, said "there was an effort to buy enriched uranium" but the Russian Mafia tried to fool Salim.
"I think it just wasn't what it was purported to be," Adler said. "But there was nothing that would indicate that they wouldn't continue to try."
Bin Laden has boasted he has nuclear weapons, but U.S. surveillance flights over Afghanistan training camps have not detected any evidence of such arms.
Manhunt Seeks Suspected Surviving Hijacker
W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 15 — Authorities are searching the globe for a Yemen native who U.S. officials believe was slated to be the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Law enforcement sources confirm FBI Director Robert Mueller has told prosecutors that Ramzi Binalshibh, 29, would have been in on the attacks had he not been refused entry to the United States on three separate occasions.
Suspected hijacking ringleader Mohamed Atta, who is believed to have perished while piloting American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, tried unsuccessfully to get Binalshibh into the country to join in the plot, sources tell ABCNEWS.
Sept. 22: Arrest Warrants Issued in Germany
Ramzi Binalshibh • Yemeni citizen • Age, 29 • Left Germany on Sept. 5 • A hijacker tried to enroll him in a Venice, Fla., flight school
The sources also say Binalshibh, who is believed to have trained in Osama bin Laden's terrorist camps in Afghanistan, was denied entry visas because he was unable to demonstrate any legitimate reason to be in the United States.
The Los Angeles Times reports federal officials say Binalshibh was blocked from entering the country for unspecified involvement "with the bombing of the USS Cole" in 2000.
Each of the four jets that crashed on Sept. 11 was overtaken by five hijackers — except United Airlines Flight 93, which only had four. Mueller said Binalshibh was meant to be the fifth man on Flight 93, which crashed into a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11 as hijackers steered it toward Washington. Some have speculated it was to have struck the Capitol or the White House, but the plan apparently was foiled by passengers who struggled with the terrorists.
Binalshibh once shared an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, with Atta and two other hijackers. Since late September, German police have been hunting for Binalshibh and two other suspected members of the Hamburg terrorist cell: Zakariya Essabar and Said Bahaji. All three are believed to have fled Germany.