AFP - The prime suspect in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole will be tried before a military tribunal in Guantanamo and face a possible death sentence if convicted, defense officials said Wednesday.
The Pentagon announced it had formally referred charges to the military commission against Abd al-Rahim Hussayn Muhammad al-Nashiri of Saudi Arabia, in the first new case to go to trial in Guantanamo since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
The Defense Department's "Convening Authority referred the charges to a capital military commission, meaning that, if convicted, Al Nashiri could be sentenced to death," it said.
The charges against Nashiri allege he was "in charge of the planning and preparation for the attack on USS Cole" in Yemen's port of Aden on October 12, 2000, which killed 17 sailors and wounded 40 more, when perpetrators blew a 30-foot by 30-foot hole in the ship.
US military prosecutors also accuse Nashiri of plotting an attempted strike on USS The Sullivans in Aden in January 2000 and of planning an attack on a French civilian oil tanker MV Limburg in the Gulf of Aden in 2002 that left one crew member dead and caused an oil spill of 90,000 barrels.
In one of his first acts as president in 2009, Obama halted trials at Guantanamo Bay and announced he would close the prison at the US naval base in southeastern Cuba within a year.
But he reversed himself in March, giving the green light to resume proceedings before the controversial tribunals.
Obama lifted the ban on new military trials for Guantanamo inmates as he issued new guidelines to ensure humane and lawful treatment of suspects deemed too dangerous to release.
The White House and Justice Department have blamed opposition in Congress for imposing measures blocking possible trials of Guantanamo inmates in the United States.