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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 22:11 GMT
First Guantanamo inmates charged
Guantanamo Bay
Around 650 Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects are held at Guantanamo Bay
The Pentagon has announced the first charges against foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Two men, alleged to have been key al-Qaeda members, have been charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes.

The Pentagon named them as Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al-Bahlul of Yemen and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi of Sudan.

They will be tried by a military tribunal, but the US government will not seek the death penalty if they are convicted, Reuters news agency says.

Nine Britons have been among more than 660 terror suspects held at the US base on Cuba for two years without trial.

Five are to be released and flown to the UK in the "next few weeks", where they may face questioning by the police, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Tuesday.

Timing undecided

According to their indictment sheets, the first Guantanamo suspects to be charged also have a number of aliases.

These first charges are a critical step towards the actual holding of the first such military commissions or tribunals for Guantanamo detainees.

Osama Bin Laden
Both men are alleged to be long-time associates of Bin Laden
The men charged are alleged to have been bodyguards of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

Mr Bahlul is also alleged to have been a key al-Qaeda propagandist who produced videos glorifying the killing of Americans, including the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 in Yemen.

Mr Qosi is alleged to have been a key al-Qaeda accountant and weapons-smuggler.

The indictment alleges he joined the network in 1989 and remained a member until his capture in December 2001, the Associated Press news agency reported.

He is reported to have been a long-time associate of Bin Laden, dating back to the al-Qaeda leader's time in Sudan.

The indictment alleges he travelled with Bin Laden, serving as a driver and treasurer for a business intended to provide income and cover for al-Qaeda terror operations.

As part of such activities it is also alleged he signed cheques on behalf of the al-Qaeda leader, exchanged money on the black market and couriered money on behalf of al-Qaeda.

Timeline uncertain

It has taken more than two years - since the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay - to get to this stage.

However, the timing of trials for these two men has still to be decided.

BBC Pentagon correspondent Nick Childs says that, if the men plead guilty, the process could take only a couple of weeks.

However, if the two men decide to mount a defence, it could take several months, our correspondent adds.

The Pentagon announcement insists both men will be presumed innocent of any charges until proven guilty at a military commission.

Around 660 Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects from more than 40 countries are being detained by the US in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Most were captured in the 2001 Afghan conflict which followed the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

Washington says the prisoners are "enemy combatants" who have no right to lawyers and may be held indefinitely without charge.

Many prisoners at the base have been held for two years without access to relatives or legal counsel.

The BBC's Rachel Ellison
"More than six hundred men are being held here"

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