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Guantanamo Prison Inmate Hicks Charged by Pentagon

June 10 (Bloomberg) -- David Hicks, an Australian inmate at the U.S.-run prison camp for suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been charged with three crimes by U.S. military authorities, the Defense Department said.

Hicks, 28, will be tried by a military tribunal on charges of conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder by ``an unprivileged belligerent'' and aiding the enemy, the department said in a statement. He is the third Guantanamo prisoner charged with terrorism-related offenses.

The U.S. alleges Hicks attended al-Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan and took an advanced course in surveillance. The suspect used this knowledge to scout the U.S. and British embassies in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon statement.

The indictments come one week after President George W. Bush met in Washington with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who has been under pressure in his country to resolve the case of Hicks and fellow Australian inmate Mamdouh Habib. In advance of the meeting, Howard said the men ``should be brought to trial as soon as possible.''

Hicks returned to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon to join al-Qaeda in the fight against the U.S. and its allies there, the Pentagon said. He was captured in Afghanistan in 2001.

``It is alleged Hicks armed himself with an AK-47 automatic rifle, ammunition and grenades to fight against coalition forces,'' the Pentagon said.

Charges Disputed

Marine Corps Major Michael Mori, Hicks' military defense lawyer, said his client's alleged crimes aren't representative of what the U.S. says are heinous actions caused by the ``worst of the worst'' housed at Guantanamo.

``Look at what the charges don't say: they don't say that David Hicks has killed anyone, or harmed any particular person,'' Mori said in a statement. ``Without a doubt, we will fight against these allegations. David Hicks has not committed any crime.''

Two other Guantanamo detainees, Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul, a Yemeni, and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, of Sudan, were charged in February with conspiring with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to murder, destroy property and commit terrorism.

Al-Bahlul was an alleged bin Laden bodyguard and made recruitment videotapes glorifying the murder of Americans. The Pentagon has described al-Qosi, also a guard, as a ``key'' al- Qaeda accountant and weapons smuggler.

Kosovo, Kashmir

Hicks earlier fought for the Kosovo Liberation Army, which took up arms in the name of ethnic Albanian Muslims in the Serbian province of Kosovo, according to the Pentagon indictment. Later, he converted to Islam and fought for the Pakistani extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has clashed with Indian forces in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. Hicks began attending al-Qaeda camps in early 2001, before being captured in December of that year as the Taliban regime fell in Afghanistan, the indictment said.

Australia and the U.S. reached an agreement last year that Hicks wouldn't face execution if convicted and would serve any prison time in his home country. The Australian government said the U.S. would allow Hicks to choose two members of his family to attend the trial.

Hicks might face prosecution as early as August, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. cited Howard as saying last month.

Hicks' family denied the allegations against him. Hicks is a good Muslim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the family has said.

Shah Mohammed, Hicks' cellmate, said he saw Hicks being beaten in U.S. custody. Howard said Bush told him the allegations were false, according to the Associated Press.

To contact the reporter on this story: Todd Zeranski in New York at tzeranski@bloomberg.net

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