16 April: Surrounded by
the defense is due to
begin today in the
high-stakes trial of four
associates of the Saudi
Osama Bin Laden
before the US District Court of New York. Cuffed
and shackled, the four Moslem defendants will hear
their lawyers mount a challenge to the weighty
300-count indictment of a global Islamic terrorist
conspiracy dating from 1989 to kill US military
personnel and civilians. The federal prosecutors
rested their case a week ago after two months of
hearings, in which 80 witnesses and 100 exhibits
were produced to prove the defendantsâ?? direct
participation in the 1998 bombings of US embassies
in Kenya and Tanzanya, causing 224 deaths,
including 12 Americans.
Eleven FBI agents testified on their three-year,
multimillion-dollar investigation of the simultaneous
bombings, as a results of which 22 men were
indicted, most of them fugitives, including their
mastermind, wealthy Saudi exile Osama Bin Laden,
who lives in Afghanistan under Taleban protection
with a $5 m FBI prize on his head.
The defendants in the dock are Mohamed Rashed
Daoud al-â?~Owhali, 24, a Saudi Arabian, who
allegedly rode in the truck used in the Nairobi
bombing, jumped out at the embassy gate and was
seen tossing grenades at the military guard
immediately prior to the explosion in the building;
Al-â?~Owhali told interrogators the embassy was
targeted because the ambassador was a woman
whose death would attract more publicity than a
man. The ambassador, Prudence Bushnell survived.
Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian is the
alleged bomb-maker in the Dar es Salaam blast. If
convicted, those two could face the death penalty,
the first in the US for terrorist acts committed
The other defendants, Wadih El-Hage, 40, a
naturalized US citizen born in Lebanon and
Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 26, a Jordanian, face life
These defendants come nowhere representing the
full scope of Bin Ladenâ??s Islamic conspiracy
against America, or even a full list of conspirators.
Nonetheless, the trial is named US vs. Bin Laden,
because the capture in 1998 of one of Bin Ladenâ??s
principal lieutenants, Egyptian-born Ali Mohamed,
48, enabled the US government to use the trial for
building a comprehensive indictment against the
entire Bin Laden terrorist machine, Al Qaeda, with
all its tentacles, proxies and jihadic aspirations.
As the chief instructor of young Al Qaeda recruits,
he is believed to be the author of an amazing
document called Military Studies in the Jihad
Against the Tyrants, seized in Manchester, England,
at the home of one of the missing suspects and
placed in evidence. The text is mainly a series of
lessons on the specifics of a successful terrorist
strike: explosives are termed the safest weapon
because they strike terror in the enemy and allow
Islamic warriors to escape; trainees are instructed in
killing with knives, ropes, blunt objects and spraying
lethal chemicals, how to conduct advance
surveillance against a target; permission to torture
hostages. â??Islamic warriors are taught how to lie
low in Western cultures and even forgo Muslim
appearance and prayers the better to blend into a
foreign society. This manual shows how systematic
and deep are Bin Ladenâ??s methods for not only
terrorizing, but also invading the Western society he
Mohamed was also a skilled double agent. He
became a naturalized US citizen and was able to
penetrate the US army as a sergeant at the Fort
Bragg, N.C. Special Forces facility.
While facing a maximum life imprisonment for his
role in the conspiracy and the East African embassy
bombings, Mohamed, the first to plead guilty of the
charges, may expect substantial credit for his
cooperation with the US investigation as part of a
plea bargain struck in October 2000.
By laying bare Al Qaedaâ??s international workings,
he gave the prosecution its overall conspiracy case
against the defendants. They were accused of
membership of an â??international terrorist groupâ??
dedicated to â??opposing non-Islamic governments
with force and violenceâ??, with the goal of driving
US armed forces out of Saudi Arabia and Somalia.
Bin Laden himself was charged in absentia with
endorsing a fatwah, or religious decree, ordering
devout Muslims to kill Americans, including
civilians, anywhere in the world.
After the prosecution rested its case, the US district
judge Leonard Sand, dismissed the Tanzania
bombing counts against Odeh and al-Owhali, but
retained the key charges of complicity in the overall
plot to kill Americans and of links to Bin Laden.
March 22, Mohamed Suleiman al-Nalfi, a Sudanese,
was charged in the same court with forming and
leading a Sudanese jihad group following Al Qaeda
principles and helping Bin Laden start an investment
business in Sudan in 1991 when his headquarters
were relocated from Afghanistan to Khartoum.
Additional defendants await separate trials in New
York, including Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, who
attacked a prison guard last year. Three others are in
extradition proceedings in Britain, including Khaled
al-Fawwaz, who is alleged to have set up an
information office in London in 1994 as cover for Al
Qaedaâ??s military activities.
Still sought is Ayman al-Zawahiri Zawahiri,
described as leader of the al-Jihad in Egypt and
member of the al-Qaeda leadership.
This Manhattan courtroom is very familiar to Bin
Ladenâ??s associates. It saw the convictions of six
people for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and
10 others for their roles in a failed plot to blow up 10
New York landmarks, including the UN tower.