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Judge rules government may restrict access to evidence in case tied to bin Laden
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A federal judge ruled Monday that the government has the right to restrict access to evidence in the contempt and perjury trial of Ihab Mohamed Ali, an Egyptian-born man charged with lying to the grand jury investigating the alleged worldwide terror network of Osama bin Laden.
Prosecutors had sought a protective order on all documents submitted to the defense attorneys representing Ali, who last worked as a taxi driver in Orlando, Florida. Prosecutors claim that Ali served as an intermediary between bin Laden and some of his followers in the time leading up to the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Bianco argued that the protective order was needed to prevent release of information to the media or anyone other than the defendant and his attorneys, saying that a release could harm the government's ongoing investigation into the bin Laden network. Bianco said the information included the results of house searches in the U.S. and abroad as well as banking and telephone records connected to the defendant. A protective order has been in place in the embassy bombing case from the beginning.
Ali's attorney, Geoffrey Stewart, argued that the protective order has a chilling effect on the defense counsel or on anyone down the road who may want to participate in the trial.
Judge Lewis Kaplan agreed with the defense's argument that tying Ali's case to the embassy bombing case was not a basis for issuing the protective order, but he said the government has shown enough cause to restrict access for other reasons. Ali has not been charged in the bombing.
Seventeen people were originally charged with murder and conspiracy in the embassy bombing case. One defendant, Ali Mohamed, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on October 20 and in his statement to the court, he testified that Ihab Ali was one of the bin Laden followers he trained in surveillance techniques.
Ali's trial is scheduled for February 6, 2001.
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