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Embassy bombing defendant says he warned of Yemen attack
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Attorneys representing one of four men standing trial for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania will be arguing Friday to suppress one of the most important pieces of evidence against him -- his own confession.
In his post-arrest statements to investigators, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali admitted a role in the embassy bombings and also alluded to a possible future terrorist attack in Yemen, documents revealed. In October 2000, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole was bombed in Yemen's port of Aden, killing 17 American sailors and wounding 39 others.
Investigators suspect Islamic militants led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden were behind the Cole attack. Bin Laden is already the lead defendant in the embassy bombings case proceeding in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, but he is not in custody.
Al-'Owhali, accused in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya, was arrested in Nairobi Aug. 12, 1998, just five days after the explosion there killed 213 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded more than 4,000 others.
Over the next 14 days, FBI agents repeatedly interrogated al-'Owhali, who did not have an attorney with him. Though al-'Owhali signed documents waiving his Miranda rights against self-incrimination, his current attorneys say his rights were violated and his statements should not be admitted into the trial.
U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said in a document filed with the court that al-'Owhali spoke to American officials only after he "voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his rights."
"The hearing will show," White continued, that al-'Owhali talked "with full knowledge of the consequences of his actions."
The hearing to decide whether to exclude al-'Owhali's information is scheduled to resume before U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand Friday.
Last month, the court heard testimony in the matter when FBI agent Stephen Gaudin testified he had read al-'Owhali his rights in English, prior to questioning him. Gaudin said al-'Owhali had agreed to testify because he felt "America is my enemy and Kenya is not" and he wanted "what I have done and why I have done it to be aired in American courtroom."
Al-'Owhali also provided what he called "blue-chip" information, Gaudin testified. Though the agent did not specify what that information was, a subsequent defense document filed with the court states that al-'Owhali had discussed "a possible attack in Yemen." He revealed the tip in exchange for the U.S. prosecutors agreeing not to use the information against him, according to a form al-'Owhali signed on August 25, 1998, the day before his extradition.
Al-'Owhali, a 24 -year-old Saudi national, was traveling under an alias with Yemeni identification papers when he was arrested in Kenya.
FBI agents say al-'Owhali told them that he traveled in the passenger seat of the Nairobi bomb truck and that the embassy bombing was supposed to be a martyr mission he did not expect to survive. He also said he had been trained in explosives in bin Laden's military camps in Afghanistan.
Al-'Owhali's lawyers argue that his waivers of his rights in Kenya were invalid. They say al-'Owhali's English skills are too limited -- he speaks only broken English and can't read it -- for him to have understood what he was being told or asked to sign. None of the FBI agents spoke Arabic, though an interpreter was brought in for the questioning.
"I did not understand I had the right to remain silent or that I had the right to an attorney. I was trapped into a position that either I speak to the Americans, whose country protected human rights, or speak to the agents of a Third World country where human rights received no consideration whatsoever," al-'Owhali has said in an affidavit filed with the court.
"I was told I had to give a statement if I wanted to go before the court or be released," al-'Owhali said. "I was further told that if I confessed I would be helping myself," he said.
Al-'Owhali's also claimed the FBI agents threatened him with violence -- one agent pulling a gun on him -- though he did not claim any physical torture occurred. He did claim his detention in Kenya was improper -- being held in isolation without contact with family or lawyers, and being deprived of sleep and medical attention.
Judge Sand has not decided whether the remaining hearing on the al-'Owhali suppression motion will be open to the public. Nor has he revealed a timetable for his ruling, which will have a major impact on the fate of al-'Owhali, one of two defendants who could be sentenced to death if convicted.
The other is alleged Tanzania embassy bomber Khlafan Khamis Mohamed. The two other men on trial -- alleged Kenya embassy bomber Mohamed Sadeek Odeh and former bin Laden associate Wadih el Hage -- face a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.
Arguments over the al-'Owhali suppression motion and other legal issues have kept jury selection on hold since Tuesday, with 66 people selected toward a final jury pool of 80.
CNN Executive Producer Nancy Peckenham contributed to this report.
Jury selection inches forward in embassy bombings case
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