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Key witness traces roots of bin Laden's organization

Edith (left) and Sue Bartley
Edith Bartley (left) and Sue Bartley arrive at the U.S. District Court in New York on Tuesday. Two members of their family were killed in the embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A former terrorist Tuesday described the founding of Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden's organization, al-Qaeda, which federal prosecutors say planned acts of violence and terrorism against Americans worldwide.

The government informant, Jamal Ahmed Mohamed Alfadl, was the first witness in the trial of four men accused of conspiracy in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. Alfadl said he heard bin Laden express anti-American views when he was associated with his group.

Bin Laden's first anti-American fatwah, or religious declaration, came at one of his weekly lectures sometime after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and U.S troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, home of the two holiest Muslim shrines in Mecca and Medina.

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"We cannot let the American army stay in the Gulf area and take our oil and take our money. We have to do something to take them out," Alfadl recalled bin Laden as saying.

Alfadl placed one of the trial defendants, Wadih el Hage, at the al-Qaeda headquarters in Sudan in the early 1990's, and placed himself in the rooms when bin Laden and his associates issued their first declarations of violence against the United States.

Alfadl said he first met bin Laden between 1988-89, when Alfadl, a 37-year-old native of Sudan, went to Afghanistan to join rebels fighting the Soviet Union, which had occupied the Muslim country.

Bin Laden is a key figure in this trial because prosecutors allege the four defendants were acting at his behest as part of a decade-long conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. government property.

Bin Laden, also indicted by the U.S. government, is believed to be living in Afghanistan.

Alfadl testified that he attended meetings in 1989-90 where bin Laden and others founded al-Qaeda. Asked by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald about the agenda of the new group, Alfadl said, "It's established for focusing on jihad," a declaration of a holy war.

Alfadl testified in English, at times calling on an Arabic translator for help.

In 1991, Alfadl said he moved with bin Laden to Sudan, where al-Qaeda established a new headquarters, including a farm used in part for military training. He said he earned $300 a month for his al-Qaeda work and $200 a month working for construction and import-export companies bin Laden established.

Alfadl, in listing numerous people around the offices, named el Hage, known then by the alias "Abu Abdullah al Lubani," as on the payroll and as someone he had trained to do his job.

Bin Laden, at this time, Alfadl testified, began to express anti-American views.

"He liked to sit in the front yard and talk about jihad," Alfadl said.

Alfadl said the group's fatwahs, issued by bin Laden and others, did condone the killing of innocents, starting with al-Qaeda's reaction to U.S. military presence in Somalia in 1993.

The indictment alleges that al-Qaeda's forces were responsible for October 1993 attacks that killed American military personnel in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Until now, Alfadl, one of the government's primary confidential sources, was known only as "CS-1" in court documents.

Sketch artists were forbidden from drawing his face, and U.S. marshals checked their work as they left the heavily guarded courtroom. No cameras are allowed in federal court.

Prosecutors on Monday characterized this key witness as someone who approached the U.S. government after a fallout with bin Laden over money. Alfadl, described as on the run from bin Laden, has pleaded guilty to terrorism charges, according to court documents.

Prosecutor Butler, right, and defendants, seated from right: Odeh, al-'Owahli, Mohamed, and el Hage  

The trial, presided over by U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand, kicked off with opening statements Monday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Butler said jurors would learn of a "long, complicated and chilling" story of conspiracy and terror involving the four defendants.

The August 7, 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands.

Jeremy Schneider, an attorney for one of the two defendants facing the death penalty, Kahlfan Khamis Mohamed, conceded Monday his client had a role in the Tanzania bombing, but said he was a "pawn."

Attorneys for the other death eligible defendant, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, did not make an opening statement. "There's always a strategy to it, but now unfortunately I can't tell you what it is," attorney David Baugh said Tuesday.

The other two defendants -- Mohamed Sadeek Odeh and el Hage -- face life sentences. Their attorneys said in their openings that the men had ties to bin Laden, but had no role in violent activity.

Alfadl, the first witness, told the court he lived in Saudi Arabia before coming to the United States in 1986 on a student visa. He settled in Brooklyn where he worked in a grocery store and became involved with a Brooklyn mosque that raised money and recruited Muslim men to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

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Links to United States Embassies and Consulates Worldwide
Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999
FBI Websites Document Evidence Against Bin Laden
Dept of State/International Information Programs:
Ussamah Bin Laden
US District Court, Southern District of New York
U.S. State Department - Counterterrorism
Terrorism Research Center
Africa News on the World Wide Web

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