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Embassy bombings trial witness says bin Laden wanted to buy uranium

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- In his second day of testimony, a key government witness in the trial of four men accused of conspiracy in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa said Wednesday he had once attempted to purchase uranium for Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the bombings.

The witness, Jamal Ahmed Mohamed Al-Fadl, described a 1994 effort to buy uranium for al-Qaeda, the organization led by bin Laden, for whom Al-Fadl said he worked for nine years. Uranium is a key component in nuclear weapons.

Al-Fadl said he was told the price for the uranium, which came in a two-to-three-foot cylinder, was $1.5 million. He said engravings on the cylinder and documents indicated the uranium's source was South Africa.

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What happened to the uranium and whether the transaction was completed was left unanswered. The witness' last information on the deal was that al-Qaeda sought to test and verify the contents with a machine being sent from Kenya.

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald then turned to another subject.

Al-Fadl, a 37-year-old man from Sudan, told the court Wednesday he worked for bin Laden until mid-1996, when he had a falling out with the group over money.

Al-Fadl said he had stolen $110,000 by taking unauthorized commissions from sales of palm oil and sugar by bin Laden's Sudanese-based companies.

Al-Fadl, who used the money to buy four parcels of land and a new car, said he tried to return the money when he was caught but could only come up with $25-$30,000.

"There is no forgive (sic) until you pay it back," bin Laden told him in a private meeting, Al-Fadl testified. "Go do your best and pay the money back."

Al-Fadl testified that he decided to leave al-Qaeda after that incident. He told the court he fled to an unspecified country and approached the American embassy there, eventually telling FBI and U.S. Justice Department officials he had information on people who want to "make war against your country."

Five years ago, Al-Fadl reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to terrorism charges, in particular for moving weapons and explosives. After 18-months to two years living in FBI custody, he is now in the federal witness protection program and still awaiting sentencing.

He told the court he had asked for a reward for his information but was giving nothing more than a $20,000 loan to help resettle his family in the U.S.

The alleged effort to obtain nuclear and chemical weapons and their components, while supported by Al-Fadl's public testimony, has long been alleged in the government's indictment.

Until now, he was known only in court documents as "CS-1," for "confidential source number one." His main value to the government's case has been to provide an insider's history on bin Laden's organization, which he joined as one of its first members in the late 1980s. He will face cross examination beginning next Tuesday, when the trial resumes.

The August 7, 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands. The bombings are the main part of a 308-count indictment naming 21 individuals for participating in an alleged decade-long conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. government property.

In his two days of testimony, Al-Fadl cited 10 of the alleged conspirators named in the sweeping indictment, most of whom are fugitives not on trial at this time. Bin Laden, the lead defendant, is believed to be living in Afghanistan.

Of the four men standing trial, Wadih el Hage, a naturalized American from Lebanon, was the only one identified by Al-Fadl. He described knowing el Hage, 40, as someone who worked in al-Qaeda's offices in Sudan in the early 1990's.

El Hage is accused of terror conspiracy charges but not direct participation in the embassy bombings. His attorneys concede he worked for bin Laden's business interests but deny any connection to violent acts.

The three other men on trial are alleged Kenya embassy bombers Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, a 35-year-old Jordanian, and Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi; and alleged Tanzania embassy bomber Khalan Khamis Mohamed, a 27-year old Tanzanian.



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RELATED SITES:
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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