Agent: Defendant called Kenya attack a 'blunder'
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, one of the men on trial for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, told the FBI he thought the attack in Nairobi, Kenya, was a "blunder" because it killed so many civilians.
But Odeh denied planning or carrying out the bombing, according to FBI Special Agent John Anticev, who testified Wednesday about his interrogation of Odeh.
Anticev interviewed Odeh in Kenyan custody over 12 days starting August 15, 1998, eight days after the bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania killed 224 people and injured thousands.
Odeh fled Kenya the night before the bombings and was arrested at the Karachi, Pakistan, airport after authorities caught him carrying a fake passport.
"He thought it was a blunder," Anticev recalled Odeh saying. "He didn't like that so many Kenyans, civilians, were killed," he said.
According to Anticev, Odeh felt the alleged bombers should have backed the bomb truck into the embassy, rather than driving nose first toward the target. The truck's cab probably deflected the explosion toward an adjacent building where more Kenyans worked, Anticev said Odeh told him.
"The people who drove the truck should have gotten it into the building or died trying," the agent said Odeh told him.
The man allegedly in the passenger seat of the Kenya bomb truck, trial defendant Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, is seated to the left of Odeh in the U.S. District courtroom.
Anticev told prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Odeh did not express concern for any Americans being killed. There were 12 U.S. fatalities among the 213 killed in Nairobi. Eleven Tanzanians died in the Dar es Salaam blast the same day.
Anticev said that Odeh told him he would not have been interested in attacking a U.S. government building in Kenya because he liked Kenyans and even was married to a Kenyan woman.
"He did not want to do an operation there," Anticev said.
Odeh was, however, in the company of the alleged bombers in the days leading up to the attack, according to Anticev, who named several fugitives indicted in the case that Odeh told him were on the scene.
According to Anticev, Odeh said that during the first week of August 1998 he stayed at the Hilltop Hotel, a mile from the embassy in downtown Nairobi, as did the alleged bombers. One of them told Odeh on August 1, "Something real big was going to happen soon," Anticev testified.
Anticev said Odeh told him the alleged bombers came and went at strange hours but that nobody talked about the mission. Odeh said he followed orders to leave the country, shaving his beard to look less Islamic and getting a plane ticket to Pakistan, according to Anticev.
The agent said Odeh admitted to him that through 1998 he was a paid member of al Qaeda, the reputed organization led by wealthy Saudi expatriate Osama bin Laden, Anticev said. Both Odeh and bin Laden are charged with carrying out the attacks. But Odeh said he did not know in advance the bombings would happen, according to Anticev.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Anthony Ricco asked Anticev about Odeh saying that he felt a sense of responsibility for the embassy bombings because he was a member of al Qaeda.
"He never said he was responsible because this was something that he did," Ricco said.
"Correct," Anticev said.
Rather, Ricco said, Odeh felt a responsibility only in a "moral sense" because he was a member of al Qaeda, and Anticev agreed.
According to Anticev, Odeh lived in Kenya since 1997 and supported himself by running a fishing boat near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombassa. He told Anticev his profits were diverted to support al Qaeda's activities.
Odeh was aware it was possible to smuggle explosives inside lobster crates, Anticev said, but Odeh did not admit doing that. He did tell Anticev that as early as 1996, another al Qaeda member showed him green blocks of TNT obtained in Tanzania, according to the FBI agent.
Odeh learned how to use explosives in al Qaeda's military camps in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, Anticev testified. In spring 1993, Odeh was among the al Qaeda operatives who spent months in Somalia training Somali tribes opposed to the U.N. mission there and the presence of U.S. troops in the capital of Mogadishu.
The tribes "considered it colonization," Anticev recalled Odeh telling him.
Anticev testified Odeh told him that bin Laden sent the trainers to Somalia to assess the situation and make contact with the tribal chiefs. Among the tribal leaders al Qaeda's trainers encountered was the late Somali warlord Muhamed Farah Aidid or his representative, Anticev said Odeh told him.
Somali fighters killed 18 U.S. Army rangers in an October 3, 1993, battle. The embassy bombings case alleges Odeh and others trained the Somalis as part of a decade-long conspiracy to do harm to U.S. military forces and kill Americans.
Ricco and the other defense attorneys had sought to have Odeh's FBI interview suppressed on the grounds that he was not properly advised of his rights to remain silent or to be represented by an attorney. Judge Leonard Sand denied the motion earlier this month.
Ricco pressed Anticev on why he questioned Odeh only in English with no interpreter or lawyer present and why he did not tape record the sessions. Anticev said he has never recorded an interview in 14 years with the FBI. Anticev wrote his report based on his handwritten notes a week after he completed his interview with Odeh, he said.
When asked why Odeh volunteered to talk, Anticev said, "People he was with were pushing him and pushing him and pushing him, and they're all gone, and he was left here with the big problems."
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