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Agent: Defendant said Kenya embassy 'easy target'

Gaudin testified Wednesday  

From CNN's Phil Hirschkorn & Deborah Feyerick

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Alleged terrorist Mohamed al-'Owhali cited access as one reason the U.S. Embassy in Kenya was bombed more than two years ago, an FBI agent testified Wednesday. The August 7, 1998, bombing was also a mission al-'Owhali never expected to survive, according to the testimony.

"It was an easy target," al-'Owhali allegedly told FBI Special Agent Stephen Gaudin over the course of four days of interviews in August 1998. Al-'Owhali is among four defendants in a terrorism conspiracy trial based on the Kenya bombing and nearly simultaneous attack on the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The bombings were planned for late Friday morning, because observant Muslims would be out of danger -- heading toward mosques for weekly prayer services, according to al-'Owhali, Gaudin testified.

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The Kenyan embassy was targeted because it had a female ambassador and her death would generate more publicity, according to al-'Owhali, Gaudin said. In addition, workers from that embassy were involved in Sudan, where alleged bombing mastermind Osama bin Laden was based in the early 1990's.

The U.S. ambassador to Kenya at the time, Prudence Bushnell, was not inside the embassy when the explosion occurred and was the fist witness to describe the attack to the jury last week.

Gaudin told the court he began interviewing al-'Owhali August 22, 1998, 10 days after Kenyan police acting on a tip arrested him at a hotel on the outskirts of Nairobi.

"He would tell us of his involvement in the bombing of the embassy if we'd guarantee he would be tried in a United States court," Gaudin testified, saying al-'Owhali wanted the chance to air his story before U.S. citizens. "Because America is my enemy and Kenya is not," he recalled al-'Owhali saying.

Gaudin said al-'Owhali agreed to talk without such a guarantee and without the presence of an attorney.

"Mr. al-'Owhali told me he wanted to tell his entire story from the beginning to the end," Gaudin said.

That included his upbringing in Saudi Arabia, his study of Islam, his military training in Afghanistan and fighting of communist backed forces there, Gaudin testified. While al-'Owhali did not pledge allegiance to bin Laden's group, al Qaeda, he was familiar with bin Laden's violent fatwahs, or religious decrees.

"If a ruler changed something in contradiction to Islam," Gaudin recalled al'Owhali saying, "it was your right to kill them."

Bin Laden's statements "stressed the need to fight America and cast them out of the Arabian peninsula," al-'Owhali told Gaudin. While he was never told bin Laden ordered the embassy bombings, he always believed that to be the case, al-'Owhali told Gaudin.

"The mission was going to be a martyrdom operation that would result in al-'Owhali's own death," Gaudin testified. At first, all al-'Owhali knew is that it would involve driving a truck with explosives at a U.S. target in East Africa.

Gaudin said when al-'Owhali arrived in Kenya on August 2, 1998, al Qaeda's cell leader told him he would be the passenger in the Kenya bomb truck. His job was to help get the truck as close as possible to the back of the embassy. If the electronic detonation by the driver did not work, al-'Owhali was supposed to open the back of the truck and use a hand grenade to manually set off the explosion.

On the day of the bombings, al-'Owhali told Gaudin he carried a pistol and four hand-made stun grenades. He exited the truck to throw one grenade at the embassy guard so the truck could get passed the security gate, Gaudin said he was told. The driver, known as "Azzam," started shooting a pistol to scatter the crowd and did the rest. Al-'Owhali was a block away when the explosion occurred.

"'Al-'Owhali realized his mission was complete," Gaudin said.

At a local hospital where he received stitches for cuts to his hands and forehead, al-'Owhali dumped the keys to the back of the bomb truck and three leftover bullets, all recovered and introduced as evidence.

"He called Azzam a hero," Gaudin said, adding that al-'Owhali kissed Azzam's picture at the end of their interview. Then, Gaudin testified, al-'Owhali chanted a poem about two friends meeting in paradise and started to cry.

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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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