FBI agent: Accused called bombings 'a message to America'
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Khalfan Khamis Mohamed told an FBI agent immediately after his arrest that he participated in the August 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, the agent testified Monday, offering the clearest evidence yet against the defendant.
"It sent a message to America, because bombings were the only way Americans would listen," FBI agent Abigail Perkins recalled Mohamed explaining the terrorist attack.
Mohamed, 27, from Tanzania, is the only one of four defendants in the trial accused of a direct role in the August 1998 embassy bombing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 11 Tanzanians, including two who worked in the embassy.
A simultaneous truck bombing outside the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, killed 213 people, including 12 Americans. Two other defendants -- Mohamed al-'Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi, and Mohamed Odeh, a 36-year-old Jordanian -- are charged in that attack.
Perkins testified K.K. Mohamed told her he arranged transportation for the attack and rented the house where the explosives were prepared. She said he told her he also helped grind TNT that was then loaded into 20 crates, along with 15 oxygen and acetylene tanks, into the 1987 Nissan Atlas refrigeration truck that detonated outside the embassy.
On the day of the bombing, Perkins testified, Mohamed rode in the bomb truck for the first part of the trip, got out, then went back to the house and watched TV, waiting for news reports.
"He said he was very happy," Perkins said, adding he told her he was not sorry that Tanzanians were killed. "He stated Allah would take care of them."
Perkins said Mohamed agreed to participate in the bombing because of political and religious views.
"He said based on his study of Islam, he felt his obligation and duty was to kill Americans," Perkins testified. "He said his purpose was to help his Muslim brothers."
Mohamed, arrested in Cape Town, South Africa, on October 5, 1999, was interrogated for two days before being taken to the United States. He agreed to speak to agents in Africa without a lawyer present. Perkins told the court that when Mohamed was captured he admitted to the agents that they "already knew everything."
Under cross examination, Perkins told Mohamed defense attorney David Stern, "We promised him no benefits."
Since last week, prosecutors in the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan have been introducing evidence against Mohamed.
Tanzanian witnesses described seeing Mohamed meeting with men who purchased the truck used to carry the Tanzania bomb.
FBI agents testified they found Mohamed's passport photo inside the house where one of the truck buyers lived.
Witnesses also testified that Mohamed rented the house where, prosecutors allege, the Tanzania bomb was constructed, and that he owned the white 1989 Suzuki Samarai jeep that, prosecutors allege, was used by the bombers.
FBI agents testified Monday that their search of the house and the Suzuki yielded traces of explosive.
Mohamed is the third defendant, following Odeh and al-'Owhali, to have his post-arrest statements used against him in court.
A fourth defendant, Wadih el Hage, a 40-year-old naturalized American, is not accused of a direct role in the bombings, but is accused of perjury in his statements to investigators and a federal grand jury.
All four defendants are accused of participating in a decade-long conspiracy, allegedly led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, to kill Americans and destroy U.S. property.
Perkins said Mohamed said he did not belong to bin Laden's group, al Qaeda, and had never met him or heard him speak and was not familiar with his religious decrees.
But she said Mohamed shared bin Laden's view opposing U.S. military presence in Muslim countries.
"He really didn't like that soldiers were in Saudi Arabia, the Holy Land," Perkins said. "He said his target was the soldiers -- that's who he'd go after if given the choice."
The agent said the defendant told her he had learned to to make explosives and to fire weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, in 1994, in bin Laden-funded military camps.
"He said Osama bin Laden is our leader in jihad," Perkins testified, using the Muslim word for "holy war."
Mohamed and defendant al-'Owhali could be sentenced to death, if convicted.
Perkins said Mohamed told her, if he had not been arrested, "he would have continued in his efforts to kill Americans, including bombings."
Perkins conceded to defense attorney Stern that Mohamed was not the alleged conspirator who purchased the bomb ingredients, wired the bomb truck, or picked the target. Nor was Mohamed aware that the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam was the target until five days before the attack, Perkins said.
Perkins told Stern she did not tape record or videotape her interview with Mohamed but said that was standard FBI practice.
"The only record we have are your notes and your recollection," Stern said.
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