Prosecution set to rest today in bombings trial
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors are expected to rest their case Wednesday in the trial of four men accused of participating in a decade-long conspiracy led by wealthy Saudi expatriate Osama bin Laden to kill Americans and destroy U.S. property.
The plot allegedly included the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured more than 4,500 others.
After the prosecution rests, the trial likely will recess until April 16, at which time the defense teams will begin presenting their cases.
The prosecutors have called more than 80 witnesses since the trial opened February 5. They once projected calling 100 to testify but decided to streamline the process to keep the trial from stretching into the summer.
One way prosecutors moved the trial along was by relying on stipulations. Instead of calling a witness to testify about something mundane or undisputed, attorneys on both sides agreed to tell the jury what the person would say.
In testimony Tuesday, FBI forensic chemist Kelly Mount told the jury that clothing found in the travel bag of defendant Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, accused in the bombing in Kenya, contained traces of explosive material.
Three items inside Odeh's bag -- a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and a cloth described as a bed sheet -- tested positive for either TNT or PETN, Mount said.
Those are the same explosive materials used to construct the truck bomb that blew up behind the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 7, 1998, killing 213 people, including 12 Americans, and injuring more than 4,000 other people.
Odeh left Kenya the day before the attack, according to travel records introduced into evidence, taking a Pakistani International Airways flight that landed in Karachi just a few hours before the bombing occurred. When a Pakistani immigration official noticed that Odeh did not look like the photograph in his Yemen-issued passport, Odeh was arrested.
Odeh later admitted to an FBI agent who interrogated him that he was in the company of the men who allegedly carried out the bombing of the embassy in Kenya, but he denied having a role in the plot.
Odeh's FBI interview and hotel records indicate that he stayed at Nairobi's Hilltop Hotel, the same hotel prosecutors say the other alleged conspirators used, in the days before the attack. His fingerprint was lifted off the door of a hotel room where the man suspected of being the terrorist cell leader stayed, according to prosecutors.
The clothing introduced at trial on Tuesday as laden with bomb residue is the strongest physical evidence directly linking him to the bombing. Before Tuesday, the prosecutors' best piece of evidence against Odeh may have been a handwritten sketch found in his Kenyan home that bore a striking resemblance to the targeted embassy compound.
On cross-examination, Mount said it was possible but not probable that investigators who were at the Kenya bomb scene, and who also handled Odeh's clothing, could have transferred bomb residue.
"We're talking about microscopic particles that are easily transferred," said Odeh attorney Edward Wilford.
Mount told the court there are ways to determine the source of the bomb residue. Several Pakistani and Kenyan police officers who handled Odeh's travel bag before it went into U.S. custody did not wear protective gloves, he said.
Although he maintains his innocence, Odeh has admitted to the FBI that he felt a moral sense of responsibility for the Kenya bombing because he belonged to al Qaeda, the Islamic militant organization run by bin Laden.
Bin Laden is accused of ordering the bombing in Nairobi and a nearly simultaneous bombing of the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that killed 11 people and injured dozens more. Bin Laden, believed to be living in Afghanistan, is among 13 fugitives in the indictment.
Odeh, 36, a Jordanian, and Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, a Saudi, are standing trial for the Kenya attack. Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian, is on trial for the Tanzania attack.
The jury was shown Tuesday that a telephone number Mohamed had written on a "to do" list recovered in his last residence matches the known phone number for the man suspected of designing the embassy bombs. Mohamed admitted his own role in the bombings to the FBI agent who conducted his post-arrest interrogation.
Wadih el Hage, 40, a naturalized American citizen, is standing trial for terrorist conspiracy for his alleged role in organizing the Nairobi cell and for allegedly acting as a conduit for messages from bin Laden.
On Tuesday, the jury heard additional transcripts of wiretapped telephone conversations that showed el Hage, when living in Nairobi, spoke as recently as September 1997 to Mohamed Atef, the man the U.S. government identifies as bin Laden's military commander.
Several other defendants await separate trials in New York. Among them is Mahmud Salim who allegedly ran training camps and guesthouses for bin Laden operatives. Salim was charged with taking part in the al Qaeda terrorist conspiracy. He was detached from the current trial after he allegedly attacked a prison guard on November 1, 2000, and will be tried later.
On October 20, 2000, defendant Ali Mohamed, a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty to the five broad conspiracy charges against him. Mohamed, a bin Laden confidant, admitted staking out several possible U.S. targets, including the Nairobi embassy. He has been cooperating with the government and is expected to be called as a key witness.
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