Prosecution rests in embassy bombings trial
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors rested their case today 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.
The trial will now recess until April 16, at which time the defense teams will begin presenting their cases. The defense phase is expected to be no longer than a month.
The trial so far has not taken as long as expected. The U.S. attorney originally estimated it would take four to six months to present the government's case.
Judge Leonard B. Sand of the U.S. court for the Southern District of New York had scheduled a trial vacation in mid-August, but he recently told jurors their jobs should be over by then.
Nevertheless, prosecutors have called more than 90 witnesses in 25 days of testimony spread over nine weeks since the trial opened February 5. Many witnesses were from overseas, including Kenya, Tanzania, England, Japan and Egypt. Most were Americans -- FBI agents who pored over the crime scene, who tracked the defendants, and who later interviewed them.
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. He would be subject to the death penalty if convicted, as would al-'Owhali.
Wadih el Hage, 40, a naturalized American citizen and former business associate of bin Laden, is not charged with a direct role in the bombings, but he is accused of lying multiple times about his contacts with bin Laden and his followers.
Other charges against him for terrorist conspiracy involve 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 remain in custody 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.
Another defendant in custody is Ali Mohamed, a U.S. citizen, who pleaded guilty on October 20, 2000, 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. In the meantime, he has been cooperating with the government.
Prosecutors moved the trial along mainly 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.
For example, no coroners were called to discuss autopsies of the 224 bombing victims. Stipulations were read that listed victims' names and stipulated they died from an explosion.
Stipulations detailing forensic evidence, translations of documents, telephone records, computer files, passport applications, packages sent, and more have saved many hours and days of trial time.
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