Prosecutors rest case in embassy bombings trial
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors, wrapping up 25 days of testimony spread over nine weeks, rested 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 7, 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.
"That concludes the week," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, bringing the first phase of the trial to an end much sooner than anyone predicted when jury selection began in January.
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 government ended its presentation Wednesday by reading to the jury translated copies of claims of responsibility for the two bombings that evidence showed were faxed from London to three media outlets -- Al-Jazeera TV in Doha, Qatar; the Associated Press in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Radio France International in Paris.
The faxes claimed responsibility for both attacks in the name of the "Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places" and pledged "to pursue the American forces" and "to strike at American interests everywhere" until various conditions were met, chief among them being the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest sites of Islam.
The senders, according to the prosecution's case, were London operatives of al Qaeda, the Islamic militant organization led by bin Laden. Bin Laden's antagonism toward the United States is known to stem from the deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War on August 7, 1990, exactly eight years before the embassy bombings.
According to the faxes, "two men of blessed Mecca" carried out the attack in Nairobi and an Egyptian carried out the truck bombing in Dar es Salaam.
Prosecutors told the court that one of the men on trial, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, a Saudi, rode in the passenger seat of the bomb truck in the Kenya attack in what was supposed to be a martyr mission. The driver, another Saudi named Gihad Ali, died in the blast, prosecutors said.
Al-'Owhali and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, a Jordanian accused in the bombing in Kenya, were the first trial defendants arrested. Among the final government witnesses heard Wednesday were FBI agents who took them into U.S. custody.
The two were transported separately to the United States on August 26 and August 27, 1998 -- less than three weeks after the bombings and after they had been interrogated at length in Kenya.
Their post-arrest statements are among the strongest evidence prosecutors presented against al-'Owhali, who could face the death penalty, and Odeh, who could face life in prison.
Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian, was transported to the United States after his October 1999 arrest in Cape Town, South Africa. Mohamed, the only defendant accused in the bombing of the embassy in Tanzania, admitted a role in the attack, according to the FBI agent who interrogated him. Mohamed also would be subject to the death penalty, if convicted.
The fourth defendant, Wadih el Hage, 40, a naturalized American, was arrested on September 16, 1998, the day of his second appearance before a federal grand jury investigating the alleged bin Laden terrorist operations. The government charges that el Hage, a former business associate of bin Laden, lied multiple times about the his contacts with bin Laden and his followers.
El Hage is not charged with a direct role in the bombings, but he is accused of perjury and of participating in a decade-long conspiracy led by bin Laden to kill Americans and destroy U.S. property abroad.
All of the defendants face the latter broad conspiracy charge, as do bin Laden and 12 other fugitives in the case, as well as five men in U.S. and British custody awaiting trial in the United States.
The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York originally estimated it would take four to six months to present the government's case. The presiding judge, Leonard B. Sand, had scheduled a trial vacation in mid-August, but he recently told jurors their jobs should be over by then.
Prosecutors called more than 90 witnesses since the trial opened February 5. Many were from overseas, including Kenya, Tanzania, England, Japan and Egypt. Most were Americans -- FBI agents who pored over the crime scene and gathered evidence and others who tracked the defendants and interviewed them.
Prosecutors were able to move 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.
After deliberations, if the jury returns guilty verdicts, the trial will have a penalty phase to decide whether al-'Owhali and Mohamed should be sentenced to death.
The 12-person, six-alternate jury was chosen from among a pool of 1,300 screened candidates. So far during the trial, one juror and one alternate have been excused.
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