Alleged bin Laden conspirator faces July trial
NEW YORK (CNN) -- One of the alleged founding members of Osama bin Laden's militant Islamic organization is set to stand trial on attempted murder charges in July.
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, 43, originally a defendant in the embassy bombings trial under way in the federal district courthouse here, will first stand trial on an 11-count indictment that includes charges of attempted murder of a federal jail guard, hostage taking and conspiracy to escape from the Metropolitan Correction Center in lower Manhattan.
U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand severed Salim from the embassy bombings trial after the jailhouse incident.
Salim is not accused of a direct role in 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.
But he remains one of 22 defendants indicted by a federal grand jury as a participant in the alleged decade-long, bin Laden-led conspiracy to kill Americans overseas, to destroy U.S. government property, and to attack U.S. defense facilities and troops -- a conspiracy that included the embassy bombings, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors have not said when Salim might come to trial in the bin Laden conspiracy case.
Salim allegedly stabbed corrections officer Louis Pepe in the eye with a sharpened comb after a meeting with his attorney in the jail on November 1, 2000. If convicted, he would face the maximum penalty of life in prison -- the same punishment Salim would have faced if he had been tried and convicted in embassy bombings trial.
U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts set Monday, July 2, as Salim's tentative trial date. After hearing from attorneys on both sides, Batts said she expects a three-week trial, not including jury selection. Batts said she would keep juror identities anonymous.
One unresolved issue could prolong the trial: If Salim attorney Richard Lind pursues a "diminished capacity" defense, arguing that Salim's diminished mental capacity or strict conditions of confinement led to violent action. Lind told the court that after he meets with doctors he would make his intentions known in court filings due April 27.
The government would call at least one witness in a rebuttal phase to counter such a defense.
"We might introduce evidence that he had this intent, that he in fact counseled others to commit similar types of crimes, murders, before he was in prison, before he was subjected to these conditions," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia told Batts.
"If he is saying, 'The prison conditions made me a killer,'" Garcia added, "we can say, 'No. In fact, you exhibited the same behavior before.'"
Salim has been incarcerated in the United States since his arrest in Germany and extradition in December 1998.
In court documents, prosecutors describe Salim as a founding member of al Qaeda, bin Laden's group, who took charge of its financial affairs and managed companies in Sudan that procured communications gear and conventional weapons.
Prosecutors say that Salim also managed al Qaeda's military camps in Afghanistan and gave lectures to recruits, explaining that American troops did not belong on any Arab lands. According to the indictment, Salim taught that U.N. forces deployed in Somalia in 1993 represented a U.S. plan to attack Muslims.
The government alleges that Somali tribes trained by bin Laden's men caused the deaths of 17 U.S. Army Rangers in an October 1993 battle in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Salim, who was born in Sudan and grew up in Iraq, was known among al Qaeda members as "Abu Hajer al Iraqi," according to government witness Jamal Al-Fadl, an al Qaeda defector who testified in the embassy bombings trial.
Members considered Salim, who had memorized the Koran, a religious scholar, Al-Fadl said.
Salim allegedly involved his one-time cellmate, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, in the jail attack, Garcia said. Mohamed, one of the defendants in the embassy bombings trial who faces the death penalty, has not been charged in the jail attack.
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