Defense contests bomb evidence in embassy trial
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Defense lawyers began presenting their case Monday in the trial of four men accused in the twin 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa and the terrorist conspiracy that led up to the attacks.
Their first witness was a British forensic scientist challenging FBI evidence about explosive traces on clothes defendant Mohamed Sadeek Odeh was carrying in his travel bag when he was arrested at Karachi, Pakistan, airport in August 1998.
Dr. John Lloyd testified that the amount of TNT residue found on jeans, a T-shirt and a bed sheet in Odeh's Nike carry-on travel bag was not specified in the FBI's report and that it could have been as little as a spec of dust.
Lloyd said it was also possible that the residue might have been transferred by a handshake or an embrace, for example, from someone who actually built the bomb and later greeted Odeh.
Odeh admitted to his FBI interrogators that he had been in the company of some alleged Kenya bombers until the day before the blast, but he denied a role in the plot. The travel bag contents were the strongest prosecution evidence to directly tie Odeh to the crime scene in Nairobi, Kenya.
Nearly simultaneous blasts at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998, killed 224 people -- 213 in Nairobi, including 12 Americans, and 11 in Tanzania. More than 4,500 people suffered injuries in the attacks.
Kenyan police who handled Odeh's belongings previously testified that they had touched the items without wearing protective gloves and placed them on a desk where other bomb scene evidence had been placed.
Lloyd said, as did FBI analyst Kelly Mount two weeks ago, that the source of the TNT could not be determined.
"It's not possible to say where the explosives came from," Lloyd told the court.
The trial resumed after a week-and-a-half recess. Prosecutors had called more than 90 witnesses over nine weeks of testimony.
The defense case should take less than a month, and none of the four defendants are expected to testify.
Odeh, 36, a Jordanian accused of helping to plan the Kenya embassy attack, is one of two defendants who face a maximum of life in prison, if convicted. The other is Wadih el Hage, 40, a naturalized American accused of managing the Kenya terrorist cell of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile the U.S. government believes ordered the bombings.
After Lloyd completed his testimony, el Hage's lawyers began presenting their case.
The two other defendants could face the death penalty, if convicted: Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, a Saudi accused of playing a role in executing the Kenya embassy bombing; and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian accused of taking part in planning and executing the bombing in Tanzania.
Their actions are alleged to be part of what prosecutors call bin Laden's decade-long terrorist conspiracy to kill Americans.
Bin Laden, the most wanted of 13 fugitives in the case, has taken refuge in Afghanistan.
Five other men charged in the terrorist conspiracy are in U.S. or British custody.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand asked the government to review the 308-count indictment and consider paring down its charges before the case goes to the jury.
Sand rejected defense motions to dismiss the case, but he did toss out some of the charges himself, including counts blaming al-'Owhali and Odeh for the Tanzania bombing. The government had presented no evidence showing any direct actions they took to further that part of the plot, Sand said.
The government took only two months to present its main case -- half the time predicted when jury selection began in January.
At the trial's current pace, the jury deliberations could be under way by the end of May.
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