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Witness offers alibi for bombings trial defendant

El Hage, Schmidt, Odeh
El Hage listens as his attorney Sam Schmidt questions Odeh, a Nairobi businessman introduced as El Hage's former associate. By the judge's order, Odeh's face cannot be shown.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The first witness on behalf of accused terrorism conspirator Wadih el Hage has nearly the same name as one of el Hage's codefendants in the trial stemming from the August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

El Hage's friend, who spent his second day on the witness stand Tuesday, is Mohamed Ali Muraweh Saleh Odeh, a Nairobi, Kenya-based businessman who engaged in the gemstone trade and other business ventures with el Hage, according to his testimony.

The point of his appearance seemed to be to show the jury that el Hage was busy in lawful business activities, not in setting up a terrorist cell, during the time he lived with his family in Kenya from mid-1994 to fall 1997.

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Shattered Diplomacy: The U.S. Embassy Bombings Trial
An in-depth special report on the trial of four men charged with the embassy bombings
Trial reports | Timeline | Key Figures
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El Hage has consistently claimed that although he worked for Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, he had nothing to do with any violent activities led by bin Laden or carried out by his Islamic militant group, al Qaeda.

The U.S. government alleges that through al Qaeda, bin Laden has led a decade-long conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. property overseas. The government holds him responsible for ordering the embassy bombings that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded more than 4,500 others.

El Hage is accused of participating in the conspiracy, as are three other men on trial -- Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, Mohamed al-'Owhali, and Khlafan Mohamed. The latter three are accused of direct roles in the embassy bombings; el Hage is not.

El Hage's defense attorneys, Sam Schmidt and Joshua Dratel, played for the jury or read transcripts of numerous telephone conversations between Odeh, the witness, and el Hage and others discussing business affairs. The conversations all resulted from government wiretaps of el Hage's Kenyan home starting in July 1996.

Topics included trading in items ranging from rubies, amethysts and diamonds to clothing and calculators. A few of the men involved in the calls match names on business cards in el Hage's vast business card collection, which was seized by investigators who searched his Kenyan home in August 1997. He left the country a month later, returning to the United States.

Odeh, the witness, said that he was not related to anyone in the courtroom and that his name was spelled and pronounced "Oudeh" in Arabic. At Odeh's request, Judge Leonard Sand ordered court artists not to show his face.

That could explain shipping receipts found in el Hage's office files that show Wadih Hage in Nairobi sent someone named Mohamed Oudeh in Mombasa three shipments of styropoles, a type of insulated building material, in 1995.

The impression prosecutors left with the court was that those shipments indicate el Hage and defendant Odeh were acquainted -- something that el Hage denied to a grand jury, resulting in one of the perjury counts against him.

Neither the attorneys for el Hage nor those for defendant Odeh would say Tuesday whether they contend that the recipient of the shipment was instead the witness.

There was other prosecution evidence, including one wiretapped telephone call and the testimony of one witness, that suggested ties between codefendants el Hage and Odeh.

Both Odehs, the defendant and the witness, are Jordanian nationals, but the witness is about 25 years older than the defendant.

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U.S. State Department
 •  International Information Programs:
 •  Counterterrorism
 •  Links to United States Embassies and Consulates Worldwide
Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999
FBI Websites Document Evidence Against Bin Laden
Ussamah Bin Laden
US District Court, Southern District of New York
Terrorism Research Center
Africa News on the World Wide Web

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