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Ex-copter pilot can't link bin Laden to Somalia

Former helicopter pilot James Yacone: "I am not really sure who was training Aidid's group."  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A former U.S. Army helicopter pilot testified Monday that he could not verify the government's contention that the same group allegedly behind the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa also trained Somalia fighters who killed 18 American soldiers in an October 3, 1993, firefight.

James Yacone, who flew one of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in the mission to capture lieutenants of Somali tribal leader Mohammed Farrah Aidid, testified for the government.

But on cross-examination he failed to make a direct link between Osama bin Laden's Islamic militant group and the training of Aidid's men.

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"I am not really sure who was training Aidid's group," Yacone said.

The U.S. troops had been deployed to assist a U.N. mission distributing food and relief supplies and restoring order to the war-torn nation. The United Nations put a bounty on Aidid after his men ambushed and killed 24 Pakistani peacekeepers in June 1993. Aidid died in 1996.

A federal indictment accuses bin Laden and 21 others in a terrorist conspiracy to kill Americans dating back to the early 1990s.

Four men named in the indictment have been on trial in New York since January, accused of roles in the bombings the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The two truck bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. Prosecutors say the bombings were the culmination of the conspiracy.

The alleged military training of Somalis is among more than 150 overt acts described in the main conspiracy count.

Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, a Jordanian national, is the only defendant in court directly implicated in Somalia. Odeh is one of seven known members of bin Laden's group, al Qaeda, who allegedly trained Somali tribes.

Yacone piloted one of eight Black Hawks deployed in the October mission to arrest Aidid's lieutenants as they met in a Mogadishu building. Yacone dropped off some of the rangers used to execute the plan.

"We started receiving enemy fire almost immediately after the insertion," Yacone said. "We had no idea we would receive that volume of fire."

Aidid's Somali rebels engaged in a firefight with U.S. soldiers, killing 18.  

He said he saw one of the other Black Hawks shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG.

"The focus of the mission shifted from capturing Aidid's lieutenants to assisting the downed helicopter crew," Yacone said.

A second chopper also crashed after being hit, Yacone said, and two other helicopters, including his, were forced to make emergency landings after being hit by RPGs.

Yacone said "hundreds" of RPGs were fired during the battle, which started at 3:30 in the afternoon and went into the following morning. He said the RPGs were fired to detonate in mid-air, sending shrapnel in several directions to cause the most possible damage the choppers.

The RPGs -- two-foot-long, shoulder-fired missiles -- are usually used against armored vehicles on land

"To fire them accurately, you probably have to get some training," Yacone said.

Yacone said that U.S. intelligence agents intercepted radio instructions for mortar fire being transmitted in Arabic to Somali fighters.

"It led intelligence people to tell us there may be other people here training Aidid's clan," Yacone said. But he said he had no knowledge of who those trainers might have been.

Odeh's attorney, Edward Wilford, asked Yacone if Arabic is commonly spoken in Somalia. It is -- behind the native language -- Somali. English and Italian are also spoken there.

Despite the casualties, a memo by Maj. Gen. William Garrison, the commanding officer, called the action on October 3, 1993, "a success."

"The targeted individuals were captured," Garrison wrote.

More than 500 Somalis died as a result of the battle.

When Aidid died, his son Hussein succeeded him as tribal leader and de facto president, although until last year, Somalia had no central government. A peace-brokered parliament installed last summer elected a new president, Abdiqasim Salad Hasan, to a transitional three-year term.

The three men now on trial in New York along with Odeh are Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, a Saudi; Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian; and Wadih el Hage, 40, a naturalized American.

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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

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