Prosecutors begin summary of embassy bombings case
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A federal prosecutor said in closing arguments Tuesday that the four defendants in the embassy bombing trial have committed "evil" and "unjust acts that demand accountability."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Karas began with a short video clip showing the aftermath of the explosions at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands of others on August 7, 1998.
The tape is a "painful symbol, a painful reminder of why we have spent the past two and half months together," Karas said.
He then began a methodical summary of the government's case as outlined in more than 300 counts of the indictment. The government had called more than 90 witnesses during nine weeks of testimony and introduced hundreds of exhibits as evidence.
"Let's roll up our sleeves. Let's go through the evidence, and let's begin our search for justice," Karas said.
Prosecutors allege the defendants followed orders of Osama bin Laden, the multimillionaire Saudi exile based in Afghanistan. Bin Laden leads an Islamic militant group, al Qaeda, which the U.S. government blames for the embassy bombings and suspects in other violent acts aimed at Americans during the past decade.
Wadih El Hage, 40, a naturalized American from Lebanon, is not accused of a direct role in the embassy bombings, but he is alleged to have facilitated the East African cell that carried out the attacks.
Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, from Saudi Arabia, and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, from Jordan, allegedly participated in the Kenya embassy attack in which 213 people died.
Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, from Tanzania, allegedly participated in the Tanzania attack, in which 11 people died.
Karas described el Hage as a "facilitator" of the conspiracy who lived a double life in Kenya after moving there in 1994. While he engaged in businesses, such as dealing in gemstones, and lived with his wife and six children, el Hage also became a leader of al Qaeda's Kenyan cell that carried out the bombings, Karas said.
It was el Hage, Karas said, who visited bin Laden in Afghanistan in early 1997 and brought back orders to militarize the cell, 16 months before the bombings. Throughout his three years in Kenya, el Hage made fake travel documents for al Qaeda members, Karas said. Among the passport-size photos found in el Hage's office files was one of a leading operative who conducted surveillance of the U.S. Embassy, Karas said.
Karas called Odeh, who joined al Qaeda in 1992 and underwent arms and explosives training, a "technical adviser" to the bombings. Odeh's fishing business on the Kenyan coast was set up by al Qaeda's military commander, Karas told the jury, as a front. One Arabic notebook found in Odeh's home reveals a $1,400 expense for weapons and artilleries "for work," a code word for "jihad," Karas said.
In the spring and summer of 1998, Odeh attended several meetings with the men who carried out the Kenya attack, Karas said. Recapping the evidence, Karas said Odeh stayed at the same Nairobi hotel as the bombers in the days before the attack, registering under a fake name with a fake passport.
Karas said al-'Owhali, who also trained in al Qaeda's camps, helped execute the Kenya attack after personally asking bin Laden for a mission. Karas reminded jurors that evidence showed al-'Owhali helped build the Kenya bomb and rode in the bomb truck and that "the plan called for him to die and he ran."
Karas said that Mohamed, also an al Qaeda trainee, bought the jeep used to transport Tanzania bomb components and rented the Dar es Salaam house that was "the bomb factory," according to the evidence.
Karas reviewed the detailed history of al Qaeda, starting around 1989, as told to the jury particularly by two protected government witnesses who defected from the group. It was in 1990, after U.S. troops were deployed to Saudi Arabia because Iraq had invaded Kuwait, that bin Laden began targeting Americans, Karas said.
Saudi Arabia is home to the two holiest Muslim sites, in Mecca and Medina.
In religious decrees, or fatwahs, and media interviews, bin Laden preached that is was a "duty to do anything to drive Americans off of Saudi Arabia, to kill them wherever they are. And that's precisely what al Qaeda did," Karas said.
An early move was to train Somalia tribes to fight the U.S. troop presence in that pre-dominantly Muslim country in 1993, Karas said. Odeh was among those al Qaeda members that went to Somalia, he said.
"The bottom line was, Americans had to be attacked," Karas said.
Karas spent a substantial amount of time focusing on el Hage, who has the longest association with bin Laden of any of the defendants. When he worked for bin Laden companies in Sudan, Karas said, el Hage was a "gatekeeper" to bin Laden and managed his payroll.
"The business is part of the jihad," Karas said, adding that the companies provided "terrific cover." Although the companies traded such products as bicycles and tractors, sugar and sesame seeds, their purpose was "not profit" or "to get on the Fortune 500," Karas said.
For example, Karas said, bin Laden's purchase of a private plane was to ship Stinger missiles from Pakistan to Sudan, according to testimony, and to ferry military trainers to Somalia, Karas said.
In the first day of closing arguments, the government wove together a year by year chronology of al Qaeda activities, getting as far as the spring of 1998, when bin Laden had issued a fatwah targeting American civilians as well as soldiers around the world.
"He puts a target on the back of every American, whether they are in uniform, whether they are a diplomat," Karas said.
A key tool in overseeing his "war against the United States," Karas said, was the satellite phone purchased for bin Laden in late 1996. Its fourth outgoing call and several others went to el Hage, phone records in evidence show. The phone number appears several times in el Hage's address books and the address books of other indicted conspirators not currently on trial.
"That phone is the jihad phone," Karas said. "Who they call on that phone and who has that number tells you a great, great deal."
Karas told the jury that el Hage had a chance to do the right thing during a September 1997 appearance before a federal grand jury investigating bin Laden. El Hage stands accused of lying about his work and contacts with bin Laden and associates numerous times.
"The American citizen sided with bin Laden over America," Karas said, adding that el Hage "robbed the United States of an opportunity to crack the East Africa cell 11 months before the bombings."
Prosecutors are expected to spend two and a half days on closing arguments. Each defense team predicts it will need about half a day.
U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand's instructions to the jury are expected to be given next week, followed by jury deliberations. The jury will not be sequestered.
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