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Defense lawyers say embassy bomb defendant not guilty

Anthony Ricco makes his closing statements Monday, disputing the allegation that Odeh was a technical adviser in the Kenya bombing
Anthony Ricco makes his closing statements Monday, disputing the allegation that Odeh was a technical adviser in the Kenya bombing  

In this story:

Odeh felt 'morally responsible'

Evidence falls 'woefully short,' lawyer says

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Attorneys for accused U.S. embassy bomber Mohamed Sadeek Odeh told a federal jury Monday there is no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Odeh had a role in planning, preparing, or executing the attack.

Anthony Ricco and Edward Wilford delivered the closing arguments for Odeh, who is described by prosecutors as a "technical adviser" in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 7, 1998.

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That attack killed 213 people, including 12 Americans. A nearly simultaneous truck bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killed 11 people.

Odeh, a 36-year-old Jordanian citizen, is one of four men accused of participating in what prosecutors call a decade-long conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. government property. The government says the effort was led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden led through his Islamic militant group, al Qaeda.

Ricco said Odeh was "out of the loop" and his association with al Qaeda does not prove his guilt. He acknowledged Odeh received weapons and explosive training in its Afghanistan camps, but said it was for "religious beliefs to do good for people who are Muslim all over the world."

Ricco said, for example, that in 1993 Odeh went to Somalia, a Muslim country torn by civil war and famine, to train Somali tribes "to stop the carnage and the starvation."

The government alleges that Somali tribesmen trained by al Qaeda participated in an October 1993 battle in the capital city, Mogadishu, where 18 U.S. servicemen died.

Bin Laden had told followers that U.S. forces should be forced from Somalia, according to trial testimony, but Ricco said Odeh was there "for the same reason as the U.N. -- to save lives."

Odeh felt 'morally responsible'

Odeh attorney Edward Wilford gives his closing statement Monday
Odeh attorney Edward Wilford gives his closing statement Monday  

Odeh's post-arrest statement to the FBI played a pivotal role in the prosecution's case, but Ricco called it a "truthful account" that was "not evidence of guilt." Ricco said Odeh told the FBI he felt only "morally responsible" -- not criminally responsible -- for the embassy bombings because he belonged to al Qaeda.

Ricco disputed the government's contention that Odeh was a technical adviser to the Kenya bombers, reminding jurors that he lived in a shack in a fishing village on the Kenyan coast with no telephone and no electricity.

"He is living in a mud hut in the middle of nowhere with his Koran and his wife and his child," Ricco said.

Testimony pointed to other indicted men in the case, Muhsin Atwah and Mustafa Fadhil, both fugitives, as being the designers of the Kenya bomb, Ricco said.

Odeh's flight from Kenya on the eve of the bombings did not prove his guilt either, Ricco said. Other alleged conspirators left the country with their families, while Odeh left alone with just a carry-on bag.

"The fact that his family was there and that he traveled with so little clothing," Ricco said, showed that Odeh intended to come back.

Ricco also said there was no evidence Odeh knew fellow trial defendant Mohamed al-'Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi accused of helping assemble the Kenya bomb and riding in the bomb truck.

Wilford focused his remarks on disputing the government's two main pieces of physical evidence tying Odeh to the crime scene -- sketches purportedly of the Kenya embassy found in Odeh's home and clothing with TNT residue found in his travel bag.

Wilford said there was no evidence that the sketches, one of which bears a striking resemblance to the Kenya compound, were in Odeh's handwriting.

"There is no identification of the author of that document being Mohamed Odeh," Wilford said, noting the government never had a handwriting expert authenticate them.

The sketches were contained in a notebook found in Odeh's coastal home in Witu, Kenya, more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Nairobi.

"What the heck is it doing in Witu when this [bombing] is in Nairobi?" Wilford said.

Evidence falls 'woefully short,' lawyer says

TNT residue was found on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt inside the bag Odeh was carrying when he was arrested at the Karachi, Pakistan, airport for carrying a fake passport. But government witnesses never said how much.

"It turns from a damning piece of evidence into the microscopic speck that it really is," Wilford said.

Wilford said the clothing was potentially contaminated by Kenyan police who had handled the bag contents without gloves, some doing so after inspecting the bomb site.

The TNT residue, Wilford also suggested, may have come from Odeh's traveling companion, Fahad Msalam, an accused embassy bomber and fugitive whose fingerprints were found on a flour mill used to grind TNT and on a magazine inside Odeh's travel bag.

"We asked the experts, if these items were in the bag and they came in contact with one another, was it possible, likely, that the contamination would go from the contaminated items to the uncontaminated? Yes," Wilford said.

The government's forensic evidence "falls woefully short" in establishing Odeh's guilt, he said.

Earlier Monday, an attorney for Wadih el Hage finished his closing argument.

"In Nairobi, Mr. el Hage wasn't, couldn't, didn't do anything to help Mr. bin Laden with his goals" to force U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia or attack Americans, Sam Schmidt said.

Prosecutors described el Hage, who moved to Kenya in 1994 after working for bin Laden companies in Sudan, as a facilitator of the Nairobi terrorist cell who passed messages to and provided false travel documents for conspirators.

Schmidt has argued that el Hage was too busy with his relief organization and private business ventures working out of his home where his wife and six children lived.

"We have activity swirling all around. And the concept of running a terrorist cell whose goals are to murder Americans and having all these people around ... just doesn't make sense," Schmidt said.

Schmidt said federal investigators assumed el Hage, 40, a naturalized American from Lebanon, "must be an Arab terrorist" because of his past association with bin Laden.

"What he is is a caring, devout Muslim," Schmidt said. "Please don't view every single suspicious fact as evidence of being part of a conspiracy to murder his fellow Americans."

Attorneys for al-'Owhali and alleged Tanzania embassy bomber Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, deliver their closing arguments Tuesday. If convicted, both could be sentenced to death.

Odeh and el Hage could face a maximum of life in prison.

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U.S. State Department
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 •  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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