Jury reminded of the victims of embassy bombings
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Three months and four days after it heard opening statements, a federal jury Wednesday heard the final arguments in the terrorist conspiracy trial of four men stemming from the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald completed the prosecution's rebuttal to defense closing arguments, clearing the way for U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand to instruct the jury how to deliberate the 302-count indictment. Deliberations are not expected to begin before Thursday afternoon.
Fitzgerald brought the case full circle to the 224 people who died in the nearly simultaneous blasts on August 7, 1998 -- 11 in Tanzania and 213 in Kenya, including 12 Americans.
"This trial has been a search through the rubble pile of evidence for justice," Fitzgerald said.
He focused the jurors' attention on one victim as a symbol, Roselyn Wanjiku Mwangi, a Kenyan woman who had been trapped in the rubble of Uffundi house, a small office building next to the embassy that collapsed after the truck bomb exploded.
A prosecution witness, a Kenyan businessman named Sammy Nganga, testified several weeks ago that he had been trapped with "Rosie" for two days until rescuers came.
"They saved Sammy. Her life was lost," Fitzgerald said.
Mwangi's death is count number No. 123 in the indictment, which has one murder count for each fatality.
Two defendants -- Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, a Saudi, and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, a Jordanian -- are charged in the Nairobi, Kenya, bombing and with the murders of all who died in it.
One defendant -- Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian -- is charged in the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, bombing and with the murders of those who died in that attack.
The fourth defendant -- Wadih el Hage, 40, a Lebanese-born American -- is charged only with conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. property, a conspiracy the U.S. government maintains has been led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden. All four defendants face those conspiracy counts.
Fitzgerald used his rebuttal to counter defendants' contentions that they did not know that bin Laden's agenda, through his Islamic militant group, al Qaeda, had shifted in the 1990s toward targeting Americans.
"There is no secret in al Qaeda that America is the enemy, [they] are at war with America, [they] were at war with America in Somalia, and it goes way back to at least 1993 if not 1992," Fitzgerald said.
Two defendants -- Odeh and el Hage -- either belonged to al Qaeda or worked for bin Laden companies. But their attorneys said both would have objected to violence against innocents and didn't know about the planned bombings.
"You have to keep secrets at times about operations, but a terrorist group can't keep its enemy secret from its members," Fitzgerald said.
By the time bin Laden issued his 1996 fatwah, or religious decree, directed against the America -- "Kill it, fight it, destroy it, break it down, plot against it, ambush it and, God the almighty willing, until it is gone" -- Fitzgerald said there was little doubt of bin Laden's intentions.
"When this goes public, it exposes what they have been doing privately," Fitzgerald said.
Odeh told the FBI that in the days before the bombing he had been in the company of other alleged conspirators at Nairobi's Hilltop Hotel but in testimony claimed ignorance of the plot. The other men included compatriots from bin Laden's military camps.
"What does Odeh think when he walks into the Hilltop Hotel and sees his trainer and bomb maker from Afghanistan?" Fitzgerald asked. Odeh filled out the guest book with a pseudonym, evidence shows. "Whatever he knows, he knows he doesn't want his real name on that register."
Fitzgerald compared Odeh's defense to the cartoon character Mr. Magoo: "Everything goes on around him, he sees nothing."
Fitzgerald told the jury that Odeh, in his post-arrest statement, expressed no remorse for dead Americans and described the bombing as "a blunder" because most of the casualties were Kenyans.
"Odeh stated that the errant shock wave hit the wrong building. I suggest to you when he says there is a wrong building, there's a right building. ... The right building is what should have been blown up. The right building is where the Americans are," Fitzgerald said.
Al-'Owhali, although only a teen-ager when bin Laden formed al Qaeda, "understood this was a war against America," Fitzgerald said. "You don't have to join a conspiracy when it starts," he said.
In his post-arrest statement to the FBI, Fitzgerald said, al-'Owhali revealed his acceptance of the conspiracy's scope -- "knowledge of the agreement to kill."
"I have a strong preference to have my case tried in a United States court because America is my enemy and Kenya is not," Fitzgerald said, quoting al-'Owhali from the FBI report.
Fitzgerald said it was not only al-'Owhali's post-arrest statement to the FBI but also eyewitness testimony that placed al-'Owhali in the bomb truck throwing stun grenades at security guards to get the truck closer to the embassy in Kenya. That initial noise -- like a firecracker, witnesses said -- lured many embassy staffers toward windows.
"The lucky are blinded. The unlucky are dead," Fitzgerald said.
Explosives residue -- TNT and PETN -- was found on the clothing of al-'Owhali and defendant Mohamed, who was captured 14 months after the bombing while living in South Africa.
Mohamed's lawyer argued his client was a bit player in the Tanzania bombing who performed only manual labor.
"The manual labor was grinding TNT, it was loading TNT explosives, a bomb, onto a truck," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald also pointed to Mohamed's post-arrest statement to the FBI as proof of his guilt -- that he believed he "must do anything necessary to get the American soldiers out of Saudi Arabia," one of bin Laden's publicly stated goals.
El Hage faces conspiracy charges for allegedly facilitating the East Africa terrorist cell and 18 perjury counts for allegedly lying to investigators about his contacts with bin Laden, his military commanders, his London cell leader, and others, including codefendant Odeh.
"What el Hage was about was lying to protect the enterprise," Fitzgerald said.
"He worked for a group that he knew was fighting against America. He wanted them to succeed and he helped every way that he could, whether it be fake passports, coded messages, taking trips to see the boss in the cave in Afghanistan, or just coming into this grand jury in this building, raising his hand and lying through his teeth."
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