Jury finds four guilty in terrorism trial
From Phil Hirschkorn
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A federal jury Tuesday convicted four men of participating in a worldwide conspiracy to kill Americans and to destroy U.S. government property that included the 1998 bombings of American embassies in East Africa.
The jury, on its 12th day of deliberations, found two defendants accused of direct roles in the bombings guilty as charged of murdering all the people killed in the attacks.
The jury convicted Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, 24, a Saudi, in the Nairobi, Kenya, bombing that killed 213 people, including 12 Americans, on August 7, 1998.
The jury convicted Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, 27, a Tanzanian, in the coordinated bombing of the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, bombing that killed 11 people only minutes after the Kenya attack.
Al-'Owhali and Mohamed face the death penalty for their roles in the attacks. A sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
The jury also convicted Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, 36, a Jordanian, of assisting the planning of the Kenya bombing and aiding and abetting the murders of the people killed. He faces a maximum of life in prison.
Odeh attorney Anthony Ricco said that the government's case against his client was very thin and that there was a great deal of reasonable doubt.
Ricco said they planned to appeal Odeh's conviction. "This case had a powerful emotional component and I was concerned that we would not be able to overcome that," Ricco said.
The fourth defendant, Wadih el Hage, 40, a Lebanese-born American who was not accused in the bombings, was found guilty of lying to a federal grand jury to protect the terror conspiracy. He faces a maximum of life in prison.
A multiracial panel of seven women and five men returned verdicts on the 302-count indictment in United States District Court in lower Manhattan.
During its deliberations, the jury asked to review about 40 items of evidence but did not ask to have any trial testimony read back. The trial transcript runs more than 6,000 pages.
The verdicts came 4.5 months after jury selection began, double the pace the court originally predicted. The trial moved quickly due to numerous stipulations, whereby prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed not to contest certain evidence --usually documents -- and avoided calling witnesses to authenticate more mundane facts of the case.
Prosecutorial organization, facilitated by graphic and video screens to present evidence, also kept the trial moving quickly.
The government called more than 90 witnesses during nine weeks and showed the jury hundreds of exhibits -- bombing debris, photos of the houses where the bombs were made, defendants' clothing with explosive residue, telephone and travel records, passports, and letters. The most dramatic testimony came from witnesses who survived the bombings.
The government offered a history of the Islamic militant organization founded by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, meaning "the base," and explained his intent to kill Americans. The government relied heavily on two defectors from al Qaeda, now protected informants, as witnesses who described the group's ideology, structure, businesses, and headquarters in Sudan and Afghanistan.
Prosecutors read two of bin Laden's "fatwahs," or religious decrees, targeting U.S. soldiers and civilians. They played his CNN interview where he declared "jihad," or holy war, on the U.S. for stationing troops in Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina, and for supporting Israel and Egypt -- positions reiterated in claims of responsibility for the bombings faxed to media from bin Laden's London cell.
Prosecutors also established defendants' ties to bin Laden -- al-'Owhali, Mohamed, and Odeh received weapons and explosives training in bin Laden's military camps in Afghanistan, and Odeh took a "bayat," or loyalty oath, to al Qaeda. El Hage worked for bin Laden companies in Sudan in the early 1990's before moving to Kenya.
Perhaps most damning for the defendants were their own incriminating statements after their arrests. Defense attorneys sought to have the statements suppressed, arguing that their clients were not properly advised of their rights, but in a pivotal pre-trial ruling, Judge Leonard Sand allowed the statements to be presented.
Al-'Owhali and Mohamed essentially admitted to FBI agents their roles in bombings, which included riding in the passenger seats of the respective bomb trucks. Odeh named other conspirators and admitted being in their presence in the days before the Nairobi attack, but he denied carrying it out or knowing about it.
El Hage told the FBI and a grand jury investigating bin Laden that he did no work for bin Laden while living with his family in Kenya from 1994 to 1997. Prosecutors, relying on wiretaps of el Hage's home telephone and his personal letters with coded references, suggested otherwise.
A plethora of physical evidence corroborated the defendants' statements and implicated three of them in the bombings.
Kenya embassy technician Charles Mwaka Mula testified he saw al-'Owhali get out of the bomb truck and fire stun grenades at embassy security guards in order to get the bomb truck closer to the building.
A hospital janitor testified he found keys to the back of the bomb truck and handgun bullets in a bathroom where al-'Owhali had discarded them. Al-'Owhali's clothes were laced with TNT residue and his fingerprint was found on a plane ticket in the home of the al Qaeda operative considered the Kenya bombing crew leader.
A Tanzanian landlord testified that he rented K.K. Mohamed the Dar es Salaam house where the Tanzania bomb was constructed. Documents confirmed that Mohamed purchased the Suzuki Samurai prosecutors said was used to ferry the bomb components. The jeep and numerous household items belonging to Mohamed had explosives residue. Investigators found the flour mill Mohamed and others used to grind TNT and found Mohamed's passport photo in the house of other known conspirators.
Two sketches found in Odeh's Kenyan home led prosecutors to label him a "technical adviser" to the bombings. The drawings bore a striking resemblance to the Kenya embassy compound and indicate traffic flow toward it. Clothing inside the travel bag Odeh was carrying was he was arrested tested positive for TNT. Odeh was detained at the Karachi, Pakistan, airport for carrying a fake passport, after leaving Kenya the night before the bombings.
El Hage had been living in the Arlington, Texas, for a year when the bombings occurred, having left Kenya shortly after investigators searched his Nairobi home and seized his laptop computer, his address books, and personal papers.
Prosecutors called him a "facilitator" of the East Africa cell who passed messages and provided fake ID's and travel documents, using his "Help Africa People" relief agency as a front and his legitimate dealings in the gem trade and other ventures as a cover.
Transcripts and audio recordings of the wiretaps and records of bin Laden's satellite phone indicated that el Hage communicated with al Qaeda's leaders. His computer files contained reports on bin Laden's orders to militarize the cell and the cell's security worries.
None of the defendants took the stand in their own behalf. Only el Hage and Odeh called any witnesses, fewer than 10 combined, and the defense case lasted only two weeks. All the defendants are represented by criminal defense attorneys appointed by the court.
The penalty phase of the trial is expected to last a month. The same jurors will decide whether al-'Owhali and K.K. Mohamed are sentenced to death. Odeh and el Hage could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison.
Thirteen other men indicted in the overall terror conspiracy, including bin Laden and several alleged embassy bombers, are still at large. Five other defendants are in either U.S. or British custody.
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