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Training camp links millennium, embassy bombers

Both al-Owhali, left, and Ressam trained at the same Afganistan explosive training camp
Both al-Owhali, left, and Ressam trained at the same Afganistan explosive training camp  

By Phil Hirschkorn
CNN Producer

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The man who planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport and one of the men convicted of bombing the U.S. Embassy in Kenya in 1998 underwent explosives training at the same camp in Afghanistan, CNN has learned.

The training camp is one of several Islamic militant camps believed to be financed by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, who the U.S. accuses of leading a worldwide conspiracy to kill Americans and destroy U.S. property.

Court documents linked Ahmed Ressam, accused of planning a terrorist attack in Los Angeles during millennium celebrations leading up to New Years' Day 2000, and embassy bomber Mohamed al-'Owhali to Afghanistan's Khaldan camp.

Testimony in two federal trials in New York connect the two men to the camp.


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Ressam, a 34-year-old Algerian national, testifying in a federal trial of an alleged accomplice to his unsuccessful mission, said Tuesday that he spent six months in Afghanistan starting in March 1998. At Khaldan, Ressam said he learned how to handle handguns, machine guns, and rocket propelled grenade launchers and how to assemble bombs made from the explosives TNT and C4.

Al-'Owhali, a 24-year-old Saudi, also trained at the Khaldan camp about a year earlier, according to testimony in the embassy bombings trial by FBI agent Stephen Gaudin. Gaudin interrogated al-'Owhali for days in a Kenyan jail after his arrest.

Only al-'Owhali placed bin Laden at the camp. Ressam did not mention bin Laden or his group, al Qaeda.

During Ressam's testimony, Prosecutor Joseph Bianco asked only if the camp leaders belonged to any terrorist group. Ressam answered yes. By contrast, Gaudin said, "al-'Owhali heard statements from Osama bin Laden, and that these statements further solidified his religious feelings."

Afghanistan denies weapons charges

"Bin Laden had spoke to the group in general, and he impressed upon them the need to fight the Americans and to cast them out of the Arabian peninsula," Gaudin said.

The embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania occurred on August 7, 1998, the eighth anniversary of the U.S. deployment of troops to defend Saudi Arabia after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The Pentagon still keeps more than 20,000 troops in the Persian Gulf region, about 5,000 of those in Saudi Arabia.

Ressam said the training camps purchased supplies of weapons from Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist regime that harbors bin Laden. Al-'Owhali told Gaudin that after his training, he fought alongside the Taliban and participated in a fierce battle near the capital of Kabul.

The Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic militia that controls most of Afghanistan, denied any connection to the camps or its recruits in a statement issued Wednesday.

"The charges are trumped up to malign the Taliban government. Any statement made by the accused we fear may be under pressure and coercion," the statement said.

Ressam aiding U.S. against co-defendant

Ressam's testimony will conclude Thursday in the trial of Mokhtar Haouari, 32, a fellow Algerian accused of aiding his plot by sending him money and false identification.

After his April conviction for transporting explosives into the United States, Ressam began cooperating with the government. He still faces up to 27 years in prison in a sentencing hearing July 25 in Seattle, Washington.

Al-'Owhali was convicted on May 29 for his role in the Nairobi embassy attack, which killed 213 people. He has been sentenced to life in prison.

After Khaldan, Ressam and al-'Owhali each received more advanced intelligence and sabotage training at other camps, according to trial testimony. Ressam said there were trainees from Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany and elsewhere, and the men were grouped by nationality.

A man Ressam identified as "Abu Jaffar" was in charge of the Algerian cells, he said. That's almost the identical name as the person al-'Owhali said taught him cell management -- an "Abdul Jaffar" from Egypt, according to Gaudin.

Earlier in the embassy bombings trial, Jamal Al-Fadl, the government's main informant about al Qaeda, said someone named Abu Jaffar taught him how to use explosives at another Afghanistan camp.


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