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Alleged terrorist charges at judge during pre-trial hearing

El-Hage leapt toward the judge after his request to read a letter in court was denied


'He leapt like Tarzan'

June 22, 1999
Web posted at: 9:25 p.m. EDT (0125 GMT)

In this story:

Letter leads to leap at jurist

Other defendants' ties to bin Laden

Possible life in prison


NEW YORK (CNN) -- The unfolding case against Osama bin Laden and his alleged terrorist co-conspirators took an unexpected and scary turn in the courtroom Tuesday when one defendant jumped from his chair and charged within several feet of the judge before being tackled by U.S. Marshals.

"I felt my life was in danger," said Jane Rosenberg, a courtroom artist who was seated near the judge. "I was scared. I was shaking. He leapt like Tarzan."

The incident occurred during a routine pre-trial hearing for five defendants in U.S. custody accused of taking part in a broad conspiracy to kill Americans outside the United States, including the twin embassy bombings in East Africa.

Nine other indicted defendants, including bin Laden himself, are fugitives. One additional defendant is in British custody and faces an extradition hearing this week.

The defendant who caused the commotion Tuesday is Wadih El Hage, a Lebanese-born engineer, whom prosecutors say was once the personal secretary to bin Laden. Arrested last September, El Hage is held under very strict conditions in a Manhattan federal jail.

He was among the five defendants seated in the jury box for Tuesday's hearing as Judge Leonard Sand discussed the status of the case with their lawyers and the prosecutors.

Letter leads to leap at jurist

El Hage was apparently angry after his request to read into the court record a letter he had written to the judge was denied.

After El-Hage's outburst, the five defendants were handcuffed and led out of the courtroom  

"This court is not a vehicle for public declarations," Sand said in denying the request.

The letter blamed the government "because it did not act as quickly as it might have to prevent the tragedy in Nairobi," said Sand, who summarized the letter's contents.

After an hour of court discussion of the government's process of sharing evidence with the defense, El Hage jumped over the jury box and started running across the courtroom toward the judge's bench.

El Hage did not attempt to exit through a side door near the bench. Instead, he seemed to be headed around the bench and toward the judge.

U.S. Marshals, caught by surprise, were able to react and tackle El Hage before he could get within 10 feet of the judge. The wide-eyed Sand had gotten out of his chair and backed up against a wall.

Four marshals subdued and handcuffed El Hage, who left the courtroom with a large bump and a cut on his head.

Other defendants' ties to bin Laden

As El Hage was making his run, a second defendant, Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owhali, shouted "God is great" in Arabic. Al-'Owhali was restrained by U.S. Marshals and never got out of his chair.

Also at the hearing were defendants Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, an alleged Kenya bomber; Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, an alleged handler of bin Laden's finances; and Ali Mohamed, an alleged trainer of bin Laden's fighters.

After the melee, all of the defendants were handcuffed and led out of the courtroom. When they returned 15 minutes later, El Hage started yelling.

"They won't let me read the letter in public," El Hage said, before the hearing resumed. "Too many restrictions. Too many restrictions."

He said he had never committed a violent act in his life and was acting to protest the conditions of his incarceration. He and others face strict restrictions on phone calls and mail and are prohibited from communicating with other inmates or exercising on the jail's roof.

"The people who are doing this are turning this country into a police country. Everybody is going to end up like this," he said.

Possible life in prison

El Hage, along with the other 14 defendants, is accused of taking part in a conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals that culminated in last August's twin bombings of American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

The bombings killed a total of 223 people, according to the latest superseding indictment, handed down last Wednesday.

El Hage, a 38-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen with a wife and seven children, is also indicted on 23 counts of perjury and making false statements, namely for lying about his relationship to members of the bin Laden organization in questioning a year before the embassy bombings occurred.

El Hage is not accused of being a direct participant in the embassy bomb attacks.

While allegedly working for bin Laden, El Hage is accused of running his businesses in Kenya and Sudan. He has never been convicted of a crime, but faces life in prison if found guilty of the pending charges.

Before his arrest, he lived in Arlington, Texas, since 1997, working as a tire repairman.

CNN's Phil Hirschkorn and Correspondent Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.

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PBS Online
  • Bin Laden: The terrorist
U.S. State Department, Official Web Site
Terrorism Research Center
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